Keeping the Market Place Honest

Not too long ago Silk products, including their Silk soy milk, switched from using organic soybeans to cheaper commercial or ‘natural’ (as their web site says) soybeans in almost all of their products. This switch took place in a way that most consumers would never have noticed. Initially the packaging remained virtually unchanged except for where it had said ‘organic’ on the label, which just disappeared, so if you had been buying the product for some time knowing that it was organic, suddenly it no longer was. Many cried trickery in the market place.

A similar story followed when Target used an image in a flyer from an organic Silk product when in fact it was selling the new ‘natural’ version, which was made from conventional soybeans.

An investigation by the USDA’s National Organic Program was triggered after The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint. You can read the entire story about how Cornucopia brought this to light and helped to expose this deception.

But it goes even futher…the web site for WhiteWave, owned by Dean Foods just like Silk, identified products as organic that no longer were organic. Did such a big corporation just forget to update their website? It is also interesting that the Silk web site says that their parent company is WhiteWave.

I bring this up not to belabor an old issue, but to illustrate how important it is that we let our representatives, and individual companies, know that we demand protection for organic standards and organic labeling. It is exciting that the organic food industry is growing at a tremendous pace due to consumer demand but we need to be sure that the acquisitions by major corporations of what were initially, very committed, smaller scale organic businesses do not alter the standards we expect when we buy something labeled organic.

We are all busy and do not necessarily have time to investigate what corporation has taken over what other company in the corporations growing ‘family tree’ but it is important. The larger the corporation the more lobbyists they have protecting their interests, which unfortunately for many is just generating profits.

Not all businesses are engaged in trying to deceive the public. The Cornucopia story tells how Heinz helped fund tomato growers to switch to organic production when they began their organic label line. Also, when Stonyfield yogurt was acquired by group Danone of France many were worried about what would happen. Stonyfield has remained committed to buying all of their milk from family-scale organic farmers. This is in contrast to Horizon, also owned by Dean Foods, who relies on factory farms more and more for its milk, and many Horizon products are no longer organic as we have seen happen with Silk and WhiteWave.

There still exist independently owned companies that are doing well and growing, so maybe when you are shopping give their items a second look. Some of these are Eden Foods, Nature’s Path, Organic Valley, Lundberg Family Farms, Alvarado Street Bakery, Cedarlane, Golden Temple, and Newman’s Own. You can find really helpful charts of who owns what at Cornucopia’s web site I was surprised about many of them. Now, independently owned doesn’t necessarily mean that all of their products are organic and being part of a mega-corporation doesn’t mean that they are not organic, but I think that this is something important to many of us and surprising as well.

It is a challenging world out there to maneuver through but the more we stand up for organic the more our voices will be heard and real standards will be set and enforced. The next time you visit Whole Foods or any other so-called natural foods market, let the manager know that it matters to you that organics are available…not just ‘natural’, which means nothing. The market is responding to our demands, we just need to be sure it is done with integrity and not deception.