Caution about Organics

The latest outbreak of E.coli has been linked to bagged spinach produced by the ironically-named Natural Selection Foods, based in California.  Given the nature of E. coli and its ability to quickly and quietly infect proximate food, there may still be other products infected by the deadly virus.

The current problems facing Natural Selection Foods, which sells its produce under both its Earthbound Farm Organic brand and through the private brands of companies like Trader Joe’s, is a good example of the ways in which the organic foods industry has changed over the last couple of decades.

Moving from a rather insignificant percentage of food production to a large segement of the marketplace in relatively quick order, contemporary organic production has become more like industrial agriculture–mono-cultural, large-scale, and increasingly consolidated.  These characteristics undermine the integrative, ecological understandings of organics that many consumers still see as the major advantage of these products over conventionally-produced foods.

The New York Times has a good article today on how these tensions are being experienced in the organic dairy industry as Wal Mart gets more involved in selling organic products.  It seems that their main supplier–Aurora Organic Dairy–arranges its dairy operation more on an industrial model.  It confines its cows, gives them a diet dominant in corn-feed rather than the more natural grass, and milks them with great frequency.  The Wisconsin-based watchdog group, The Cornucopia Institute, filed a complaint earlier this year with the US Department of Agriculture charging that Aurora is not compliant with organic standards.

The food blog, The Ethicurean, has a nice review of a recent book by Samuel Fromartz called, Organic Inc., which looks at the development of the organic movement into a large-scale industry.