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Perishable Pundit
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Organic Roundup

WHAT IS IN A LABEL? Does Promoting No-GMOs Impact Perception Of The Rest Of The Department? Would A Positive Message Smell As Sweet? St. Joe’s John Stanton To Address The London Produce Show & Conference  mentions that Dr. John Stanton of Saint Joseph University has often spoken at The New York Produce Show and Conference and The London Produce Show and Conference. Now he is ready to unveil the results of his latest research into labeling, with a twist: What happens to consumer perception when we start adding negatives to our labels — things such as “No GMOs.” We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 6/6/2016

CALLING PROPAGANDA RESEARCH Swedish Supermarket Should Be Ashamed... Organic Study Won’t Pass Scientific Scrutiny... Disparages Conventional Produce Without Cause mentions how Coop Sverige AB, a Swedish supermarket chain that “promises to do everything it can to support organic farming and urges others who sell food to do the same,” puts out videos such as this one called, The Organic Effect. The study was simple… they took one family that didn’t eat organic and took urine samples. They then had the family eat strictly organic food for two weeks and then took more urine samples. Obviously, the study was small, with just one person of a particular age and sex, so no real lessons can be drawn. But, more importantly, the study is flawed in its design. 6/6/2016

Seminal Study On Organic Perceptions Based On Outlet And Food Safety Requirements Shows Bias Toward Farmers Market And Against Supermarkets And Supercenters asks, do considerations such as food safety also affect value perception? It is a fascinating question and when we learned of some intriguing research going on at the University of Delaware, we fought hard to get a presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/30/2015

Do Alabama's Restaurant Preferences For Local Translate To Other States, Especially The Garden State? points out the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum has become an important part of the New York Produce show and Conference with operators, distributors, producers all joining together to find ways to boost produce consumption and bring us closer to the USDA goal of half the plate being accounted for by fruits and vegetables. So when we heard that a new hire at Rutgers had brought with her some research tying together produce farmers and independent restaurants we signed her up quick and we asked Carol Bareuther, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more. 11/30/2015

JOHN BAYLES — AN AMERICAN IN TOKYO: Food Safety, Trust, Patience, Avoiding Change And Doing What You Say You Are Going To Do; Seizing Opportunities As The TPP Shifts The Focus To The Japanese Market reports that when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was announced, we thought we would reach out to Jack Bayles, an American who has long made Japan his home, with the hope of gaining an American’s perspective on doing business in Japan. One of the big breakthroughs for America is that the TPP would result in more liberal access to the Japanese market. But how does one translate this theoretical gain into an actual gain? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/22/2015

 

FMI’s Deep Dive Into The Power of Produce: Research On Consumer Behavior Before, During And After Purchase To Be Discussed At New York Produce Show reports that almost all studies that involve the produce consumer suffer from a tragic flaw: they tell us what consumers WANT to say. The Food Marketing Institute has made an enormous contribution to the industry by squaring that circle. They have combined direct consumer research with the data coming off register rings to address what consumers say and what consumers do. It is a powerful combination to which they add analytic capabilities. Presented here is Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s three-part Q&A for the micro session at The New York Produce Show on FMI’s consumer-centric study with Rick Stein of FMI, Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics and Sherry Frey of Nielsen Perishables Group. 11/22/2015

Pundit’s Mailbag – GMOS And Bio-Diversity Is It A Tool Toward Progress? Or A Dream Of Monopoly Profits? our piece — The Wall Street Journal Highlights The GMO Dilemma: Will the 'Innate' Potato Change Minds When The Case Is So Clear? Don’t Bet The Farm On It! — brought feedback from a thoughtful industry member who has communicated with us before. Genetic modification is a tool, and that tool can be used wisely or foolishly; its use can have good consequences or bad consequences. Life requires us to confront hard decisions, but simply abandoning valuable tools — radiation or genetic modification — won’t help us advance. 11/16/2015

Tale Of Two Supermarkets – Whole Foods and Fairway – Illustrates Shifting Sands Of Competition describes how Whole Foods has been trying to escape being labeled inconvenient and expensive by claiming its products are better than those of others selling organic. Whole Foods’ Responsibly Grown campaign was specifically designed to persuade consumers that Whole Foods was a brand with higher standards in and of itself. In contrast, the CEO of Fairway, Jack Murphy, acknowledges the competitive sands are shifting. The key point here is that product is not a sufficient differentiator to ensure long term success. It is just too easy for other retailers to add any product that consumers are demanding. It is also true that narrow specialization exposes any business to price competition. 11/4/2015

The Devil Is In The Details: Why Claims For High Organic Yields Require Careful Study  reports that, quite frequently, we receive notice that some research project or other shows organic produce having some superior nutritional benefit or taste benefit over conventionally grown produce or that the assumption that organic yields are lower is incorrect. We rarely publish these things because, in general, the research doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. 10/27/2015

Consumers Want To Know But Do They Know What They Want? And How Much Do They Care About Lunch? Michael Wilde And Steve Savage Speak Out reports that recently we received notice about a Dutch apple grower who consumers can learn about via a new code and website scheme. Certainly many believe that consumers want to know more about the production of their food, thus Wal-Mart’s full size cut-outs of local farmers. It is very nice that people can enter a grower code on a web site and learn about a farm or a farmer. But what percentage of consumers is interested in doing this for hundreds of food items they may buy? And even if they did it, how could they evaluate meaningfully the information available? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/25/2015

Is There An Organic Option? Professor Ramu Govindasamy Returns To New York Produce Show With New Info On Produce Grown Specifically For Ethnic Households notes that Professor Ramu Govindasamy has been a fan favorite at The New York Produce Show and Conference in the past. His work is at the intersection of two big issues: how to grow the produce that will serve ethnic communities as the population makeup changes, and how to set up a system so that consumers can access that produce through retail and other channels. When we heard that Professor Govindasamy had now thrown a third industry interest – organic – into the mix, we quickly asked him if he would update the show attendees and, when he said yes, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more. 12/1/2014

Connecticut Professor Ben Campbell Comes Back To The New York Produce Show With Seminal Work On Consumer Reaction To The Marketing Of Locally Grown Produce  highlights Ben Campbell, Assistant Professor and Extension Economist in the Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics of the University of Connecticut. The involvement of UCONN with The New York Produce Show and Conference is almost wholly due to Dr. Campbell’s personal willingness. His research has always been intriguing, and we have discussed his previous work here. This year Professor Campbell is pushing the research to the next level. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 12/1/2014

Rooftop Greenhouse, Gotham Greens, Highlights Brooklyn Retail/Urban Ag Tour At New York Produce Show mentions how each year at The New York Produce Show and Conference, we run a series of industry tours. On this year’s Brooklyn Tour, the highlight is the cutting-edge Gotham Greens facility sitting atop the Whole Foods Store in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It is a fascinating project and we asked Pundit Contributing Editor Mark Hamstra to find out more from Viraj Puri, Cofounder and CEO of Gotham Greens. 12/1/2014

 

WHERE'S THE SCIENCE? Wegmans Asserts Organic Produce Tastes Better Than Conventional....Doesn’t This Imply Disparagement Of Most Of The Produce Wegmans Sells? noticed that Wegmans has been running a most extraordinary TV commercial. It asserts, without any evidence, that organically grown produce tastes better than conventionally grown produce. There is clearly a consumer market and demand for organics, and retailers should offer organics, but the claims for organic need to conform to known science. 11/13/2014

Cornell’s Brad Rickard Returns To The New York Produce Show And Conference: Will 'GMO Free' Be The New Organic? finds that, for the most part, the war over GMOs is at a resting place. Now Cornell’s Professor Brad Rickard is coming to The New York Produce Show and Conference to unveil new research assessing consumer attitudes toward GMOs and the prospects for consumer acceptance of GMO produce. Brad’s research is always insightful, and he has provided real value to the industry. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/3/2014

A Walk Through Whole Foods And Why Its ‘Responsibly Grown’ Campaign Is Bad For Farmers reports how Whole Foods’ stock price is down over 30% this year, mostly because same-store sales haven’t met analysts’ estimates. The response has been the announcement of Whole Foods’ first-ever national media campaign. What is not clear is how this campaign will actually help Whole Foods. To claim that Whole Food’s procurement is uniquely promoting good values is just not true. The company buys from the same supply chain as everyone else. 11/3/2014

At The London Produce Show And Conference: ‘Room at the Top? — What U.K. Retailers Can Learn From U.S. Natural/Gourmet Retailing’ Cornell University’s Rod Hawkes Points Out That ‘Upscale’ Has Changed And That The American Experience Points To The Possibility Of Big Changes Ahead For UK Retailing reports that the fracturing of the UK retail market has mostly been about price. The recent growth of Whole Foods and Costco in the UK market may be the entering wedge by which market fragmentation changes from price to format. Cornell’s Rod Hawkes has carefully followed the healthy/gourmet sector in the US and has a theory about what might happen to UK retailing in the future. He titled his talk: “Room at the Top? What U.K. Retailers Can Learn From U.S. Natural/Gourmet Retailing.” We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 5/18/2014

