From the May 2006 Idaho Observer:

What we need to know about the corporate takeover of the "organic" food market

by Carole Resnick

Organic food has been the refuge of many consumers who have become aware of the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals in the growing and processing practices of the commercial food industry. Many of us have come to trust the word "organic" as the indicator of safety and healthfulness in the foods we choose. We tend to make an implicit assumption that organic food producers are still small farmers who combine ecologically sound farming practices with a political agenda to promote and develop food systems which are local, sustainable, and able to survive independent of corporate agribusiness.

More often than we realize, all that remains of this image is an illusion of advertising and marketing. Far too many of the local small farmers who brought the value of organic farming practices to public attention have been unable to survive the onslaught of corporate competition as organic food has been "developed" in the corporate food arena.

What we call "organic" plant or animal food is, in fact, just plain food that has not been adulterated by chemicals in the process of doing what it does naturally—grow. Organic does not necessarily mean humane treatment for animals (as in the case of dairy products or meat), nor does it mean "regionally grown" or "fresh."

The Northeast Organic Farming Association, the regional organization representing organic growers in the northeast U.S., urges us to choose locally grown food which is not certified organic over organic food which is corporately marketed and travels long distances. Why? The environmental impact of long distance trucking, energy for refrigeration, etc., is extremely damaging. Food which travels far arrives as old food, trading in nutritional value for organic status. For example, the New York Times Sunday Magazine (5/13/01) reported that a strawberry traveling across the continent potentially provides 5 calories of food energy and takes 435 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver.

The same New York Times article also reported that five giant farms control fully one-half of the $400 million organic produce market in California. It should come as no surprise that capitalism has extended it’s efforts into this piece of the economy. Corporately owned organic brands now take up the majority of space in the organic section of your favorite grocery store. Organic food is seen for its profit-making potential and treated as a "market niche," resulting in corporate farms setting aside "organic" fields right alongside fields using conventional practices, including genetically modified seed. As part of its policies in support of large business interests, the U.S. government has established federal standards for organic certification which favor corporations, and are too expensive for the average small farmer to meet.

Growth for capitalist economies demands ever increasing profit, based on expansion. Family owned and "small" businesses give way to larger and larger enterprises, until WalMart finally replaces the local variety stores, and Wegmans replaces the neighborhood food markets.

The same principal has affected farming and, as a consequence, we are in danger of losing our local farmers. Already, due to the global industrialization of corporate agribusiness, "farmer" no longer appears on the U.S. census as a job category. This means that less that 2 percent of the population in our counInstruments (weapons producer and one of G.W. Bush’s top contributors).

Fresh Samantha/Odwalla: Fresh Samantha is a popular organic juice brand regionally produced in Maine. Odwalla is a juice company founded in Santa Cruz, CA, in 1984. Fresh Samantha and Odwalla merged in May, 2000. Little do health conscious consumers suspect that Odwalla Juice is owned by CocaCola, as part of their Minute Maid unit.

Boca Burgers is owned by Kraft Foods, which is owned by Philip Morris.

Stoned Wheat Thins are made with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and is owned by Nabisco, which was acquired by Philip Morris in December, 2000.

Arrowhead Water and Poland Spring Water are owned by Nestle (which is being boycotted because its "breast milk substitute" causes the deaths of millions of babies).

Soy Silk is owned by White Wave, which is owned by Dean Foods, whose main shareholders are Microsoft, General Electric, Philip Morris, Citigroup, Pfizer, Exxon/Mobil, Coca Cola, WalMart, PepsiCo, and Home Depot.

Organic Cow: Writing for The New York Times Sunday Magazine (May 13, 2001), Michael Pollan reported that Organic Cow, previously represented to consumers as an organic dairy based in the Northeast and consisting of a network of small farms, was bought out by Horizon. Another source of organic dairy products, Horizon is a $127 million public corporation that has become the Microsoft of organic milk, controlling 70 percent of the retail market. The milk is now "ultrapasteurized" using a high-heat process that "kills the milk," destroying its enzymes and many of its vitamins so it can be sold over long distances.

Arguably, ultrapasteurized organic milk is actually less nutritious than conventionally pasteurized non-organic milk. Horizon’s "factory farms" in the West are described as a clear example of the certifiability of inhumane practices through the emerging corporate organics system. "On Horizon’s dairy farms in the west, thousands of cows that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day," Pollan wrote.

Now That We Know

Like the greed to control oil resources that is driving the U.S. war-making agenda, the greed to control food and water betrays the ultimate capitalist goal of controlling the very basic resources needed for life. There is much analysis available suggesting that water wars will be next. Corporate intrusion into the very nature of nature through genetic engineering, patenting and "free trade" policies makes it imperative that we politicize our view of organic food production. Organic food is just plain food. It is what our bodies are made to receive and what human beings need to survive within the ecology of our planet. It is corporate marketing that creates organic products as "boutique" food for the privileged. In fact, clean food is as much our right as clean air and water.

With thanks to Paul Glover for research on corporate connections in the organic industry as a member of the Ithaca Greenstar Food Coop Education Committee. Details at www.ithacanews. org/greenstarstock.html

Rethinking food

We have become accustomed to supermarket and convenience shopping. We are lured into consuming addctive foods that are systematically destroying our bodies.

* Start buying at consumer-owned stores such as co-ops and health food stores. You will find that food expenses are actually less when you pay higher prices for quality food because you eat so much less.

* Most areas have a u-pick farm where large varieties of fresh produce is available in season. Experience the joys of harvesting fruits and veggies in the field and relearn (or learn) how to preserve them by canning, freezing or drying (it’s not that difficult or expensive).

* Support local farmers at the regional market in season. Some are not certified "organic" producers, but make conscious choices in their practices.

* Grow what you can in your own garden.

The work it takes to gather and put up our own food is rewarding on so many levels—aerobically, nutritionally, socially and, when we resume the responsibility of feeding ourselves and each other, we become healthier, happier people living in stronger communities.

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