When Organic Food is Overtaken by Big Business

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Organic foods couldn’t be any closer to the mainstream than they are right at this moment. Most major organic brands in North America are now owned by huge food corporations. But what could be the effect of all these organics in the hands of Kraft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Cargill — sold now by giant supermarket chains?

A Canadian researcher says organic food is being advertised as “yuppie chow” for privileged people. And companies that make it are packaging it in a way that is unfriendly to the environment. The point of organic food may be becoming diluted. That is, the term “organic” is used for marketing purposes to use the healthy-eating movement to boost sales. Lost in the fray may be quality and production of food that is assured to meet organic standards.

Like any trend in the marketplace, organic food is driven by demand. But big corporations don’t get big without making wise decisions about business. While they are eager to meet the demand, they are also apt to mass-produce organic foods because it lowers costs and makes it less expensive. But, as the researcher points out, consumers may wish to ask: What does this mean for the product? How different is this organic piece of fruit to the normal one next to it?

Research is illustrating that organic food is becoming a status food. It is kind of like a fetish by people with lots of disposable income, able to pay the premium prices. Amid this market shift, the real point of organics is getting forgotten. Organic food is free of chemicals and grown in a way that benefits the land most. It is a truly environmental movement, which inherently does not mix well with corporate America.

But now it is mixing. Consumers won’t really know about the environmental results of the organic food they eat, because that is the message getting diluted. Plus, the researcher says, big food companies like Kraft and retailers like Wal-Mart are using the same old transportation and packaging methods that have always been used. Both have environmental consequences that the organic-food movement was meant to prevent.

What will happen from here is anyone’s guess. What’s obvious is that organic food is entering hip consumerism and culture itself while its core values — environmentalism, social justice, and anti-globalization — fade into the background. Organic could, one day, mean very little at all.