What Makes Consumers Willing To Pay More? University Of Delaware’s Kent Messer To Unveil A Unique Synthesis Of Multiple Studies At The New York Produce Show And Conference mentions how when we learned about some really intriguing research being done at the University of Delaware, we knew we had to reach out to Kent Messer, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We are thrilled he accepted the opportunity to make a presentation to the industry in New York. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more. 11/16/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Two Views On Bicycle Helmets, Government Regulation, Organic Produce And Boosting Consumption our piece, What Do Bicycle Helmets And Organic Produce Have In Common?, brought many responses from all over the spectrum, including these from Doug Stoiber, VP of Produce Transportation Operations at L&M Transportation Services; and Maurice Totty, Director of Produce at FAC Food Logistics. In bike riding and in public health advisories related to food — and in much of life — we have to make sure that we do not allow the best to be the enemy of the good. Thinking one can only ride a bicycle with a helmet or that one can only eat organic produce are both manifestations of this attitude. 10/25/2012

Perceptions & Misperceptions: Consumer Attitudes On Organic & Local — University Of Connecticut Study To Be Unveiled At New York Produce Show & Conference learned that Professor Benjamin Campbell of the University of Connecticut was doing most interesting work regarding organic and local. We were thrilled to expand the New York Produce Show and Conference’s University Exchange Program to include both him and students from UConn this year. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to gain some insight as to what Professor Campbell will be presenting in New York on December 5. 10/25/2012

American Academy of Pediatrics Issues Report On Organic Foods for Children. Conclusion: We Don’t know Much About This Subject begins by posing the question of whether children benefit if fed organic foods? To date there has been no research done to compare outcomes when children are fed diets of organic food and comparable children are fed conventionally grown foods. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in. Since this is an organization “Dedicated to the Health of all Children,” we were thrilled at the idea that such an eminent organization would clear the air. When we started reading the headlines generated from the report, though, it seemed as if the report generated more smoke than light. 10/25/2012

What Do Bicycle Helmets And Organic Produce Have In Common? saw a New York Times piece which explains how a focus on the dangers of cycling can lead to negative outcomes, even though helmets really do protect against injuries. The point is that focusing on a particular benefit of an action really doesn’t make any sense. You have to look at the total picture. The same questions apply to organics. Even if organics are in some sense healthier, is the benefit sufficient to outweigh a lower consumption due to the higher prices of organic? Surely it is not a stretch to say that the “Dirty Dozen” list doesn’t so much encourage people to buy organic as it may discourage them from purchasing produce. 10/15/2012

Could There Be Common Ground Between The Spinach Crisis And The Cantaloupe Catastrophe? Might Both Have Been Sourced From Transitional Acreage? discovered that there seem to be quite substantial indications that Jensen Farms was sourcing product from a transitional operation. If so, this would indeed be a curious coincidence in that it would create an exceptional commonality between the spinach crisis and the cantaloupe crisis in that, in both cases, the product was sourced from transitional ground. Of course, and here is the rub, it may not be a coincidence at all. There might be causal links in both situations. 2/27/2012

Marion Nestle, Organic Facts, And Why The Organic Trade Association's Numbers Don't Make Any Sense saw that Marion Nestle wrote a piece titled, “Jim Prevor on Organics, Crop Yields and Food Politics.” In it, Nestle writes, “According to the Organic Trade Association, organic sales totaled nearly $27 billion in 2010, and constituted 11% of produce sales. Is this “tiny and insignificant”? I don’t think so” We called the Organic Trade Association and asked how they got that number. In the end, the research product as it related to fresh produce was so unlikely to produce anything approaching accurate numbers that the OTA should be embarrassed for publishing such numbers. 2/27/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — If Wishes Were Horses, Then Beggars Would Ride — Wishing For A Better Way To Feed The Planet our piece, Organics, Crop Yields And Feeding The World, brought many responses including this letter from Ronni Blumenthal, Vice President of Administration at Global Organic Specialty Source. When we turned to the article with which she linked, we did so with enthusiasm, but confess that we found it less than helpful. Here is the “to-do list” that will let us feed 7 billion people without ruining the planet. 2/27/2012

Marion Nestle On Organics, Crop Yields And Food Politics our piece, Organics, Crop Yields And Feeding The World, brought many letters and public comments, including an article from one of the most prominent food analysts writing today. She recently wrote a piece titled, “The Endless Controversy Over Organics,” which focused on our interview with Dr. Steve Savage. The problem is that it is relatively easy to do research that will show organic production to be competitive. And in politics, the organic community faces a difficult state of affairs. 2/20/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Consumers Entitled To Know If Organic Or Transitional Product Is Sold As Conventional? our article, As Organic Produce Grows Beyond Local And National Borders, Will Government Step In To Set Definitions And Change Certifications? brought a letter from frequent correspondent Eric Schwartz, President & CEO of Patterson Vegetable Company. Eric’s input gives us an opportunity to deal with an interesting issue: the three-year waiting period before land used for conventional produce can switch to organic techniques, after which the product can then be marketed as organic. 2/20/2012

Organics, Crop Yields And Feeding The World observes how media and public-policy types often get caught up in the buzz over organics, and the produce industry is mostly willing to oblige. It is, however, worthwhile to realize that organic food is really a comparably tiny industry. Steve Savage is a consultant who writes frequently on issues related to sustainability. He recently completed a deep dive into the data available on organic crops. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/15/2012

As Organic Produce Grows Beyond Local And National Borders, Will Government Step In To Set Definitions And Change Certifications? saw a piece in The New York Times titled, “Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals.” Nothing in the piece is new to industry members, but it is interesting, partly because it raises the question of what, precisely, the role of government ought to be in defining standards that presumably are supposed to help consumers make purchasing decisions. The piece focuses on the fact — shocking — that a producer can be organic and yet not meet various standards some might wish had been set for water usage, small scale, sustainable, etc. In fact, horror of horrors, some organic produce is grown utilizing “intensive irrigation.” 1/4/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Kroger Exec Urges Pundit to “Get Real” In Analyzing Costco Decision To Decline Government Funds For Electric Charging Stations our piece, A Hat Tip To Costco… Lack of Usage Prompts Costco To Forgo Electric Car Chargers And It Helps Taxpayers By Resisting The Lure Of Free Government Money, got the goat of Tim Smith, Category Manager of Specialty Cheese with Kroger. We appreciate Tim taking the time to write, though we confess that we think ourselves unfairly maligned. We have no objections to organically grown produce and, in fact, believe that if consumers want it, it should be made available to them. Though whether organic produce is “green” or not strikes us a legitimate question to explore. 9/22/2011

Attack On Hawaii’s Genetically Modified Papayas Sparks Debate About Science, Organics And Freedom To Choose felt that the headline on the Associated Press article by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher reads like a joke — “Hawaii’s Genetically Modified Papayas Attacked” — but it is a deadly serious matter. It touches on the rule of law, the integrity of democracy, the possible use of a veneer of public policy debate for private gain and a distortion of legitimate concerns regarding science and food safety. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Delan Perry, Vice President of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, and President of the Volcano Isle Fruit Company. Mira also spoke with Dr. Richard Manshardt, Assistant Professor in Plant Breeding at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 9/7/2011

Industry Education Efforts Moderate The Damage, But The Media Can’t Resist EWG’s Annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ Stunt revisits the annual stunt that is the “Dirty Dozen” report and excerpts some comments from Marion Nestle’s blog, the famed professor of nutrition and food author. Nestle recounts much that is favorable for the produce trade – using material the EWG included in its release, yet one area that we would differ with professor Nestle — and the EWG — is the endorsement of organically grown produce as necessarily more healthy. 7/6/2011

Remember When? New Study Shows That Memory Can Be Affected By Peer Pressure shares a really fascinating study done at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in collaboration with University College London in the UK, has interesting — and mostly scary — implications for advertising, marketing and society at large. The question researchers were studying is whether social pressure can create false memories. The assumption, though, has been that people are willing to lie to fit in or to not make waves... that, in effect, people knowingly falsify their beliefs to conform to social demands. This study could point to reasons why consumers might report that local or organic is more flavorful, if that is the consensus, even if their experience doesn’t support it. 7/6/2011

Is Locally Grown Produce “Worth It”? our piece, Reality Check For Locally Grown Advocates: Economics Don’t Measure Up, brought many responses, including a thought provoking letter from Adam King, Produce Manager at the Wheatsville Co-Op. We stand on the side of those consumers who wish to eat raw foods, organic foods or locally grown foods. Yet, there is always a difference between the choice of an individual and a public policy choice. In many areas, we don’t have great science. In light of this imperfect information, if an individual wants to eat organic and has access to organic produce at a price he can afford, that is a rational choice. A public policy decision to, say, require exclusively organic production is a whole other ball game. 4/7/2011

Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’ our piece, Fraud At Farmer’s Markets, focused on the issue of fraud committed by vendors at these markets who sell produce that the vendors claim is grown on their own farm, grown locally, grown without the use of any “sprays” etc., etc., but in reality is conventional produce bought at the local wholesale market. We received a number of letters and thought this one particularly thoughtful from David Sasuga, Owner of Fresh Origins. David once wrote us pointing out why the whole industry needed to be concerned about a possible deception being perpetrated against organic consumers. The same logic, of course, applies to consumers being defrauded at farmer’s markets. 2/9/2011

