An article in CorpWatch adeptly summarizes what strikes me as a classic dilemma facing enviro(nmentalist)s: Organic food is becoming more popular and the organic food industry is growing. As it grows, large corporations are taking an interest, buying small organic companies, and attempting to supersize organic farming operations. By some estimates the percentage of organic food sold by organic markets has fallen from over 60 percent to just over 30 percent — the rest taken up by Wal-Marty type stores (and a miniscule percentage by farmers’ markets, food-buying clubs, and the like). Organic is going corporate.
Reactions, as you would expect, are split.On one side are enviros like Ronnie Cummins of the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, who inveighs against the trend.
“No way in hell can you be organic if you have over a few hundred cows. After a certain size, the operation cannot be ecologically sound anymore, among other things because of the amount of manure produced,” added Cummins.
“In California there are huge organic farms that produce organic lettuce and carrots in large monocultures, using large energy inputs and receiving subsidized water — three elements that are anti-environmental and unacceptable for those who want ecologically sound farming,” he adds.
On the other side are business-friendly types who see this as all for the good. Here’s Barbara Haumann, spokesgal for the U.S. Organic Trade Association:
“The more players, the more products will be available to consumers, who, in turn, will buy more products. This will result in more land under organic production, regardless of the size of the operation. And that will be better for the environment, local communities, and the planet.”
It’s a complicated issue. The fact is that organics are likely to be forever stuck in an ambiguous middle ground, less eco-friendly than enviros would like and less global-trade friendly than big business would like. Obviously it’s incumbent upon enviro groups and enlightened consumers to keep the pressure up to strengthen standards and fight more egregious greenwashing efforts — i.e., to keep the ball moving down the field.
How should the environmental community respond in its public statements, though? What should be its official attitude toward these developments?
I’d like to suggest that the growing adoption of organic foods is a victory for environmentalism. Get that? A victory. How about, instead of immediate, grumpy kvetching about how the purity of organic is being sullied by capitalism, we take a few victory laps? How about we proclaim, loudly and publicly, WE WON. We’re proud. Thank you, America, for seeing the wisdom of our position. Thank you for moving in the right direction. Thank you, corporate America, for seeing the economic benefits of organic and embracing it. You’re moving along, and we’re here to help you continue. Congrats, now let us turn together to the work that remains.
If all we do is bitch, the reaction of the average joe/jane will be, “no matter what we do, they just keep bitching at us.” We will look like we’re on the sidelines while business groups make something happen. We will, in effect, cede this victory to them, cause after all, it just wasn’t good enough for us. We’re too pure, too virtuous, to allow a smile to creep onto our faces.
It’s PR, folks. People love a winner. We’re winning this one. How about we spike the ball?