Friday 9 May 2014

How to Have Your Own Cake and Eat It Too

When you pick up a packet of pasta for a carton of milk from the ‘organic’ section of the supermarket or from a health food shop, do you try to find out how many non-organic substances it may contain? Very unlikely. You trust the label, ‘Certified Organic.’ There must be a government-approved process that makes sure that only organic things get that coveted certificate and license to charge a hefty premium. You don't have to think. You don't have to ask. Someone else has done it for you.

Well, there is a process of certification. We also know that certification as organic allows the use of certain non-organic substances such as baking soda, without which you can’t make organic bread. In the US the list of permissible non-organic substances, however, grew from 77 in 2002 to more than 250 in 2012. How come?

According to a report (“Has ‘organic’ been oversized?” by Stephanie Strom) in the New York Times of July 7, 2012, Big Food has quietly invaded and colonised the organic foods space. Gradually they have come to dominate the National Organic Standards Board set up by the American government to determine what can be certified organic and what cannot be. Thus, instead of fresh food produced organically in small farms and consumed locally, Americans are now treated to countrywide brands such as Wholesome & Hearty, Walnut Acres, and Healthy Valley – all owned by Big Food that has been drawn there by the premium which discerning customers gladly pay. Giant agri-food corporations including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Heinz, and Kraft have driven out most independent organic farmers after buying their brands. Those big companies shape the average consumer’s purchase decisions through influencing the certification process .
The more than threefold increase in the number of permissible non-organic substances during the last ten years closely matches the growth of Big Food’s influence in the certification process.

Big Food has its own cheaper standard products side-by-side with organic products under a variety of pastoral-something brand names. They make money through both these channels. Consumers who are tired and scared of the business practices of Big Food may think that when they buy organic milk or pasta, they support small farms. What they buy may be safe; but they might not be willing to pay a premium for those products if they knew more about the certification process.

Companies and governments exploit our blind faith in certain processes and reluctance to ask questions. They persuade us gently to do many things that we would not want to if we knew the inside story.

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