A Walk Through Publix Greenwise Market: Is What Is Sold What Has Been Promised? Lessons For Retailers Thinking Of Launching Specialized Concepts feels comfortable saying that the Publix Greenwise concept isn’t really a winner. A good concept should be crystal clear to the consumer just through the product assortment, the merchandising and in-store marketing. Even when the store featured organic items, and it featured many in produce, something was off. It would have both organic and conventional versions of an apple variety, yet there was no effort to persuade consumers that they ought to purchase the organic line or that the organic version was worth the price premium. To us, the problem we saw in Greenwise was three-fold and it strikes us that retailers, in general, have trouble with separate concepts for the same three reasons. 12/9/2010

Another Reason Retailers Need A System To Make Sure That Any Onion Labeled Sweet Actually Is Sweet: They May Get Sued If They Don’t mentions that attorney Richard Goldfarb, who does work on food safety and other trade issues, picked up on our work on sweet onions and cleverly associated the controversy over the use of the term “sweet” in onions with the decision of Ben & Jerry’s to drop its use of the term “all natural.” It reminded us of the discussion over organic standards. Although organic has a scientific definition, the standards that allow a product to be certified organic have little to do with that definition. Richard thinks that the term “sweet” as used in relation to onions may be more meaningful than the term “natural” is in ice cream production. It is an interesting question. It may point out another reason why retailers need to act — and quickly — on this matter. 12/9/2010

Pundit Mailbag — Professor John Stanton’s Presentation At New York Produce Show And Conference ‘Worth The Registration Fee Alone’ our piece highlighting Professor John Stanton’s research into the local vs. organic issue, titled Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic, brought this enthusiastic response from Jim Allen, President of the New York Apple Association. We appreciate Jim’s vote of confidence and, yes, the conference alone would be worth attending. Add in a trade show, cooking demos, networking events, general session and the historical nature of this event and we feel very good about how it is all coming together. 10/25/2010

Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic mentions that among the things that those of us at the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS are most proud of regarding The New York Produce Show and Conference is how hard we’ve worked to draw on the intellectual activity of the region. One of the workshops will unveil important research on the theme of “Local vs. Organic,” utilizing apples as a case study. The ground-breaking research was conducted by Professor John Stanton, Associate Professor Fred Wirth, both in the Department of Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University, and D.R. Wiley, a specialist in choice theory. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to learn more about the research John will present. 10/21/2010

Tonya Antle, ‘Instrumental In Establishing Organics’, Becomes Adjunct Professor At Cal Poly — San Luis Obispo mentions that earlier this summer, we received official word that Tonya Antle was retiring from Earthbound Farms. Here we share a few of the nice comments sent to us upon the announcements that address both the unique quality of the person and the unique contributions she has made to the trade. Tonya is now going on to be an adjunct professor in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at Cal Poly—San Luis Obispo. Whoever gets to be her students will be mighty lucky. 10/14/2010

Are Critics Of Local Programs Devoid Of Taste Buds? reports we continue to receive letters related to our series of pieces on the UC Davis/Sodexo procurement system. Here we share another from a most interesting individual, Anaiis Salles, Grass Roots Organizer with the Menu for the Future Collaboration. Whether Ms. Salles or the Pundit prefer food from a local area isn’t important. The question is, in fact, whether there is some public policy at issue to justify overriding people’s preferences. When the students want and would pay for grapes in the winter — should that decision be made verboten? 10/1/2010

Rational Thinking On Locavore Movement A Welcome Sight highlights Virginia Postrel as among the most provocative and insightful people writing today. The Wall Street Journal just gave Ms. Postrel a bi-weekly column and she devoted her first iteration to the locavore movement: “No Free Locavore Lunch.” On her blog she captures perfectly the real appeal of the locavore movement in a piece titled, “From Exotic to Local: The Changing Nature of Produce Glamour.” In general, Ms. Postrel got it right. On a guttural level, the local movement is mostly a high-end rebellion against the ubiquity of formerly exotic and gourmet produce. The produce industry should supply local for the same reason the dress industry supplies mini-skirts one year and maxi-skirts the next — it is a matter of consumer demand. 10/1/2010

Another Example Of Certifiers Lacking Integrity: USDA Drops Organic Certifier In China saw in The New York Times a piece titled, “U.S. Drops Inspector of Food in China”, reporting that the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) is being dropped as an organic certifier in China because they used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities. It is very difficult to imagine some lone Chinese inspector standing up to close down a state-owned giant entity. If the USDA doesn’t deal with that substantive problem, then all this formulaic enforcement is just a farce. 6/16/2010

HerbThyme’s Travails Raise The Question Of How Retailers Can Address The Low-Volume Organic Issue our recent piece, HerbThyme’s Business Director Calls Fraud Allegations Invalid and Inaccurate, dealt with a class action lawsuit alleging that HerbThyme sold conventional product as organic. We think the industry has a real and specific problem related to produce fraudulently labeled as organic. The percentage of produce being sold as organic is rising much faster than consumer demand for it indicates. The shortage of organic product should lead prices to rise, which will bring about production of more organic product. But fraud lets organic be sold at conventional prices — thus explaining those small margins, as HerbThyme’s Business Director Ben Ho mentions. As such, retailers are going to have to assert more authority and demand more specificity. 5/25/2010

HerbThyme’s Business Director Calls Fraud Allegations Invalid And Inaccurate saw that a class action lawsuit had been filed against HerbThyme Farms alleging the company fraudulently sold conventionally grown herbs as organic. It smelled suspicious to us. As the news started to percolate through the industry, we started getting calls. Some legitimate, others were oddly anonymous. We then received a call from HerbThyme asking for an opportunity to explain itself. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Ben Ho, Business Director at HerbThyme Farms. 5/13/2010

FDA’s Michael Taylor Preaches ‘Scale Appropriate’ Food Safety Standards, Code Words For Exempting Small Farmers And Organics saw Michael Taylor, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, address a general session audience at the United Fresh Produce Association Convention in Las Vegas. His speech at United was generally unexceptional. And unless you are a policy wonk following the nuance of inside-the-beltway politics, you probably didn’t realize that he was also using a DC code word for “let’s exempt certain competitors from food safety standards we demand of others.” That code phrase is “scale appropriate” and it may have been used to curry favor with a politically important part of the Obama coalition, the organic community. 4/27/2010

Branded Giants Should Pay For Produce’s Halo Effect remarks as we sit here munching on Mott’s brand sliced apples that the whole licensing model of brands best known for processed product is kind of upside down. Presumably, C.H. Robinson pays a licensing fee to Mott’s in order to use its well known brand. For awhile it had Newman’s Own for use in the organic fruit and vegetable business. We would suggest that if these branded organizations understood the intersection of their interests and the fresh market, they would pay C.H. Robinson a fee for each box of fresh product sold, such as these apple slices generously labeled Mott’s at the consumer level. Why should these branded giants do this? Simple, the halo effect that freshness has on the processed product. 12/9/2009

‘Eat Seasonably’ Campaign Another Example Of Misguided Intentions heard a battle was brewing in Britain between advocates of eating seasonably and the fruit and vegetable industry, and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Nigel Jenney, President of the Fresh Produce Consortium. Campaigns like these are so complicated on so many levels. Nigel’s first line of defense is very similar to the long-time point in discussions of organic: Whether in fact there ultimately will be found some health benefits to consuming organic produce is irrelevant compared to the overwhelming body of evidence that diets composed of high percentages of fruits and vegetables are healthier diets. In fact promoting organic, with its higher price points, could well lead to consumption of less healthy diets as people might eat fewer fruits and vegetables. 7/23/2009

In Defense Of Cosmetically Challenged Produce recalls that back in November, Sainsbury’s, the UK supermarket chain, pulled its planned line of “Halloween produce,” because EU standards prevented the sale of such items to consumers, and then launched a campaign to change the regulations. Sainsbury’s efforts, as well as those of others, including the organic community — imperfect organic produce was unable to be put in the market either — have paid off. Effective July 1, 2009, the old rules have been abolished. We thought it worth understanding the issue of grade standards better, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more by speaking with two representatives of the pan-European produce trade association: Philippe Binard, Secretary General, and Frederic Rosseneu, Secretariat of Freshfel Europe. 7/14/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Generic Promotion Plan Does Not Allow For Differentiation our piece Got Produce? Has PBH Been Effective At Boosting Produce Consumption? brought this thoughtful assessment from Bill Vogel, President of Tavilla Sales LA who raises important issues in his letter. First, isn’t the real obstacle to increasing consumption not a matter of marketing, but a matter of product incompatible with consumer desires? Second, isn’t the kind of marketing and promotion we need really micro-focused on those products that delight consumers and more likely to be done closer to the product than by a national bureaucracy. The proposed national program does not include organics. This is because the organic folks feel, with legitimacy, that the various generic programs do not sell what they have to offer: The competitive differentiation of organics. They got Congress to write them out of these programs. 6/12/2009

