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Wal-Mart's organic push may force down production standards

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has announced plans to sell more organic food, and has asked its suppliers - including Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods and Pepsi - to increase their range of products to meet demand. The Bentonville based retailer told the New York Times that it intends to sell a greater range of organic products at a 10% premium - significantly lower than the current organic premium, which stands at 20-30%.

While the move will no doubt increase accessibility to healthier organic products, some critics have said the effect may lower organic standards, squeeze farmers' incomes, and undermine health benefits. Many also argue that mass manufacturing goes against the very concept of organic production.

Regardless of this, the New York Times said Wal-Mart's move to be more organic will take place this summer. And a spokesperson for the retailer told the BBC that Wal-Mart has already begun to increase its organic food offerings in its Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets.

While the move is in-line with the company's current strategy of enticing more urban and upscale consumers into its stores, Wal-Mart's new push worries Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group that lobbies for strict standards and the preservation of small organic farms.

"This model of one size fits all and lowest prices possible doesn't work in organic," Mr Cummins told the Amherst Times, adamant that Wal-Mart does not care about the principles behind organic agriculture. "Their business model is going to wreck organic the way it's wrecking retail stores, driving out all competitors."

"They're going to end up outsourcing from overseas and places like China," he said, "where you've got very dubious organic standards and labor conditions that are contrary to what any organic consumer would consider equitable."