Sunday, May 14, 2006

The greening of WalMart

That WalMart is now planning to offer organic foods in their product line speaks volumes about consumer concern over genetically modified crops and the overuse of pesiticides on the monolithic farms that deliver most of the produce available in the grocery stores. The organic farming industry is said to welcome WalMart's entry in the market but as the NYT points out in an editorial today, we might want to hold off on popping any champagne corks over WalMart's "enlightment."
But here are the pitfalls. Wal-Mart will now become the 800-pound gorilla among the other, slightly smaller gorillas that have tried repeatedly to weaken the Agriculture Department's definition of what organic means. There is no chance that Wal-Mart will be buying from small, local organic farmers. Instead, its market influence will speed up the rate at which organic farming comes to resemble conventional farming in scale, mechanization, processing and transportation. For many people, this is the very antithesis of what organic should be.
WalMart's entry into this arena is not out of any great desire to "go green." It's motivated solely by greenbacks. They desire to draw in the more affluent shoppers who patronize the "whole foods" stores that have sustained the organic farming industry until now. While we can applaud the move for making healthier food available at a more affordable price for lower income consumers, we might want to hold the accolades until we see if the small organic farms who pioneered consumer acceptance of organic food in the first place will suffer the same fate as the countless number of other locally owned mom and pop enterprises that were driven out of business when WalMart flooded the market with its slash and burn pricing on cut-rate merchandise from foreign sweatshops.

Bigger is not always better and in the case of WalMart, if we look to past history, its foray into organic foods could signal the beginning of the end of any real meaning for the organic label and the diminishment, rather than the enhancement of consumer choice.
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Blogger Kathy said...

I'll be surprised if this works for them. From what I've read, organic products have a real short shelf life. Organic farmers tend to sell their products locally within a small radius because the product compromises quickly. Real health nuts probably know that and shop accordingly.

5:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it very suspicious and I'll bet it won't last long. I don't know about other places, but in any event the regular produce is really baet up looking at the Wallyworld here. I can't imagine how organic would look.

8:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Bronwyn said...

That's funny, anonymous. In our town, the produce at our employee-owned grocery store is terrible.

And by terrible, I mean three huge bins of onions, all covered in fungus. And it just goes downhill from there. We never find anything in our store's produce department that isn't compromised in one way or another.

At Walmart though, the produce looks much better. Not perfect, but I chalk that up to our living in Iowa (ick).

The Walmart here already carries several of the same organic labels as our grocery store, too - packaged foods and produce.

I doubt Walmart would be able to rely on bulk gorilla suppliers, precisely for the reasons kathy cited. So maybe they'd help the local farmers by carrying more organic produce.

Even if that produce is more pricey, the theory would probably go that the customer saves so much in other departments within the store that they'd have some wiggle room in the budget for some produce.


2:40:00 PM  
Blogger Left of Center said...

Walmart like every business will ahve to go green. As will you and I. I happy to see they are making any inroads to that purpose at all. Sure they will write the playbook. But at least there will be one. They also donated quite abit of land to parks and wild areas. ZEqual to the amount of land thwey used for their stores. I'm not a fan of Walmarts other problems but I'll give credit where credit is due.

7:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Libby said...

I have no problem with them getting into the green market. It would be a shame if they drove out the small farms who pioneered the market though by setting up megafarms of their own. Looking to the lessons of history, I have to think that's a legitimate concern.

9:24:00 AM  

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