By Jeanette Joy Fisher
Do you shop for "organic certified" produce?
Some organic produce enthusiasts are cheering about its
increasingly widespread availability. They say it's about
time that huge retailers like Safeway, Costco, and even
Wal-Mart have begun to add organic products to their
shelves. With the market beginning to boom, some of the
world's largest food manufacturers are beginning to jump
on the bandwagon, as well, such as Kelloggís, Kraft, and
General Foods. Isn't that good news for advocates of
The answer is a qualified maybe. It's a simple case of the
time-proven law of supply-and-demand. The organic market
has been growing steadily for decades, and once the
numbers were there, it was inevitable that the big
companies would step in to grab a share of the market.
Some less enthusiastic organic foods advocates have
expressed concern that having the giant retailers move
into the market will ultimately weaken certification
standards and hurt small farmers who have been able to
capitalize on serving the organic niche market in order to
The market share for organic produce is still miniscule,
accounting for less than 3 percent of U.S. retail food
sales in 2005, but the numbers are still impressive: $14
billion in sales and increases of 16 percent for organic
produce, 24 percent for organic milk, and a whopping 55
percent rise in organic beef sales over the past year.
Certified organic products typically sell at a 20-30
percent premium over similar non-organic ones. Given
numbers like those, itís not surprising that the nationís
mega-retailers are beginning to get excited by the
possibilities for future growth.
However, there is growing concern that as factory-style
farms move into the organic area to fill the demand from
giant retail chains, the certification process may be
lessened to allow those huge farms to meet the
specifications. Those fears were given some credence when
a recent report by the Cornucopia Institute discovered
that two of the largest organic dairies in the nation keep
their cows primarily in huge feedlots with little or no
chance to graze on pasture.
At the moment, the demand for organic milk outstrips
supply, but if the trend continues (and there's no reason
to believe it won't), it could cause genuine problems for
small farmers, who have been all but squeezed out of
nearly every other phase of agriculture, but managed to
find a market niche that allowed them to stay in business.
One of the biggest effects on the market will be retail
giant Wal-Mart's demand for considerably lower prices.
That means smaller profit margins for suppliers, but it
could also mean a further loosening of certification
standards in order to meet the demand and the low prices
Wal-Mart would expect.
Where will it all lead? It's too early to tell, but if the
current trend continues, it would appear that the consumer
cost of organic produce and meat is going to become more
affordable. However, it's yet to be determined how much
loosening of the certification guidelines will take place
in order for that to take place.
Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher
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