Thursday November 16, 2006, 12:39 pm
Wal-Mart Charged With Selling Non-Organic Food as "Organic"
By CounterPunch News Service
The Cornucopia Institute, the nation's most aggressive organic farming
watchdog, has filed a formal legal complaint with the USDA asking them to
investigate allegations of illegal "organic" food distribution by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Cornucopia has documented cases of nonorganic food products being sold as
organic in Wal-Mart's grocery departments.
"We first noticed that Wal-Mart was using in-store signage to misidentify
conventional, nonorganic food as organic in their upscale-market test store in
Plano, Texas," said Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute. Subsequently,
Cornucopia staff visited a number of other Wal-Mart stores in the Midwest and
documented similar improprieties in both produce and dairy sections.
Cornucopia notified Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott in a letter on September 13,
2006 alerting the company to the problem and asking that it address and correct
the situation on an immediate basis. But the same product misrepresentations
were again observed weeks later, throughout October, at separate Wal-Mart stores
in multiple states.
"This is disturbing and a serious problem," Kastel said. "Organic farmers
adopt and follow a rigorous range of management practices, with audit trails, to
ensure that the food they sell to processors and retailers is organic and
produced in accordance with federal organic regulations. Consumers, who are paying
premium prices in the marketplace for organic food, deserve to get what they
are paying for."
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced a sweeping organic foods initiative and
declared that they would greatly increase the number of organic offerings for
sale in their stores"at dramatically lower prices than the competition. The
move by the giant retailer has been under close scrutiny from members of the
organic community seeking to assess what impact Wal-Mart's decision will have on
organic food and farming concerns.
A number of other organic food retailers throughout the country, including
Whole Foods Markets and many of the nations member-owned grocery cooperatives,
have gone to the effort to become certified organic in terms of the handling of
their products and have invested heavily in staff training to help them
understand organic food production and sale concerns.
"Our management and our employees know what organic means," said Lindy
Bannister, General Manager at The Wedge Cooperative in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "If
Wal-Mart intends to get into organics, they can't be allowed to misidentify
natural' foods as organic to unsuspecting consumers." The Wedge, the largest
single store member-owned food cooperative in the nation, was one of the first
retailers to go through the USDA organic certification process.
"One can question whether Wal-Mart has the management and staff expertise
necessary to fully understand organics and the marketing requirements essential
to selling organic food," observed Kastel. "At this point, it seems they are
attracted by the profits generated from the booming organic food sector but are
not fully invested in organic integrity. Given their size, market power, and
market clout, this is very troubling."
Cornucopia's complaint asks the USDA to fully investigate the allegations of
organic food misrepresentation. The farm policy organization has indicated
that they will share their evidence, including photographs and notes, with the
agency's investigators. Fines of up to $10,000 per violation for proven
incidents of organic food misrepresentation are provided for in federal organic
This past September, The Cornucopia Institute also accused Wal-Mart of
cheapening the value of the organic label by sourcing products from industrial-scale
factory-farms and Third World countries, such as China.
The Institute released a white paper, Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic
Products"Market Expansion or Market Delusion?, that made the argument that Wal-Mart is
poised to drive down the price of organic food in the marketplace by inventing a
"new" organic"food from corporate agribusiness, factory-farms, and cheap
imports of questionable quality (available at www.cornucopia.org).
The Cornucopia Institute's White Paper, Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products:
Market Expansion or Market Delusion?, along with a photo gallery containing
images of some of the organic items now being offered for sale at Wal-Mart
stores, can be found on the organization's web page at www.cornucopia.org as can
Cornucopia's legal complaint filed with the USDA regarding Wal-Mart's alleged
organic product misrepresentation.
The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for
the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic
development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through
marketplace initiatives. The Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog
assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and
the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.