The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has blasted a New York Times article about the state of the organic food industry, calling the report “a disservice to families seeking healthy choices for their children and farmers choosing organic to stay in business.”
The Times article—“Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?”—appeared on July 7. According to OTA, “It does not present a balanced picture about the US organic process.”
The article reports that large food producers such as Kellogg and PepsiCo have taken over a substantial share of the organic market, acquiring or creating brand names (Kashi and Naked Juice, for example) that have become “wildly lucrative.”
“Over the past decade . . . giant agri-food corporations like these and others—Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft, and M&M Mars among them—have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry,” the article says. “Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.”
The article also contends that the National Organic Standards Board is now dominated by the big players, and quotes smaller producers who say the standards have been compromised in favor of profits. The author stated that more than 250 nonorganic substances are now approved for use in organic foods, up from 77 in 2002.
A Question of Integrity
The OTA released a statement that “Neither size nor ownership structure matters in organic agriculture. To earn certification, everyone must follow the same regulations and meet the same requirements. The national list of allowed nonorganic substances used in organic farming and food process, in fact, is quite limited and well-scrutinized.”
The Times quoted Michael J. Potter, founder of Eden Foods and a critic of the National Organic Standards Board. “The board is stacked,” Potter said. “Either they don’t have a clue, or their interest in making money is more important than their interest in maintaining the integrity of organics.”
OTA strongly defended the industry. “Organic food and farming represent a diverse economic sector fueled by a value-chain with single owner/operators, co-ops, mid-sized and larger independent companies, and divisions of the nation’s largest food purveyors. This diversity brings strength to the sector.”
The OTA statement noted that the organic sector is now a $30 billion a year industry. “Our size and growth mean increasingly fewer pesticides applied to soil and waterways, fewer antibiotics given to livestock, a hedge against GMOs, more choices for farmers to stay on the land, and options for families looking for healthy food.”
What does organic mean to you? Let us know in the comments below what you value about the label, and what concerns you most.