More Oddities Revealed On Setton’s Website found that the Setton Farms Website contains a complete tab on organic. Yet something is very odd. The certification on the website is from 2005, and it is issued not to the California company, but to the Long Island company. Yet the website clearly states that “Organic N & I certifies Setton’s facilities…” plural. The 2005 certificate doesn’t mean much; many industry websites are out of date, but the website clearly implies that the California facility is organic-certified. As best as we can see, that is not likely to be true. 4/7/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Big Question For Organic Certification: Will USDA Step In To Clarify Certifier’s Responsibilities? describes how David Sasuga kicked off our coverage of the issue of the use of non-organic fertilizer on land certified as organic. The series that grew out of his initial note is substantial. Now David rejoins the conversation with this letter written in response to the rationale presented by Jane Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). David makes many reasonable points about the certification of inputs and the possible need for buffer zones to maintain organic integrity. Increasingly, though, it is becoming obvious that this issue will hinge on what USDA does. So the question really is if USDA will enforce the law or not. Our guess is that it will not. 3/12/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Legality Of CCOF’s ‘Spiked’ Fertilizer Actions Questioned in response to the latest of our pieces in which Jane Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for California Certified Organic Farmers, was kind enough to explain and defend CCOF and its actions, we received a number of meaningful letters. Our first is from Lynn Moorer, who was the Director of Operations and General Counsel for the Organic Crop Improvement Association. The other comes from Sam Welsch, formerly the Executive Director of the Organic Crop Improvement Association and now the President of the certification organization he founded, OneCert, The two of them had a dispute with the board of OCIA that seems to have revolved around the role of the board as a policy-maker as opposed to a manager. That dispute led to their dismissal. But their passion for all things organic has never been disputed. 3/6/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — CCOF Speaks Out On ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer our pieces concerning spiked organic fertilizer herehere and here, brought this response from Jane Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for California Certified Organic Farmers. We certainly thank Ms. Baker and CCOF for reading and for taking the time to keep the industry informed and Ms. Baker raises several key points in her letter to us which we address here. We suspect that as the organic industry grows, there will be a separation between those who promote organic agriculture and those who certify product as organic. There is a conflict of interest between these two functions. 2/27/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — As ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Investigation Widens, Potential Grows For Weaker Consumer Confidence In All Fresh Produce notes that yes, the investigation into organic fertilizer is widening. Jim Downing at the Sacramento Bee continues his series with a piece titled: “Federal Raid Heightens Concerns about Fake Organic Fertilizer.” Our letter writer, David Sasuga of Fresh Origins, argues that a lack of credibility for organic certification will reflect in less consumer confidence in all fresh produce. In other words, if the perception is that the industry fools around with standards and enforcement to enhance its profitability on organic matters, perhaps the industry would do the same for sustainability or food safety. 2/19/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organic Industry’s ‘Situational’ Standard our piece, ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Raises Consumer Doubts About Organic Definition, brought a number of responses. The whole concept is a betrayal of consumer trust and would be viewed as fraud against the consumer in any other context. Our take is that when organic was a small community, it was reasonable to think consumers, deeply committed to organic, thought it was important to encourage the growth of the organic industry. Today the typical organic consumer is some mom at Wal-Mart buying organic baby food or milk, and the mom has no connection to the “organic community.” These people are just being tricked because the organic standards are too situational. 2/6/2009

‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Raises Consumer Doubts About Organic Definition extends a hat tip to David Sasuga, of Fresh Origins, for sending this piece in the Sacramento Bee, titled: “Organic Farms Unknowingly Used A Synthetic Fertilizer.” We think many consumers believe organic farming primarily involves releasing lady bugs into the field. We suspect they would be shocked at how many chemicals are used. So it seems the use of chemicals in growing organically may conform to the law, but doesn’t exactly conform to the public perception of what organic is. The other issue is whether organic certification is not too protective of the industry and too dismissive of consumers. We can agree with not “penalizing” growers who didn’t know they were being sold a synthetic chemical. On the other hand, if organic is to have meaning, consumers have to be able to rely on the certification to consistently mean something. 1/28/2009

Leadership Symposium Offers Stimulating Speakers conveys our excitement to meet Rod Beckstrom, Director of the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the upcoming Leadership Symposium, but we wanted to see if we could gain greater insight right now. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. The conversation briefly turns to “organic” when we ask him for his thoughts on what companies can do in this economic crisis to quadruple their earnings. 12/18/2008

Food Prices Not As High As We Think with publications filled with reports on food prices and scarcity, it is useful to come across some sanity from Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, author of: “The Good News You Missed on Food Prices” debunking many misconceptions over food prices. A fine observation includes congressional testimony from Charles Schumer who laments his “daughter is now paying $12 a pound for organic chicken. Given that there’s no scientific evidence that organic foods are any better for us or any safer than other foods on store shelves, it’s hard to work up outrage about someone spending $12 for something that on average costs $1.17 a pound.” We surely have our problems. Still, it is well worth remembering that if we are comparing ourselves to the status of previous generations or even a few years ago, we are often not comparing apples with apples. 7/25/2008

Publix Greenwise Concept Puts Home-Meal-Replacement Revamp Into Perspective explores how the economy today has created an opportunity for supermarket foodservice to gain market share. Now Publix, with its two initial Greenwise stores, is experimenting with its own “Whole Foods” fighter. Greenwise strikes us as important learning opportunities for others because of its focus on two very important areas — organic and retail foodservice. The organic offering strikes at the heart of the debate over the appropriate way to market organics. Publix wants to offer organic, but since this deeply conservative company doesn’t believe in its collective heart of hearts that organic is superior, it is loathe to market it as such. So it offers the organic product for those who already want it, but will do nothing to actually sell it. In this sense, Greenwise is less about promoting organics than it is about tapping into evolving standards of “upscale.” 7/25/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sustainability Needs To Be Embraced By Industry mentions that we’ve been focusing extensively on  Sustainability and Social Responsibility, and a recent in-depth interview brought this thoughtful response from Blair R. Richardson of FreshSense, LLC. What Blair’s letter helps to illustrate is that what makes sustainability distinctive from initiatives such as organics is that sustainability, properly considered, is not a mission in itself; it is a framework through which many missions can be achieved. Being organic no more makes a company sustainable than growing conventionally makes it sustainable. In fact, if it turns out, for example, that the dilemma of the next century is an urgent need to produce more food, then the organic community’s decision to reject, say, GMOs may turn out to be highly unsustainable. 5/23/2008

Cantaloupe 'Alert' Reaches Guam; What's An Island To Do? explains that when a food safety issue emerges, such as the “import alert” imposed against Honduran cantaloupes, it reverberates around the world. We received a note that in Guam, the Dept. of Public Health & Social Services learned cantaloupes from the implicated grower had found their way to Guam and so issued a public health warning. It seemed intriguing that this matter should reach Guam, so we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to learn more, and in the course of our interview, asked how the natural/organic food trends play in Guam. Tom Rhodes, Produce Category Manager for Pay-Less Supermarkets tells us “organics is a small trend, but the category is increasing. My view is all produce is Health Smart. So many studies show organic is no healthier than conventional produce, and it costs people 22 percent to 25 percent more. Somewhere along the line information about organics has become a fallacy.” 4/30/2008

Sustainability Goes Beyond Best Practices recognizes an important contributor to this discussion has been Tim York of Markon Cooperative. Now Tim makes another important contribution, this time speaking jointly with Jeff Dlott of SureHarvest. First in many key points: “Sustainability is more than just consumer perceptions about organic. It’s about changing business operations and performance with regard to our impact on society, the environment and economics.” You have to give credit to many individuals involved in the organic movement for stressing the ancient admonition of the importance of sustainability in agriculture. But the connection between organic agriculture and sustainability is thin. 3/20/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organic Icon DiMatteo Weighs In On Sustainability Standard we are honored that Katherine DiMatteo, longtime Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association has weighed in with a response to our Special Pundit edition titled: Sustainability Standard Being Steamrolled — Does A Sustainable Vision Encompass Only Organics. Katherine DiMatteo is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and for organic agriculture. If she helps in this process, her influence is so vast and her guidance so respected, we may yet achieve an industry standard for sustainability. If she refuses to engage in a fight for an objectively fair and sustainable process, there is a major battle brewing. 3/12/2008

No Standardization Without Representation (Part 2) argues the sustainability issue is being co-opted by people who choose to define sustainability in a manner that comports with their ideological predispositions, rather than engaging in vigorous debate on what principles should guide an understanding of sustainability. Specifically, these people have basically proclaimed that only organic agriculture is sustainable. This is a proposition that is, to put it mildly, highly debatable. As soon as the draft standard for sustainable agriculture was published, the outcry began. A group of 30 agricultural organizations sent a letter, which we reprint here, in which their first of many objections is that it “equates organic practices with best agricultural practices, a conclusion that would be soundly rejected by many in the scientific community and an issue that will provoke intense debate between the organic and conventional agricultural communities.” 3/6/2008

The Produce Industry Strikes Back (Part 3) in this 3rd part of today’s series on the sustainability standard we have received a statement specifically dealing with fresh produce from Bob Martin of Rio Farms who has been working with a group of California producers looking to outreach to the industry, including the buying segment. His statement makes many points: “As it stands now, ‘sustainable agriculture’ in the current national standards draft ultimately means that a producer that signs onto the program with the ultimate goal of certification, will eventually become an organic producer on any acreage used to grow sustainable products. More and more buyers are requesting that their suppliers produce commodities utilizing sustainable measures. My questions are: do they truly understand the meaning of that term in these draft standards, and why can’t conventional as well as organic producers qualify for this certification?” 3/6/2008

