Thursday, June 01, 2006

More on the Big Organic Debate

My father continues his run as one of my top spotters with this AP article that he saw in the Lake Charles American Press. This is one of those topics that I worry a bit about overdoing; at the same time, I'm very glad to see the mainstream media taking note of concerns being raised about large-scale organics:

Earthbound Farm's fields of organic baby spinach and romaine lettuce are a living symbol of the organic food movement's explosive growth in recent years.

What started two decades ago as a three-acre roadside farm in this valley 90 miles south of San Francisco has grown into the country's largest grower of organic produce, with more than 100 types of fruits and vegetables on 28,000 acres in the U.S. and abroad.

Earthbound's extraordinary growth is only the most visible example of how organic farming is changing. Small family farms created as an alternative to conventional agriculture are increasingly giving way to large-scale operations that harvest thousands of acres and market their produce nationwide.

And with Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertson's and other big supermarket chains expanding their organic offerings, the transformation may only be in its early stages.

"I don't think (consumers) have any idea just how industrialized it's becoming," said Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." "There are some real downsides to organic farming scaling up to this extent."

Pollan's voice is a welcome one to this debate, and he's been making the rounds of the green media (including this week at Grist) to both tout his new book and discuss this issue. I must admit that I'm just as confused as ever about this debate. I'll freely admit that rhetoric about Wal-Mart "democratizing" organics has some appeal, though that simply means they can offer it at lower prices. I'm also very glad to see that large organic operations like EarthBound aren't cutting corners. Still, large-scale organics require large-scale transportation, lowering prices may well mean more "globalized" organics, and a "Big Organic" lobby can apply political pressure as we saw with last Fall's successful attempt to lower the bar (admittedly, slightly) on organic certification. The jury's still out at sustainablog... fire away...

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