Big Organics in Little, Eco-Unfriendly Packages

Not all organics are equal: Look beyond the label and at the packaging

| June 7, 2007

The organic bandwagon has become derailed as behemoths like Cargill, Kraft, ConAgra, and Coca-Cola all climb aboard. Critics of corporate organics have bristled that the meaning of organic agriculture -- with its focus on smaller farms and land stewardship -- is lost in a market currently saturated with mass-produced organic foods. And activists are warning that Big Organic's individually wrapped fare shipped around the world is compromising the organic movement's environmental credentials as well. But as long as food contains an organic label, consumers are eating it up.

At the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences held last week at the University of Saskatchewan, food activist Irena Knezevic presented her paper, 'In Labels We Trust: A Critical Look at Consumer Need for Food Labeling.' As reported by the Globe and Mail(subscription required), Knezevic's research describes a consumer-driven trend of 'status food' -- or 'yuppie chow' -- for those concerned with 'health and body image.' Corporate organics target those with disposable income while ignoring the social and environmental issues at 'the heart of organic agriculture.' As an example of the corporate organic's bad environmental record, Knezevic cites the fact that much of Canada's organic food has to make the long, fossil-fueled trek from California. When factoring in the many miles that the often individually wrapped packages travel, the 'environmental consequences' are 'comparable to those of conventional food production.'

Covering the same conference, Saskatoon's StarPhoenix, underlines Knezevic's warning to consumers to not be fooled by organic labels that give 'the impression that all organic foods are equally good choices.' Consumers, says Knezevic, should have access to information about whether their food was locally produced and whether farmers got a fair price for it, the Globe and Mail reports.

To help navigate the dubious web of organic labels, check out several diagrams created by Dr. Philip H. Howard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University. His diagrams outline the structure of the organic industry and give new meaning to the phrase 'buyers beware,' which should perhaps be amended to: conscious consumers beware.

Go there >> Has Big Business Turned Organics into 'Yuppy Chow'?

Go there, too >> Corporations Jump on Organic Wagon

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