Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wal-Mart not organic enough for its critics

Wal-Mart's entry into the natural food business promises to lower organic food prices for consumers. Yet not everyone is happy. It seems that Wal-mart is not organic enough for its critics despite legitimizing the market and fueling growth for products such as organic milk.

Activist groups, as well as some organic food retailers and dairies, contend that the company where Wal-Mart and the other big retailers get their milk operates large factory farms that are diluting the principles of organic agriculture and delivering customers a substandard product. They argue that Aurora’s cows do not spend any significant time roaming pastures and eating fresh grass; instead they live on a diet high in grains.


The controversy turns on how closely Aurora adheres to the principles behind the organic food movement. Many organic farmers say grass feeding is essential for organic dairy production because it is part of a cow’s natural behavior.

Andrew Potter notes the absurdity of it all.

Natural behaviour? Cows aren’t natural entities. Like dogs, they’re completely artificial. They’re basically living meat sculptures, shaped by humans, for human purposes, over thousands of years. Besides, who cares whether what they eat is part of their natural behaviour? You’re going to drink their milk. Once you’ve decided that you’re willing to swallow whatever comes out of a cow’s udder, you’ve pretty much abandoned any high ground on the “natural behaviour” front.

I, for one, applaud Wal-Mart's expansion into natural foods if it means I no longer have to set foot in an over-priced "health food" store again. That's a healthy development in my book.