New York Times writer Stephanie Strom has written an explosive piece exposing Big Food’s — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars — success at co-opting the organic food business.
Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more are actually owned by Kellogg. Naked Juice is owned by PepsiCo, as in Pepsi and Fritos, and Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, as in ketchup.
Strom points out that many consumers are unaware of the extent to which giant corporations have come to dominate organic food, and these giant corporations are understandably very quiet about their role in the organic food industry.
“Between the time the Agriculture Department came up with its proposed regulations for the organic industry in 1997 and the time those rules became law in 2002, myriad small, independent organic companies — businesses like Cascadian Farm — were snapped up by corporate titans. Heinz and Hain together bought 19 organic brands.”
Certified-Organic Label is a Fraud
Major organic foods producer and wholesaler Michael J. Potter (Eden Foods) recently voiced his objection to allowing carrageenan — which has a long history of significant links to different types of cancer and acute-inflammatory responses — before the National Organic Standards Board.
The board ended up voting 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan on the growing list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in products with the coveted “certified organic” label.
Why would the board vote 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan? Strom says it’s because BIG FOOD has assumed a powerful role in setting the standards for organic foods. Major corporations have come to dominate the board that sets these standards.
“The board is stacked,” 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.
“Eden is one of the last remaining independent organic companies of any size, together with the Clif Bar & Company, Amy’s Kitchen, Lundberg Family Farms and a handful of others.”
And as corporate membership on the board has increased, writes Strom, 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.”
Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at Cornucopia, found that two large companies, General Mills and Dean Foods, and the vast cooperative Cropp, which sells produce under the Organic Valley brand, “have held nearly continuous influence on the board.”
And Strom notes the three board allocated consumer seats have never been filled by anyone from a traditional consumer advocacy group like the Organic Consumers Association or the Consumers Union. Instead, those seats have largely gone to academics with agricultural expertise and to corporate executives.
“If you fill the slots earmarked by Congress for independent voices with corporate voices, you greatly mitigate the safeguards built into the supermajority requirement of the law,” says Mark Kastel, director of the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group.
Strom adds that Katrina Heinze, a General Mills executive was appointed to serve as a consumer representative on the board in December 2005. The outcry over her appointment was so intense that she resigned in February 2006 — but rejoined the board late that year.
“During her second stint on the board, which ended last December, critics said they were shocked when she did not recuse herself from the vote to add DHA to the list, since its manufacturer sometimes uses technology licensed from General Mills in making it.”
Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director at the Organic Consumers Association, had this to say about Katrina Heinze:
“I understand that there are very few 100 percent organic businesses left. But to add someone from a company like General Mills that has such a big interest in promoting genetic engineering, promoting nanotechnology, promoting a variety of things that are so antithetical to organic principles, is that really necessary to achieve diversity?”
Big Food Has Totally Undermined Organic Food Business
It shouldn’t be too difficult to see where this is all headed. Bear in mind that it was because of the increasing amount of synthetic chemicals, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology in Big Food that a demand for organic food was created in the first place.
Now Big Food is well on its way to introducing those same undesirable toxins in organic food and since major corporations dominate the board that sets standards, more and more of these synthetic toxins will be certified as organic.