Supervalu Closes Sunflower Market — Are There Lessons For Tesco? recalls how way back in 2005, Supervalu announced Sunflower Market with a flourish, Now Supervalu is closing the banner with a whimper. When it looked like the Wild Oats/Whole Foods deal would collapse, Wild Oats folks hoped Supervalu would ride to the rescue. Of course, it didn’t happen, one reason being Supervalu was focused on providing low-priced organics. Retailers of all types tell us they find shrink on organic product to be significantly higher than conventional, so it is not clear that “bargain basement” organics makes sense. Let us think about the characteristics of this concept: small footprint, a focus on organic and natural and affordable organics for the average Joe. There is only one prominent chain that talks that way: Tesco’s Fresh & Easy concept. 1/30/2008

Too Many Concerns Still Exist Over Organic Certification In China highlights an important issue that we’ve have dealt with this year: food safety and China. A frequent question we receive from the buying end of the industry has been for information on the quality of Chinese organic certification. Many retailers tell us quietly that they have stopped importing fresh produce from China. They are not overly concerned about Chinese food safety, but the items — especially in produce — that are imported are so minimal, they don’t view it as worth any risk. We wanted to learn about organic certification in China, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to talk with one of the U.S. firms handling organic certification in China: OCIA International. Yet, the interview is unlikely to reassure those with doubts about the true nature of Chinese organics. 12/21/2007

Farm Bill Passes Hurdle But May Face Veto finds the produce trade associations have been singing the praises of the new Farm Bill just passed by the United States Senate. Even the Organic Trade Association is pleased. Caren Wilcox, executive director of the Organic Trade Association said: “The Senate Farm Bill includes important steps to help strengthen the safety net for organic producers and manufacturers. These measures include funding for organic research, data collection, and transition to organic production, as well as eliminating the crop insurance premium for organic producers.” But the celebrations may be premature. The bill first must get through a conference committee that will operate under the threat of a veto by President Bush. 12/18/2007

Organic Definition Under Attack By Group Opposed To Air Freighting admits the organic movement was already fracturing between advocates of local and advocates of organic. Now from the U.K., there is an indication that the organic standard will morph into something considerably different than its original meaning. From the Guardian in the U.K.: “Air-Freight Food Must Pass Fair Trade Test To Retain Organic Label In Future.” The proposal was actually to prevent any air-freighted product from bearing an organic label. A requirement for a Fairtrade-like certification is actually a concession. Yet African farmers, glad they are not facing a total ban, see the restrictions as protectionist. There are really three issues, substance, trade and the meaning of organic. 10/26/2007

Report Card On ‘Green-ness’ Of UK Stores discovered that the BBC reports a self-proclaimed consumer advocacy group, the National Consumer Council, is demanding the supermarkets in the UK go greener, going so far as to assign grades to the major chains. The BBC story says the report finds “most stores offered ‘very little choice’ of organic produce, and some actually slipped in their ratings for stocking and promoting in-season vegetables and organic fresh produce.” The whole report is like this. Things such as organic and UK-produced food are assumed to be better for the world without any evidence being presented. The NCC should feel an obligation to explain the rationale behind its analysis and not just give out report cards. 10/18/2007

C.H. Robinson Launches Our World Organics Line announces that C.H. Robinson, has introduced a new brand: “Our World™ Organics Committed to Promoting Health, Wellness and Sustainability.” All in one brand C.H. Robinson proposes to: promote healthier lifestyles, market environmentally friendly products, incorporate sustainable agricultural practices, plus the hottest trend right now, locally grown, bio-degradable and environmentally-friendly packaging and the vaunted C.H. Robinson retail support team expects to be helping “…retailers position themselves as an organic resource by providing support to market the brand.” It is a big undertaking, and we hope C.H. Robinson isn’t setting itself up for criticism when consumer advocates note that it isn’t able to always do all these things, and certainly not all at once. 9/14/2007

Wegmans Organic Research Farm: A Model For Homegrown And Organic thinks it always seems as if Wegmans has a knack for being on the cutting edge. In an age where the organic community is bifurcating between those who most value organic and those who most value locally grown, Wegmans has set up the Wegmans Organic Research Farm. The short-term mission of the farm has been to provide locally grown organic fruit, vegetables and honey to stores near its Canandaigua location. Its real goal, however, is to discover ways to profitably produce such products and then share that learning with other farmers. So for Wegmans, can this little farm be its “front page” representing to the public the values the company and its people believe in? Will it ever make money? 9/14/2007

Can Organics Feed The Earth? extends a hat tip to Lauri Raymond, at Sisters & Brothers, Inc. who sent along an article based on a press release from the University of Michigan. The headline: “Organic Farming Can Feed the World, U-M Study Shows.” The study was shocking because the conventional wisdom is that organic growing techniques generally produce lower yields than conventional growing techniques. But these researchers said that wasn’t true — at least in developing countries. This was really startling and important news. Yet something about this study was troubling. We were particularly concerned by a sentence in the press release that raises the question of whether, in actuality, farmers growing to true organic standards would, in fact, experience the yields these researchers claimed. 9/11/2007

Tesco’s Price-Hike Strategy notes there are reports coming out of the U.K. that Tesco has a new strategy: higher prices. Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy said he sees a shift in consumers’ food priorities: “The growth in the proportion of our customers buying organics is fastest among less affluent customers.” Although some of it is surely PR, Tesco also has its finger on an insight into consumer perceptions: Price is part of what influences consumers as to the value of things. Although some people who value organic are thoughtful people who have studied the issues and have come to a personal conclusion, many who intentionally buy organic are in search of the “best.” And what makes something the “best”? Many attributes, of course, but price is high among them. If organics were always cheaper than conventional, it would reduce the allure considerably. 9/6/2007

Whole Foods & Wild Oats Finally Tie The Knot announces the completion of the merger and that we will soon see what happens in terms of store closures and system changes. One of the key questions is how will they treat the Wild Oats employees? The store level folks will probably be fine if they don’t close their stores as Whole Foods will need them. The future of the Wild Oats headquarters staff is less certain. Since Whole Foods is growing, it needs good people and may find opportunities to use them. Whole Foods certainly has an incentive to do so because with mainstream grocers all going organic and health-oriented, Whole Foods would rather not release the talent that has real experience to the mainstream retailers. Catch of the day is definitely Pundit contributor (see here and here) and Wild Oats Vice President for Produce and Floral, Don Harris. With a finger on the pulse of the organic consumer and a head able to organize mass procurement, distribution and sales, a man and a moment have met. 8/29/2007

Whole Foods/Wild Oats Merger May Benefit Kroger And Other Chains explains that one thing is clear, Kroger wasn’t worried about the Whole Foods/Wild Oats combo. If the merger stands, obviously Whole Foods would benefit from avoiding a price war with Wild Oats, but the real winner might be other retailers. If Whole Foods maintains high prices on organics, it provides a kind of umbrella protecting the whole market. On August 8th, Kroger gave Whole Foods a present by announcing a major expansion of its organic commitment: “Organics Go Mainstream as Kroger Expands Its Own Line to Include More Breakfast and Dinner Items.” This release was the best possible news for Whole Foods. The nation’s largest conventional grocer announcing an expansion of its organics confirms the Whole Foods argument that the competitive arena for organics and natural foods is vast. 8/21/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Anti-Organic Article Raises Legitimate Questions our piece, Anti-organic Article Raises Points About Animal Cruelty And Efficiency, brought a torrent of surprising responses. Surprising because the responses indicate that interest in organic, on a cultural level, is waning. That what 10 years ago was a catch-word for “whole earth” attitudes has now come to be seen increasingly as a captive of large business interests. This letter is from a wholesaler in Ithaca, New York. One might expect a correspondent from Ithaca to write in fury at someone’s speaking ill of organic produce, but that is not what we find. What his note illustrates perfectly is that the coalition that built organic is fracturing. For many, some use of synthetic pesticide is a small price to pay for small scale and local production. 8/7/2007

Anti-organic Article Raises Points About Animal Cruelty And Efficiency introduces a piece, written by Jackie Avner and published in the Denver Post, titled: “Reasons You Should Buy Regular Goods” that is certain to have organic advocates steaming. Controversy aside, the article makes a couple of interesting points. What organic advocates will hate about this piece is that most objections voiced to organic are pragmatic — too expensive — or neutral — a valid consumer choice. This author comes out and offers a substantive and moral objection to organics. That will be more than many advocates will be able to tolerate. 8/1/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Opposing Views On GMO/Organic Issue our piece, CCOF Opposition To GMOs Outweighs Commitment To National Standards, brought several responses including one from CCOF itself and another from an advocacy organization opposed to GMOs. Both make the same claim: That because no Federal regulation exists on where farmers can plant GMO crops, states and localities should be free to regulate this issue. Our point was simply that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and if you accept the position in interstate commerce that when you don’t like the present state of Federal Law, the proper thing to do is allow state and local preemption of the national status quo, you are opening yourself and the country up for problems. 7/27/2007

