Big Organics in Little, Eco-Unfriendly Packages

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

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

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

Go there, too >>
Corporations Jump on Organic Wagon

And there >>
Organic Industry Charts by Dr. Philip H.

Related Links:

Related Links from the Utne Reader Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to
Utne Reader

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.