State of the Organic Industry

State of the Organic Industry

Apr 14

Graphic showing 2009 ownership of organic brands and companies

I found this nifty graphic posted on Facebook, created by Philip Howard at Michigan State University, showing the ownership and affiliations of organic brands. Notice that, although most of them are marketed as small, back-to-their-roots kind of companies, they are in fact owned or controlled by multinational corporations. For an even more eye-opening look at the industry, watch this great animation, also by Mr. Howard, showing the changes from 1995 to 2007:

Animation showing changes in the organic industry from 1995 to 2007

Depending on how you spin this, it could be great or awful.

More backing for organic food means larger advertising and distributing budgets, which means exposure to larger segments of the population, people who may or may not have been interested in organic options before they were available. It also means that those organic products will be more affordable, as they are being produced on a larger scale and overseen by a corporate entity with years of experience producing and selling food. These increases in size and variety will inevitably lead to more jobs, because of the higher demand and because organic food is necessarily more labor intensive.

Of course, there is also a sinister side to the consolidation of the organic industry. These controlling corporations already have infrastructures in place for conventionally produced food, and as much as we may try to skirt around the ethics of it, the fact is that by buying these organic foods we are now supporting factory farming, because that money eventually makes its way back to the parent company. This dichotomy is hard to deal with if you understand that current conventional agriculture needs to change. Although it may seem that by throwing our money to these corporations’ organic brands, we are somehow encouraging them to move more of their product line in that direction, I think that organic food just isn’t as profitable as “the other stuff.” And more profits are the ultimate goal of these conglomerates, which in itself is another problem. Any company that is interested only in constantly increasing net gain is not going to be content with organic farming practices, because it requires more work and effort. Unfortunately, instead of giving up their organic brands, these companies will spend gratuitous amounts of money to lobby the government for relaxed standards of organic certification. Already, I’ve heard talk of allowing GMOs under the USDA organic label, and I know that the use of certain pesticides and chemical fertilizers are permitted. Bureaucracy and sustainable, organic farming just don’t mix very well.

Also check out this diagram of the agricultural treadmill on Philip Howard’s site. It’s a great illustration of how the current farming practices are self-defeating. The opposite of this system is Permaculture, which Laura and I recently started researching. But that’s another post.

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