CCOF Opposition To GMOs Outweighs Commitment To National Standards as the 2007 Farm Bill winds its way to the floor, California Certified Organic Farmers is trying to wrangle some lobbying support from its members. We recognize that CCOF has substantive positions on GMO’s and meat and poultry, but, of all organizations, CCOF should recognize the danger to the food industry, especially organic growers, by establishing the precedent that states and localities should be able to preempt Federal regulations. The food industry depends on a uniform national market to provide a wide assortment of high quality foods at reasonable prices to the American people. If every state and locality can make its own rules, that efficiency will break down. 7/25/2007

Organic Foods Nutrition Debate points out that the world’s media outlets prodigiously tout the health benefits of organic. As far away as Kenya, they are running articles with titles such as “Research Shows Organic Foods Are Healthier.” About reports such as this, one should always start with the same phrase: “Interesting, if true.” The problem is that these studies rarely compare two items grown in identical growing conditions. As such they tell us little or nothing about the merits of organic cultivation. Particularly if what we are interested in is finding out whether we should expand organic consumption. 7/10/2007

Hannaford’s Organic Certification And Misguided Consumers/Press our piece, Hannaford Becomes First Organic-Certified Mainstream Retailer, attracted a great deal of attention, and now the Associated Press has caught wind of the story, in “Supermarket Chains Chase Success of Organic Grocers.” The article is a little wacky. Still, the article raises real questions regarding organic and conventional supermarkets. Organic certification is often a good idea for retailers. It is a good idea as a PR move to reassure mainstream consumers that you are doing good stuff for the world, not to think that by getting certified organic, your conventional stores will attract hard-core organic devotees. 7/3/2007

Sainsbury’s Drops Prince Charles’ Produce. British Chains Show Only Token ‘Localism’ Sainsbury’s, the No. 3 British supermarket chain, dropped two suppliers, both on one day and without notice. This isn’t normally a big deal, but when both are organic, and one is Prince Charles, heir to the throne and the other the head of the Soil Association, the leading organic advocacy group, you have a PR mess. Soil Association director Patrick Holden acknowledges his carrots were not suitable for sale, at least under Sainsbury’s present system. He argues that if supermarkets want to sell locally grown, organic produce, they must develop new systems suitable for the more delicate product. Normally we would have little sympathy for Mr. Holden. What changes our thoughts is the sanctimonious rantings of executives at British multiples about setting an example for the world on local, organics and what not. 6/28/2007

Chinese Garlic And Food Safety our piece, China Plays Down Food Safety Problems, didn’t mention any fresh produce imports from China, but China is a significant supplier of garlic, and the piece struck close enough to home to prompt this letter defending Chinese organic agriculture. When we get into an area such as organic certification in China, the culture and financial incentives leave someone wondering about compliance. Is that small organic farmer really going to care so much about being organic that he will disk his crop under and bankrupt himself because something inadvertently spills in the field? If a crop failure looms, will these people, with no financial reserves to draw on, still avoid spraying and simply accept a crop failure and utter destitution? 6/21/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Too Much Hype Over ‘Organic’? recalls that we ran a piece entitled Is Organic Produce Healthier? — and it brought numerous responses including a letter from a salad dressing manufacturer who responded as a consumer. We ran that piece under the title Pundit’s Mailbag — A Different Definition Of Organic Health. Today we run a letter from Richard A. Eastes of Rixx Intl. Marketing Co. Inc. that makes several key points concerning some realities about agriculture. 6/21/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Different Definition Of Organic Health our piece Is Organic Produce Healthier? brought a letter from a Lauri Raymond of Sisters & Brothers, Inc. who responds as a consumer. The problem remains that the motivations that Lauri expresses on why she shops for organics are now really theories more than established facts. It is possible that Lauri is right. It is just that we don’t have a scientific basis to believe so. This is important and we need to be very cautious in encouraging consumption of organics for health reasons. It is called the Law of Unintended Consequences and its sway is very strong. 6/20/2007

China Plays Down Food Safety Problems when China Daily, an English language newspaper controlled by China’s communist party, runs an article titled: “Quality of China’s Farm Products Improving,” it is fair to say that authorities in China are concerned with world perception of the safety of Chinese food production. China now is trying to certify product as organic, and when Wal-Mart began its push for organics, U.S. organic producers feared Wal-Mart would look to China for less expensive organics. The USDA has not certified any domestic Chinese organizations as certifying agents, so any product that is certified organic had to bring in supervision from outside China. But they are required to do an annual inspection, not provide on-site supervision. Is that sufficient? 6/20/2007

Is Organic Produce Healthier? recalls that earlier this year we ran a piece, Blunt Talk On Organics In The UK, which told the story of what happened when David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, gave an interview saying that: “organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a ‘lifestyle choice’ with no hard evidence that it is healthier.” Now a new analysis by the British Nutrition Foundation also casts doubt on nutritional claims regarding organic food. So the best current information we have is that, overall, there is no nutritional benefit to organics, but there may be exceptions, such as potatoes. Though we need more research, it may not matter to consumers anyway! 6/19/2007

A Solution For Wal-Mart’s Organic Woes explains that Wal-Mart can’t be a major player in organics because there is not enough organic product in the world to account for a significant portion of Wal-Mart’s sales. For them, organic food is, at best, “store of the community” initiative in which a few stores in appropriate neighborhoods will get stocked. However, what if Lee Scott went on television and explained to the American people that for farmers to convert to organic, they need to transition their land for three years and that most farmers being in a netherworld of not getting the yield of conventional growing, but not getting the price of organic growing, just can’t afford to make the leap. What if Lee Scott said that Wal-Mart was going to take the lead in helping America support farmers in their transition to organics by promoting the country’s largest transitional fruit and vegetable program? It would place Wal-Mart in a position of environmental leadership that Tesco would like to seize and would give Wal-Mart an opportunity to raise awareness among its own shoppers on this whole issue. 6/14/2007

Could Tesco Pounce On Wild Oats If FTC Blocks Whole Foods’ Purchase? wonders if the FTC succeeds in its effort to block Whole Foods from buying Wild Oats, what is likely to happen next to Wild Oats? We now are certain that the major shareholders would like to sell if they can get a decent deal. The sale announcement brought attention to the fact that there is real upside with Wild Oats as it generates only around half the sales per square foot that Whole Foods does. Any major retailer could step in to get a place at the table in what the FTC is claiming is a distinct organic supermarket sector, but perhaps the most intriguing possibility would be for Tesco, whose voyage to America we’ve covered extensively here, to buy the chain. 6/14/2007

Whole Food’s London Store Gets Consumer Analysis announces that Whole Foods has opened its new store in London. The Daily Mail ran a great piece on how British consumers react when they encounter Whole Foods. The piece is entitled “406 Cheeses? They must be off their Trolley” and what the Daily Mail did was ask both its own food writer, Tom Parker Bowles, a true “foodie,” and Julie Critchlow, a housewife and mother who became a minor celebrity in the U.K. when she rebelled against a “healthy food” movement in the schools in the U.K. by slipping her kids foods they were willing to eat through the school fence, to visit the new Whole Foods and report their impressions. Julie’s admission that she “doesn’t believe in organic” will surely send her back to her preferred supermarket Morrisons. 6/12/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pesticides And Cancer our piece Pesticides Keep Pestering Us prompted this succinct letter from a frequent Pundit contributor, Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts, who uses tobacco as an analogy illustrating the connection between pesticide use and cancer. This reminded us of a recent press conference that the Pundit attended where a reporter asked if the 5 a Day program shouldn’t require organic produce so as to avoid cancer. Yet organically grown produce is not, contrary to popular perception, grown without the use of chemicals. It is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals. Because the organic compounds are less effective than the synthetic compounds, they are applied at a higher density. So, for example, both copper and sulfur are organic and used — is it obvious to everyone that a lifetime of consumption of copper and sulfur residue is inherently healthier — because they are organic substances — than residue from a synthetic pesticide or fungicide? 6/6/2007

United’s Organic Pavilion declares organic produce marketing will change next year when the United show moves with FMI to Las Vegas, while the All Things Organic show stays in Chicago with the Fancy Food Show. Now United, anxious to capture booth sales to companies looking to promote organic produce and attendees focused on solving their organic procurement needs, has announced that its trade show in 2008 will feature an organic produce pavilion. There is no question that having an organic pavilion will help booth sales because the implied promise of a dedicated organic area is that there will be lots of buyers looking for organic product. Organic is hot and perhaps some sizeable number of exhibitors will give United’s new organic pavilion a try. Long term, however, success depends on attracting produce-specific retail buyers and merchandisers. 5/29/2007

Hannaford Becomes First Organic-Certified Mainstream Retailer noticed that when Whole Foods announced plans to open a store directly behind Hannaford’s flagship store in Portland, Maine, it was bruising for a fight — and now it’s got one. Hannaford Bros. just became the first mainstream supermarket chain to be fully certified by Quality Assurance International, a retailer program designed to enhance consumer confidence in a retailer’s organic offering by both auditing the procurement process and looking at things such as avoiding cross-contamination at the store level. Does this effort by Hannaford seek to prevent the defection of a tiny minority of shoppers to Whole Foods or is there a substantial mainstream business that is seeking to buy organic? 5/16/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Look At Organic Versus Conventional Yields our piece ‘Take-Aways’ From United’s Short Course On Organics, brought this thoughtful missive from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts, and he hits on the $64,000 question when he inquires if the lower yields for organics are a permanent situation or a transitional experience. Billy Heller of Sunripe spoke to the issue in different ways at United’s session titled: “Tapping the Organic Opportunity in Conventional Supermarkets.” Basically he implied that conventional agriculture has several advantages that seem to favor a notion of organics remaining a niche crop and that the gap between conventional and organic yields will become a chasm, not disappear as proponents hope. 5/16/2007

