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Walmart’S Latest Organic Scheme Is Just Part of Its Plot to Take over Our Food System

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's All About Organics Page and our Breaking The Chains Page.

Walmart recently announced that it would stock a selection of lower-cost organic packaged foods. A storm of positive press followed, including two U.S. News columns (here and here) by David Brodwin of the American Sustainable Business Council, who argued that, despite Walmart's many sins, it was doing good in this case by legitimatizing and mainstreaming sustainable products in the eyes of consumers, investors, the media, and other companies.

I'm a big fan of David's work, and of ASBC, but I think he's got this one backward. The story that Walmart created with its announcement was not: Wow, organics have changed. They've gone mainstream. (That's not really news, after all.) Instead, the story was: Wow, Walmart has changed. It's gone organic. In other words, Walmart is not legitimizing organic foods so much as using organic foods to legitimize its own business model.

To me, the pivotal question that ought to frame any discussion about Walmart's role in our food system is: Will people and the planet be better off if Walmart grows to control 50 percent of the U.S. grocery market?

Growth, after all, is what this is ultimately about. In 2005, staring down bad headlines and organized opposition in one city after another, Walmart realized that it faced a hard ceiling on its expansion if it did not improve its public image, particularly in the liberal-leaning areas of the country. It launched its sustainability campaign that year, pledging to be a leader on climate change and shift completely to renewable power. Walmart has not made much progress on those ostensible goals. Indeed, its greenhouse emissions are higher than ever and it derives just 4 percent of its electricity from its wind and solar projects.

But Walmart has succeeded spectacularly in the real purpose of this project. The company is 37 percent bigger in the U.S. today than it was in 2005.