Top | Sift

Wal-Mart helps out

(article, Kim Carlson)

Is this a case of sloppiness, deception — or helpfulness? State officials in Wisconsin are investigating Wal-Mart after a small-farm advocacy group in the state accused the giant retailer of mislabeling organic products in some of its Wisconsin locations — and they have photos to prove it. Wal-Mart demurs, saying these were undoubtedly isolated incidents, but on their website they also admit to this:

p(blockquote). “Consumer shopping patterns have shown that many customers consider it easier to find the organic alternatives they want if they are mixed with conventional selections on the shelves. That is why Wal-Mart customers will find dry grocery, frozen and dairy organic offerings displayed alongside their brand name conventional counterparts.”

The Organic Consumers Association, whose mission is to preserve strict organic standards, has called for a boycott of Wal-Mart because of the reported mislabeling. (This is the same group who petitioned Starbucks to stop using milk that contains the artificial hormone rBGH — which Starbucks has announced it will begin to do.)

This flap gets at a deeper issue, of course: Should people who want organic foods trust Wal-Mart, or, in the spirt of the organic-food movement, should they buy at smaller, less corporate venues, such as farmers’ markets and food co-ops — all of which can purchase food on a smaller scale and thus avoid "industrial organics"? If Wal-Mart's in it only for the money, is that just fine?