NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Big Organic Food

July 30, 2002

Organic farming was envisioned as ecologically sustainable agriculture practiced by small farmers rather than corporations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, after lobbying by the industry, has instituted a marketing program that certifies organically grown products. However, as the market for organically grown foods has grown, big organic farmers are supplanting small farmers.

The U.S. has almost doubled its acres of organic farmland since 1997. In 2001, global sales of organic foods reached $26 billion and are expected to reach $80 billion by 2008.

Certification used to favor the small farmer; now it is a way for mass organic producers and marketers to brand their products.

  • In California, five giant farms control half of the state's $400 million organic produce market.
  • Horizon Organic, a publicly traded Colorado-based company, controls more than 70 percent of the nation's organic milk market.
  • More than 30 percent of its milk is produced at two industrial-size dairies, one of which milks close to 5,000 cows.

Today, government standardization and corporate consolidation have changed organic farming. Large corporate food firms now own the leading organic manufacturers.

Critics note that organic is a marketing category, not an ecologically pure alternative to conventional food. Most organically grown food is packaged and processed, undercutting environmental benefits and health claims. In addition, organic farming uses massive amounts of non-renewable energy to process, package and ship organically grown food all over the world.

Source: Linda Baker, "The Not-So-Sweet Success of Organic Farming," Salon.com, July 29, 2002.

 

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