Tesco, Whole Foods And Wal-Mart Concepts Tested On Both Sides Of The Pond writes Whole Foods is preparing for its launch in the United Kingdom and the International Herald Tribune reported: “Whole Foods Hopes Its Organic Chic Will Sprout In London.” There is some question as to whether Whole Foods won’t represent to the “green” consumer a hostile “big organic” approach that is counter to the local buying and box scheme trends in the U.K. Tesco is coming to America to bring British-style prepared foods — broad array and good quality, but mostly merchandised in small, conveniently located stores — at virtually the same moment Whole Foods is bringing to London American-style high-end prepared foods sold against an expansive backdrop of specialized food and drink bars —coffee, sushi, etc. — and colorful fresh produce. Who will be right? Tesco or Whole Foods? 5/15/2007

Organic Show Has Most To Lose By Breakup considers the most successful and exciting of all the shows in Chicago was the All Things Organic show. It was certainly a big winner. Yet, ironically, it is also the show that has the most to lose by the breakup of the FMI/Power of Five show consortium and also the show most vulnerable in the long term. The basic dilemma of a show such as All Things Organic is captured in its name — the “all things” part, not the “organic” part. You wind up with a show selling everything from soap and baby clothes to fresh produce. Trade shows are defined by the buyer they attract, so a show that promotes “All Things Organic’ will have a tough time because Wal-Mart won’t want to send 50 buyers so each can visit 10 booths. 5/15/2007

A Look At Whole Foods shows that Whole Foods has made available an interesting presentation from its annual meeting of shareholders. The presentation reviews the core values of the chain and provides some great photos. The presentation plucks out the volume of “locally grown” produce Whole Foods sold in 2006 — $163 million. Although no definition is given of what qualifies as local. Still this is an advance move against the “movement” advocates who attack Whole Foods as part of “big organic” looking to work with big vendors. 5/10/2007

‘Take-Aways’ From United’s Short Course On Organics mentions how as part of its annual convention, United Fresh Produce Association offered a series of “short courses” on the Saturday before the trade show started. A particularly intriguing workshop focused on organics and was organized by the Perishables Group titled: “Tapping the Organic Opportunity in Conventional Supermarkets.” and was particularly valuable because, in assessing the potential for organics it excluded the Whole Foods and Wild Oats segment of the industry, which meant that both the data and the thinking could be clearer for those whose opportunities are with conventional retailing. Kudos to the Perishable Group for focusing on this segment of the industry. 5/9/2007

What If We Only Had Organic Fruit? reveals that Stemilt has announced that it will transition 100% of its peach and nectarine crops and half of its apricots into organic production. Stemilt estimates that once the three-year organic transition is completed, it will market about 1.5 million packages of organic summer fruit each year, accounting for about 70% of Washington’s total peach, nectarine, apricot and pluot crop. This switch to organic is an indication that Stemilt anticipates a higher return to the grower through the production and sale of organic product than through conventional product. If other Washington State growers follow, there will eventually be little if any conventional product to price against — a situation existing nowhere else in the country. 4/13/2007

Organics One Year Later — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods & Wild Oats recalls that a year ago the news in the food industry was consumed by word that Wal-Mart and other mass merchants were pushing their big packaged goods suppliers to supply organic versions of products. Now there is a news report out that quotes executives attending the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago this week as saying that the sales of most of these products have been modest. Organic products, the distinctive calling card of operators such as Whole Foods, are becoming ubiquitous. Predictably, organic products represent a tiny percentage of a mass marketer’s sales — which means they can price aggressively against Whole Foods without much impact on their gross margins but with big impact on the gross margins of Whole Foods if Whole Foods feels a need to be competitive. 3/14/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — GAPs Are Living Documents notes one of the undercurrents playing in the food safety debate is the dissatisfaction of many organic growers with the direction things are going. Some of this is values clashing, as environmental concerns, like maintaining riparian areas near rivers conflict with the food safety interests of eliminating wildlife from the fields. In other cases, the problem is that food safety programs cost money, and it is difficult for small growers to fund such programs. In conventional farming this is a problem too, but consolidation is a fact of life. For the organic community, consolidation strikes at a core value and, for many organic partisans, a world with food safety standards that require a large-scale operation to sustain is simply unacceptable. Dale Coke, who runs a 200-plus acre organic farm in San Benito County wrote us to comment on our piece Is The California Marketing Agreement A Triumph Or A Failure. 3/6/2007

Whole Foods To Acquire Wild Oats: Circling The Wagons As Others Sell Organics reveals the word is out now that Whole Foods intends to buy Wild Oats. The link-up clearly is motivated by the perceived need to obtain critical mass to procure and market effectively against much larger organizations as they move into organic product. Wal-Mart, Costco and virtually every supermarket are moving in this direction. The big question facing the company is: do consumers who shop at Whole Foods buy into an ideology? Or do they want something in the food choice or atmosphere presented that can be easily offered elsewhere? 2/22/2007

Are Organics Good For The Environment? finds that because there are no good scientific studies supporting the notion that organically grown foods enhance human health or extend lifespan, advocates of organic agriculture have focused on the environmental benefits of organic farming. Yet a new study just out in the U.K. finds that, carefully considered, some organic farming may be more hazardous to the environment than conventional farming. We’ve already taken note of some of the Blunt Talk On Organics In The U.K. and this latest report is another blow to the organic movement. 2/22/2007

Organic, BioFach And The Iron Triangle reports the largest organic trade show in the world, BioFach, just kicked off in Nuremberg, Germany. Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, opened the conference with a talk titled “Organic Production: The Right Ground Rules for a Growing Sector.” There were a few key items in the speech; first an announcement of a plan to promote organics, with a focus on the environmental benefits, second, she explained a plan to ease imports of organic products, particularly from countries without strong organic standards, and third, she proposed a mandatory EU logo for organics produced within the Union. Her speech had some interesting points, but the overall tone is not that she is representing the people of Europe and is cognizant that she is dealing with an industry with its own financial interests, and that part of her job is to safeguard the hard-earned tax money of these citizens. 2/16/2007

Organics, GMOs And Irradiation: The Voice Of Science discovered in the editorial content of the journal Nature Biotechnology, there is a bit of correspondence that starts out with a lambasting letter to the editor as a Craig Holdrege of The Nature Institute, an advocacy group for organics, attacks an editorial from an earlier edition. Here is the joke: The initial editorial wasn’t an attack on organics at all, it was an ironic joke pointing out how unacceptable it would be to the research community if the same type of scaremongering and distortions that are routinely applied to GMOs were ever applied to organics. 2/15/2007

Lack of USDA Oversight On Organics Portends Bigger Problems For Conventional Produce shares a commentary in the Northwest Indiana Times titled: “Blowing the Whistle on Sham Organics” that focuses on the unwillingness or inability of the USDA to do much about allegations that various products are falsely being sold as organic. Part of the issue is that organic advocates want the organic laws to read in ways they do not, and thus blame the USDA for not enforcing standards where none exist. What is thought-provoking is this: In light of United Fresh’s call for government regulation, if the USDA doesn’t have sufficient staff to verify compliance in the tiny organic industry, do we have any reason to think it would ever be able to do the task in the giant conventional produce industry? 2/8/2007

Blunt Talk On Organics In The UK noticed that January saw a sudden outbreak of blunt talk regarding organics in the United Kingdom. David Miliband, the environment secretary, did an interview with The Sunday Times, saying that “organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a ‘lifestyle choice’ with no hard evidence that it is healthier.” He is a politician and backtracked a bit when the predictable uproar among the predictable parties occurred. Perhaps even more significant, Egon Ronay, a prominent food critic in the U.K., has spoken out on the same subject: “The public has no clear idea what organic food is. We’re being conned and I think the minister ought to be pinned down and ought to be challenged to spell out in terms that the public can clearly understand what is organic food.” 2/6/2007

Organic Buying Clubs writes that we’ve dealt both here and here with programs in the United Kingdom in which mixed boxes of organically grown produce are sold on a subscription basis. Now, The Palm Beach Post recently ran an article titled: “Organic Food Fanciers Decide it’s Time to Join the Club.” In it, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association says: “There are at least 10,000 organic buying clubs, and they are growing.” It is an interesting concept, although quantification seems hard to come by. The piece also raises several other questions. In the U.K. supermarkets, such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, are now doing this. If there are anywhere near 10,000 buying clubs, U.S. retailers won’t be far behind. 1/25/2007

Flimsy Reporting On Organics’ Health Benefits found The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “When Buying Organic Makes Sense — and When It Doesn’t.” The Pundit is tempted to write a piece regarding what is wrong with the article’s analysis regarding fresh produce — but we did that already! Basically, the point is that there is ZERO research that shows human health is enhanced by consuming organic produce as opposed to conventionally grown produce. There are a very small number of people who have studied organic standards and made a decision based on a rational analysis of the facts. The vast majority of purchases are made for other reasons. 1/17/2007

