The Corporate Organic Industry

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The Corporate Organic Industry 

Not many words are as important in a natural food store than the term “organic”. “Organic” typically means that the food item or product does not contain pesticides, synthetic chemicals, genetically modified organisms and undergone questionable processing techniques like radiation. (I plan to write a blog about the various standards for labeling items “organic” and the politics behind such standards — this is not that blog). Simply put, people buy “organic” because they don’t want to buy products containing chemicals they can’t pronounce and other unhealthy ingredients. So what does it mean when the manufacturers who sell products containing chemically rich and other unhealthy ingredients start buying companies that sell “organic” products?

That question is a large part of Dr. Philip H. Howard’s research work at Michigan State University. He is an Associate Professor who studies and reports on our food system (which he describes as all of the steps required to produce good and get it to our plates). His website is one you should bookmark on your browser at https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/index.html  Dr. Howard recently updated a chart that he developed indicating who are the owners of the organic food industry. You can download that chart at http://www.cornucopia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Updated-Organic2013.pdf This chart shows how companies whose products became a major reason to buy “organic” now own and operate many “organic” familiar organic brands.

In 2011, Dr. Howard published a chart listing the major independent organic processors at https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/OrganicInd11.pdf  Dr. Howard notes on his website that “most remaining independent organic processors have resisted substantial buyout offers (typically 2 times annual sales).”

According to a CNBC news report last year, the “organic” category is 4.2% of all U.S. food sales, with “organic” products being available in approximately three of four food stores in the United States. And sales of organic food and beverages continue to grow at near double digit annual rates. (See that CNBC report at http://www.cnbc.com/id/49185619). So it should come as no surprise that big food manufacturers want to get in on selling “organic.” The question is how will they impact the standards for “organic” and the organic industry overall. For a revealing perspective on what lies ahead, see last year’s Stephanie Strom’s New York Times article “Has Organic Been Oversized?) at

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/business/organic-food-purists-worry-about-big-companies-influence.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Feel free to write me if you have any thoughts on this issue.

 

Kirk Schroder / Food Advocate / foodadvocate@ellwoodthompsons.com