Big Organic

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Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


The recent NYTimes article “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?” by Stephanie Strom probably came as no surprise to some consumers, but the widespread response to the article shows how much stock the shopping public places on the USDA Organic label.

It’s easy to get disheartened when you realize how many organic companies are simply imprints of large food corporations. I don’t know how many people would automatically associate the terms “Organic Food” with “PepsiCo,” but the sad truth is the two are very much related. Strom writes:

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

There are still a handful of independent companies that have resisted the courtship of large corporations, one being Eden Foods. Ms. Strom features Michael Potter, the founder of Eden Foods, in her article and details his growing dissatisfaction with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB):

“The board is stacked,” Mr. Potter says. “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.”

He calls the certified-organic label a fraud and refuses to put it on Eden’s products.

His refusal has some solid ground to stand on:

As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List. At first, the list was largely made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread. Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.

The green-washing of conventional foods, the co-opting of the organic label and the almost total purchase of independent organic companies by large corporations has created a tricky landscape for consumers to navigate. We bring our conscious to the grocery store and we create a sense of security with brand loyalty… yet we’re still potentially eating something we couldn’t recognize or pronounce, let alone spell.

It is no wonder why more Americans are transitioning away from the boxes and cans of convenience, and taking meal time back to ‘scratch.’ It might say ‘organic’ on the outside, but if you just have to “add water” it just might not be something you want to eat.

Ms. Strom’s article is a boon for consumers wanting to educate and inform themselves about the current food system. It is absolutely worth a read.

Click here to read the article in full.

How deeply do you investigate the background of the organic food you buy?