Food Safety Concerns Clash With Organic Values agrees that everybody is in favor of food safety — right up till it bumps into something else they value. This article: “Farms May Cut Habitat Renewal Over E. coli Fears” in the San Francisco Chronicle has gotten many organic growers, who value programs that are geared toward encouraging biological diversity, questioning what will actually be required under the California Marketing Agreement and a later Marketing Order. As food safety moves from a generalized principle to detailed actions required by buyers or government, the willingness to cooperate is likely to go down fast as competing values enter the fray. 1/17/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation in response to our piece Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks, we received a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce asking: “In the midst of the current spinach crisis it is obvious that irradiation is a needed choice for food safety.” Mark’s letter is tapping into a growing sense in the industry that nothing that is done at the grower level will provide the level of certainty of safety that government and the public demand. When you have people like Tom Russell, President of Dynasty Farms / Pacific International Marketing, a man who has an important organic business, saying that we need a “Right to Irradiate” law, you know the tides have turned. If you missed Tom’s letter, read it here. 1/11/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety received a most important letter from Tom Russell, President of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing, a grower, shipper and processor of conventional and organic leafy green vegetables. His letter is important for several reasons: First, an important organic grower and marketer is going on the record saying that all raw manure and even composted cow manure should be banned on all fresh produce fields. Also, that an important organic grower and marketer is saying that we better look hard at irradiation and is urging a “Right to Irradiate” law. 1/10/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Manure received this letter from Bob Sanderson of
Jonathan’s Sprouts, an advocate of organic agriculture, regarding our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers who asks, logically enough, how anyone can make a leap from a letter testifying they didn’t use manure or manure compost to urging the ban on the use of manure in growing spinach or leafy greens? Part of what the produce industry needs is simple but dramatic changes that will make consumers feel better about produce. One of the problems with all these committees developing good agricultural practices is that most of it is subtle and beyond the grasp of the consuming public. Simple rules: No cows within a mile of a spinach farm, no manure, compost, compost tea or any other form of manure on a field that is growing spinach or leafy greens. 1/5/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Fairtrade From A European Perspective shares a letter from Marc De Naeyer of TROFI in response to our piece analyzing the concept of “Fairtrade” in the context of J. Sainsbury’s commitment to “Fairtrade” bananas. Marc suggests reading a recent article published in The Economist titled: “Good Food” on the merits/challenges of organic-fair trade-food miles and local produce. What we didn’t deal with but The Economist does is other shibboleths of modern society, thinking of going organic to be environmentally friendly. 12/22/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers ran two letters recently, first, a letter from Jeff Hitchcock of Boggiatto Produce pointing out that the field implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was being farmed organically and marketed as conventional due to its transitional status. Then we ran a letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts questioning the implication of this. Today we received another letter on this subject from Samantha Cabaluna, Senior Manager of Communications at Natural Selection Foods. The great news in Samantha’s letter is that contrary to popular perception, its organic growers are not utilizing manure, raw or composted. Which raises the obvious question: If even organic growers don’t need to use it, why in the world is the produce industry going to bat for this unappealing practice? 12/21/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure reprints a pointed letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts responding to Jeff Hitchcock’s letter regarding organic production and the possibility that the land on which the tainted spinach was grown was, in fact, organically grown and marketed as conventional due to the three-year time passage required for the conversion of conventionally grown land to organic production. Bob also raises the issue of proper manure composting practices. We think the whole notion of using manure in this day and age is somewhat barbaric, and the most effective consumer confidence building techniques are simple ones. So we would think the wisest course is for the industry to agree to ban the use of manure, composted or not, in commercial agriculture. 12/19/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground received a note regarding our coverage of food safety and the spinach/E. coli crisis from Jeff Hitchcock of Boggiatto Produce, Inc. who asks: “Why don’t you delve into the real spinach debacle! The field in question was organically grown on transitional ground!” The interaction between organic and a spinach crisis revolving around Natural Selection Foods was bound to raise questions about organics. The minute people heard E. coli and Natural Selection Foods, many said it could be poorly composted manure. There was real fear that it could destroy the whole organic movement. Nobody has issued a formal statement saying that the implicated ranch was transitional — but that has been told to the Pundit by more than 20 people deeply involved in Salinas agriculture, and now Jeff is signing his name to it. It certainly raises the stakes for organics. 12/14/2006

New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety notes that the organic community has been struggling with the entry of companies such as Wal-Mart into the organic business. The mystery fades only when you understand that for many organic activists, the elimination of synthetic pesticides is only one goal and a modest one at that. Instead they want to use the organic industry as a way of establishing a supply chain that is aligned with a value structure. So, although Wal-Mart may sell a lot of organics, it won’t build the kind of world these activists yearn for. Now, however, in the face of so many food safety problems, we have to wonder if the culture that pushes to reduce costs is the culture that can most effectively enhance food safety. 12/12/2006

Posh Nosh And Premium Food describes how in a recent MarketWatch piece, the chatter lately across the pond has been about the “posh nosh” or the move among British retailers to sell more upscale items. This piece claims the retailers are all in favor due to higher profit margins on upscale goods: “As the trend for premium foods gathers steam, retail leaders Tesco and J. Sainsbury have come to realize what’s good on the table can also beef up the bottom line. They’ve expanded their top-of-the-range offering of premium goods, which are described as organic, fair trade and products from niche luxury brands.” 12/8/2006

More Organic Assumptions reviews a Business Week cover story on organic food that rehashes many of the key issues, such as locally grown vs. nationally shipped, currently splitting the organic world. There is an assumption in the piece without any evidence. You read a line such as: “…what we’ve come to expect from organic food: pure, pesticide-free, locally produced ingredients grown on a small family farm,” and you would think the article would reference a study or other indication that “we’ve” come to expect anything of the sort. In the absence of evidence it seems that this is just the reporter’s bias, a buy-in to the propaganda of certain sectors of the trade that they are the “true” organic vision. 10/17/2006

Pundit Mailbag — Causes Of E. coli received a note from Jim Wells of Oregon Wild Edibles, in response to our piece on the implications for organic produce in the spinach/E. coli situation. Jim asks why we chose the “manure in compost” angle as opposed to the “animal run-off angle.” It is always a judgment call. Space and time are always limited, we must make choices. In general, we try to focus on things that the industry can deal with. For example, the produce industry has no power and only limited influence in the sphere of changing laws regarding what cattle can be fed. On the other hand, any buyer or seller in the produce industry can decide to stop using manure tomorrow. And if we want to change the National Organic Standards, the produce industry has a lot of influence in that regard when it comes to changes relevant to fresh produce. 9/26/2006

Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis points out that though they have not published the information, FDA officials have been privately telling industry leaders they have determined that both organic and conventional product are implicated in the E. coli spinach situation. If this information is true, then this already odd food safety crisis gets odder still. Organic and conventional product would be grown in separate fields and processed on separate machines in different parts of the plant. For the E. coli to be on both at the same time there would have to be a coincidence of mind-boggling proportions. Unless… what if all the product is actually organic? 9/25/2006

Ramifications And Reflections On The Spinach Recall reports that some of the worst news the industry could hope to have has come from the statement by the FDA that, although the FDA had not identified the bacteria in any of the products it traced, patient reports led it to announce that the outbreak had been tracked down to Natural Selection Foods. This follows the initial report which we dealt with here. Natural Selection Foods is the biggest organic shipper. Although, so far at least, the link is solely to non-organic product, it is impossible to think that its link to this crisis won’t affect future attitudes toward organic foods. 9/18/2006

Organic Dodges A Bullet reports that Natural Selection Foods issued another statement regarding the E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach confirming none of their product has been linked. Assuming this holds up, the organic industry dodged quite a bullet. Things are still murky but issues remain. It seems inevitable, regardless of the specific product involved in this outbreak, that the involvement of Natural Selection Foods will lead to a double-check on the food safety aspect of organic farming and that this whole cloud arising around organics will cause a rethinking on the very nature of organic agriculture. 9/18/2006

Box Fresh discusses a two a page spread in The Times recently on the hottest trend in British retailing: “Box-fresh and delivered right to your doorstep.” The article serves as basically a review of five different services, all of which deliver mixed boxes of organically grown fruits and vegetables to the homes of purchasers, typically on a subscription basis. Though the basic point of these boxes is to encourage ecologically diverse farms by buying ecologically diverse selections, they do include out-of-season imports that are organic but not necessarily grown in ecologically diverse farms. Major supermarkets are planning to launch similar schemes. The two prime issues of the box-fresh program seem to be the ease and predictability of the box subscription. 8/31/2006

As Organic Chasm Deepens, A Solution Is Offered explains that to the hard-core organic advocates, “organic” does not mean simply that a product follows the USDA’s national organic standard or the National Organic Farming Act. Depending on whom you are talking to, it can mean local, small scale, truth and love and peace on earth. It is a lot of weight for a bag of salad to carry. Some people simply want to use their food dollars to support local, organic agriculture. A brilliant strategy for retailers would be to offer a pre-selected box of locally grown product, with an assortment that would change regularly. One could see this as a competitive response to farmers markets, farm box cooperatives and even organic/natural food stores. But I think it is in line with the mass market tradition of offering consumer choice. 8/18/2006

 

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