It’s no surprise that Wal-Mart’s move into organics, which is likely to see big bands like Kellogg’s and Pepsi bring out organic versions of their products, is not going down well with existing providers of organic foods. The US Organic Consumers Association warns: ‘When Wal-Mart places a gigantic order, the wholesalers start to lobby for lower standards, and outsource to places overseas where the standards are lower or the labour practices are horrible.’
That may be true. But more to the point, big brands moving into organics threatens to destroy the myths that fuel the higher prices of organic food. Two years ago I had a pop at organic bread, so I risk repetition. But it’s worth repeating that organic foods offer no benefits and, as fear of Wal-Mart placing a big order shows, can never be mass market products.
Most organic foods are better quality not because they’re organic, but because they tend to use higher quality and free range ingredients. They are more likely to be fair traded. All of these are good things. Yet organics need not be good. Organic farmers can’t make any positive claims for their products without risking censure from the Advertising Standards Authority. Organics are marketed by associating them with other nice things; there’s no reason why we can’t farm organic battery eggs using slave labour, except that those who buy organics tend to prefer fairly traded free range.
Organic Kellogg’s Rice Krispies here we come. They’ll be no better than the standard, just a few pence more expensive, and will show organic farming to be nonsense.