All posts tagged organic

Natural – The “False Advertising Industry”’s Biggest Breakthrough

When it comes to claims on food products is Organic the “real natural”? That’s what Organic Voices, a non-profit organization largely composed of USDA Certified Organic food brands, wants you to believe and their latest communication effort is using humor to prove its point.

You need look no further than an issue of USA Today or The New York Times to know that natural product claims have entered the Top 10 Most Wanted list for the Food Movement, right up there with McDonald’s Happy Meals and sugar sweetened beverages. It’s a drastic change from just a decade ago, when the term was a meaningful badge of quality and healthfulness. Unfortunately for devoted natural foodies, the cache of “natural” caught on a bit too well and as a result has been adopted by a seemingly infinite number of products out to cash in on the term and exploit the lack of criteria provided by our regulatory bodies for how to responsibly use it.

It’s unlikely Organic is the fix for the majority of natural food products on the market today. A more likely answer is the adoption of new labels (i.e. Non-GMO Project Verified, Gluten-Free, Top 8 Allergen-Free) to fill-in the grey space created by natural claims and, ultimately, a continued responsibility of the consumer to read the fine print (and then verify it).

But, as “natural” gets its vigilante justice in a process that is, at times, painful to watch, at least we can take a break to laugh about it.

The Natural Effect

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Image by Organic Voices

Walmart and Organic: Good, Bad or Ugly?

Walmart announced last week that they will roll out a massive expansion in organic offerings through the Wild Oats label at prices 25% below those of other national organic brands.

Like many people, I have conflicting emotions when it comes to Walmart (a company so big that if it were a country it would be the 25th largest based on GDP).  They are often in the press for wage disputes with employees and a seeming singular focus for profit at the expense of all else.  On the flip side, as the largest retailer in the world they also have incredible power to change things for the good.  In 2007, when Walmart mandated reductions in packaging materials for brands sold in its stores, it caused a massive reduction in packaging waste seemingly overnight.  Just in laundry detergent alone, reductions saved more than 125 million pounds of cardboard, 95 million pounds of plastics and 400 million gallons of water (and that was in a period of just two years).

At first pass the Wild Oats news sounds amazing.  On a theoretical level, I’ve always been a “Big Organic” supporter.  Yes!  Let’s shift organic from fringe to norm, raise the bar for farming in the US and bring organic to the masses.  If cost is the primary barrier to entry for consumers, who better than Walmart to change the model?

However, as I have more time to reflect on the announcement, I’m feeling less sure.  From a financial perspective, some of the cost premium associated with organic is due to lack of scale.  However, some of that premium is also due to things where the price can’t (or at least shouldn’t go down), things like labor costs.  So, will the massive expansion of organic production due to Walmart’s announcement create the “Big Ag” I’ve always hoped for, or a version of organic that is shoved into our conventional agriculture model with all its issues (inhumane treatment of animals, poor labor practices, disrespect for the soil) coming along for the ride?  USDA Organic Regulations certainly provide an elevated framework from conventional requirements, however, are organic regs fail safe enough to ensure the right things will be done when a player like Walmart decides to get involved in a massive way?

As usual, Marion Nestle wrote a fabulous piece yesterday that also weighs some of the pros and cons of this announcement.  Like her, I’ll be closely watching Walmart and the industry to see how things unfold.

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Image by Rusty Clark

Don’t Panic, Go Organic: 4 Ways You + Food Can Slow Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report and, perhaps this will be no surprise to you fellow Debbie Downers out there, the news is not good.  Melting ice caps and rising sea levels, stressed water supplies, heat waves and heavy rains are just some of the tell-tale signs facing humanity, and predictions for the future are much, much worse.

As it relates to the impact on food supply, IPCC calculates that food demand is rising at a pace of 14 percent per decade. But it estimates that climate change is already reducing wheat yields by 2 percent each decade — compared with where they would be in the absence of climate change — and corn yields by 1 percent.  Basically, crop yields are heading in the wrong direction and a forecast of famine may yet come true.  From a New York Times piece on the IPCC report,

Climate change is a food security issue. It’s not just an environmental issue.

Fortunately, there is some positive news in the story of global warming.  We already have a tested and proven solution for food. We know how to grow food in ways that cuts emissions, creates more resilient landscapes, and ensures ample yields, all while reducing the use of non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, and land. And we know how to get more nutrition from what we’re already producing.  It’s called organic farming!

Writing for Civil Eats, Anna Lappé, outlined the following four climate-smart food strategies:

  1. Reduce food waste. Globally, we’re wasting as much as 30 percent of all food that could be eaten.  Food waste is often the single largest component of municipal solid waste, making it a major source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas (GHG) with 21 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.
  2. Guard the soil. Across the planet, ecosystems on the land—soils, forests, prairies—absorb about one third of the greenhouse gases humans emit each year.  Industrial agriculture practices now going global destroy soil carbon, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Much of the farmland across our Midwest that had levels of 20 percent carbon as recently as the 1950s, now contain only one or two percent, according to the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute.
  3. Protect the oceans. Keeping oceans healthy is key to food security. In a typical season, only 30 to 50 percent of nitrogen applied is absorbed by crops; the rest is lost as leaching or runoff, ending up in rivers and oceans.
  4. Grow (and eat) food, real food. Take a look at all the corn planted in the United States in 2013, 87 million acres of it, and you’ll find only 1.8 percent was eaten, as cereals or food. The rest was grown for feedlots, ethanol plants, or industrial products. We’re wasting farmland—often prime farmland—to grow crops that we don’t consume, or eat directly.

Find Lappé’s complete list of recommendations and article here.

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Image by Oyvind Solstad