For the last fifteen years, the largest multinational food corporations have been intensively buying up organic producers in an effort to enter the profitable niche market.
These companies benefit from the premium charged on organic products, a premium that committed consumers will pay because they support the values of the organic movement: local, ecologically sound, chemical-free, healthy, and ethically produced. They believe that the higher price tag is a result of environmentally friendly practices and that the additional labor required for chemical-free weed control costs more than herbicides.
Yet the purchase of organic companies by corporate giants such as General Mills, Kraft, and Kellogg pushes prices upward for different reasons: the pressure to continually increase quarterly profits and to develop new products. What is more, Kraft’s organic Oreos and other processed organic food—high in calories and low in nutrition—are at odds with organic principles. These multinational firms lobby for the use of synthetic additives and non-organic ingredients, diluting the organic label.
If consumers realize who is behind these products, they may be less willing to pay a higher price. After all, their interest in organics probably doesn’t involve lining the coffers of multinational companies that have no commitment to consumers’ ideals.
But that consumer resistance won’t materialize until food advocates move beyond the hackneyed explanations for the cost and availability of organic food. They’ll have to address the control of the industry by Walmart, the large processed food companies, and prviate equity firms. Indeed, reforming organics is part of a much larger debate over the monopolization and control of the food system by multinational corporate interests.
Excerpted with permission from Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter, published by The New Press, 2012.