Wal-Mart charged with selling non-organic food as organic

by Will Fantle

This article was originally published in January 2007

(January 2007) — The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal legal complaint asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate evidence that Wal-Mart is selling non-organic food illegally as “organic.” As the nation’s most aggressive organic farming watchdog, Cornucopia has documented several cases warranting investigation.

Cornucopia’s co-founder and senior farm policy analyst Mark Kastel says, “We first noticed that Wal-Mart was using in-store signage to misidentify non-organic food as organic in its upscale-market test store in Plano, Texas.” Cornucopia staff then visited a number of other Wal-Mart stores in the Midwest and documented similar improprieties in produce and dairy categories.

Before alerting the USDA, Cornucopia notified Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott in a letter on September 13, 2006, informing the company of the problem and asking that it correct the situation. More than one month later, with no response from the company, the same product misrepresentations still were observed on Wal-Mart shelves in other states. Cornucopia then filed its legal complaint. Investigators have since contacted Cornucopia to discuss the evidence.

“This is a serious problem,” says Kastel. “Organic farmers adopt and follow a rigorous range of independently audited management practices to ensure that the food they raise is organic. Consumers who are paying premium prices for organic food deserve to get what they’re paying for.”

Many organic food retailers throughout the country, including PCC Natural Markets, have invested considerable resources in organic certification. In-store trainings increase staff understanding of organic food production and handling rules to maintain organic integrity.

“It’s questionable whether Wal-Mart has the management expertise necessary to understand organics and the requirements essential to selling organic food,” observes Kastel. “At this point, it seems it’s more attracted by potential profits. Given its size, market power and clout, this is very troubling.”

Cornucopia’s legal complaint and a photo gallery of Wal-Mart’s organic offerings can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.

Will Fantle is The Cornucopia Institute’s Research Director.

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