Many of Your Favorite Organic Brands Are Owned by Huge Conglomerates
Like many movements, the modern organic food revolution has experienced some growing pains. It's no secret that raising food sans industrial pesticides and genetic engineering started as a hippie notion, an outgrowth of the back-to-the-land movement and the countercultural 60's. But organic food has become much more popular and mainstream in recent years, accounting for 3 to 4% of U.S. food sales and climbing. One can now find organic products in practically every venue coast to coast. In Europe organic products are even more popular. In the UK, for example, 40% of baby food consumed is now organic.
Before the Green Revolution transformed agribusiness with the promise of greater automation and efficiency, of course, everything was de facto organic. But today's organic foods are much more sophisticated than what your grandparents planted. The movement isn't just about what farmers don't use, it also is supported with a growing body of research and scientific knowledge. Today's organic farmers don't just beg for mercy from pests and disease, they have an increasing arsenal of soil-building, pest-deterring techniques that are far from backwards or anti-scientific.
And organic products are being marketed and sold by some of the world's largest companies. According to a handy chart made (and last updated in June) by Professor Phil Howard at Michigan State University, Hershey's bought organic chocolate maker Dagoba in 2006. Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006; Coke picked up Odwalla in 2001; Nestle owns Tribe Mediterranean Foods; Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms, Kashi, Gardenburger and Bear Naked; and ConAgra owns Lightlife. General Mills, Cargill, Kraft, Cadbury, M&M Mars and others also own a host of natural brands. The conglomerate Hain Celestial Group is a major player in the sector.
A number of consumers have cried fowl after big company Dean Foods took over Silk soymilk, and then quietly changed the product from organic to conventional. Dean's move was symbolic to those who resent what they feel has been a corporate takeover of their ideals. Still, others praise the fact that organic foods are now more available and mainstream-friendly. Some argue that organic should become more affordable as a result, while some skeptics question the real benefits for consumers in an age of business consolidation.
The Daily Green's founder, Deborah Barrow, argued that mergers and acquisitions are the natural progression of a sector's growth, and said some consolidation is probably necessary in a world still dominated by Wal-Mart and Nestle. Business critics challenge that it seems unlikely for profit-motivated, multinational organizations to stay focused on core organic principles.
What do you think?
Page 1: When organic doesn't always make sense
Page 3: Learn what some farmers think of organic
Page 4: Discover the surprising ingredients in organic foods
Page 5: Get the truth about organic yields
Page 6: Is organic really healthier?
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