Some in Organic Community Worry About Influence of “Big Ag”

Capital Press writer Eric Mortenson reported earlier this month that, “At this point, maybe organic producers and processors should just declare victory. They’ve won, haven’t they? Sales of organic products show double- digit growth year after year. Consumers increasingly associate organics with safer food and better nutrition, health, soil and plants, not to mention more humane treatment of livestock and better conditions for farmworkers.

“That little green USDA Organic symbol on a package says this costs more because it’s special. And it’s all delivered by a chemical-free small farm worked by a smiling couple and their beautiful brood of happy children.”

However, the article pointed out that, “But within the organic community, some worry the movement – and that’s how many see it, as a movement – will lose its soul as ‘Big Ag’ takes over organic production and snaps up small organic processors.
“If we continue to mainstream, is there anything left of what was organic, or do we just become product manufacturers?” asked Oregon organic pioneer David Lively.

As the Costcos, Wal-Marts and Krogers of the world continue to enter the organic market, ‘Are they really concerned with what we’re doing, or is it a marketing opportunity?’ Lively said.”

Mr. Mortenson indicated that, “And although organic product sales grew 11 percent to reach $43.3 billion in 2015, and have undoubtedly topped that in the interim, the number of organic farmers has actually dropped. Organic products now make up nearly 5 percent of U.S. food sales, but organic acreage is less than 1 percent of U.S. cropland, according to the Organic Trade Association.

“It appears millennials, the 18 to 34 age group, account for more than half of organic purchases. That means a lot of people still aren’t convinced they should pay more for something that often looks and tastes the same as conventional vegetables, fruit, grains and meat.”

The Capital Press article added that, “The Cornucopia Institute, based in Wisconsin, has served as a watchdog on organic issues, battling the USDA, the Organic Trade Association and corporations such as Wal-Mart when it believes the spirit or letter of organic guidelines are violated. But Mark Kastel, co-director and senior farm policy analyst, said Cornucopia’s message is more nuanced than ‘big is bad.’

“‘The issues are not corporate scale, they are about corporate ethics,” he said. ‘This is a values-based industry. It’s grown to $43 billion (in sales) because consumers wanted an alternative to standard practices in growing agricultural commodities and in processing, too.'”

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