Wal-Mart Go Organic

by Organikal on May 16, 2006

Organic Foods Only Niche?

I choose to wake up to Radio4 in the morning, as opposed to an alarm. I usually manage to catch the tail end of Farming Today, and quite often fall back asleep to the soothing tones of the Today team doing their stuff. Despite promising myself a 6.00am rise yesterday, I rose from my alpha state just before 7.00am to the tail end of a discussion around organic farming, and it’s growth and viability. I think the article may have been activated by the release of some new statistics around the growth of organic foods in the UK. I mostly caught the naysayer side of the discussion – it’s only ever going to be a niche market – it’s uneconomical, inefficient and unsustainable.

It was whilst searching the BBC site for the article, which I didn’t find so can’t tell what the fuss was about, I came across a worrying news story. The BBC reported on Friday that Wal-Mart have told the New York Times that they have decided to go organic! In fact, they are increasing their range of organic produce, and will be able to sell it for only 10% more than standard produce – to quote Wal-Mart , they want to “democratise organics food”. They have also told their suppliers such as Pepsi, Kelloggs and Kraft they want an increased range of organic foods to become available.

So, why do I find this worrying. Well, of course I want to see increased access to organic produce, but supermarkets just aren’t the best outlet. Organic means so much more than without pesticides. It means respect for the environment. Fair treatment for all people and animals. It means being healthy. It means being sustainable. And it means being ethical. Supermarkets simply aren’t in the business of any of these things. Organic Rice Krispies, for heaven’s sake – just the ticket for your kid to get a healthy start to their schoold day! They would have us believe so. And it’s a fallacy. Mr Wal-Mart and Mr Tesco want to make as much money as they can by making sure we are unable to buy anything we want from anywhere else – and I find this extremely worrying.

Bruce Peterson, head of perishable food at Wal-Mart told the New York Times “Consumers that gravitate to organic products don’t always think of Wal-Mart as a top-of-mind destination to pick up those products. We want to let customers know, ‘Hey we’re in that business.’”.

No you’re not Mr Peterson. You’re in the business of making money. And you’re in the business of monopolising the supply of food.

So unless we all get smarter about where we buy our produce, we can expect that true organic food may indeed remain a niche market.

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