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How Walmart Threatens Organic Food

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 When Walmart announced in April that it was introducing the Wild Oats brand of organic food products in 2,000 stores, some food-justice advocates grew excited. In U.S. News & World Report, one writer praised Walmart for embracing "sustainable products and sustainable sourcing." The Guardiandeclared that Walmart was providing low-income shoppers with "an organic option they can afford."

Others fear Walmart's history spells trouble for organics. Since the 1980s,

Walmart has revolutionized the U.S. economy from a "push" system, in which manufacturers determined what was sold on store shelves, to a "pull" system, in which retailers set the terms. Walmart has induced its suppliers, including iconic companies such as Huffy Corp (maker of Huffy bicycles), Levi Strauss & Co. and Master Lock, to relocate factories and jobs to impoverished countries while skimping on the quality of their goods. Critics worry the Arkansas-based retailer will "Walmart" organic food, pushing farms to relocate to unregulated regions abroad while undermining organic standards at home.

Walmart told the New York Times its new line of organics will remove "the premium associated with organic groceries" so that they were "priced the same as similar non-organic brand-name goods." Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, and owner of a 160-acre organic farm used to pasture beef cattle, allows that this is one possibility. He says Walmart's mastery of supply-chain logistics, which enables it to bring more goods to market cheaper and faster than any other company, could "expand the availability of organic food in the United States." That could lower costs for shoppers, create more demand for organic farmers and spur price reductions at Whole Foods, the leading national health-food chain derided as "Whole Paycheck" for the high price of many of its organic offerings. But Kastel thinks it's more likely Walmart will undermine organics. "If Walmart [pushes organic food] at the expense of organic farmers," he says, "then everyone loses."         


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