Akhila is a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she i...
CSR of Industrialized Organic Farms: A better way to grow?
There is a lot out there to confuse a conscientious shopper in terms of organic labeling. Further exploration into organic food production and subsequent life-cycle analysis reveals that the definition of organic food is no longer simple. Many believe that organic companies are small, independent ventures however there are many brands that are owned by big conglomerates. In fact, 6 mega-farms in California grow most of the organic produce in the US. A few years ago Burt's Bees was bought over by Clorox, Naked Juice belongs to PepsiCo, Dagoba Organic Chocolate belongs to Hersheys, Kashi to Kellogg's, General Mills owns Cascadian Farm which owns Muir Glen... you get the idea.
The food industry is very sensitive to consumer demand. So when the demand for organic food increased, many conglomerates responded by expanding into organics to increase their revenue. Author of Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan calls these, "industrialized organic factory farms" and continues to state that, "organic risks a real crisis of perception if the values that they're selling don't accurately reflect the practices they're engaging in. They're organic by the letter, not organic in spirit."
What was once a movement is now a $8 billion business and has naturally attracted every major agribusiness. Traditional organic wouldn't need a CSR policy because the business model is inclusive of everything that CSR tries to ensure. However these hybrid organic-corporates are blurring the line between the business model i.e., organic from the business principle i.e., CSR.
There are many questions that surround the issue: Should organic food be a stand-alone concept? or should it be tied in with other concepts such as seasonal, local and unprocessed? Does the concept of industrial organic affect consumer choice? Take the example of Greenways Organic near Fresno. It is a 2,000 acre organic farm tucked into a 24,000 acre conventional farm. The organic farm is nourished by compost supplied by a horse farm located close by and insects are controlled through biological agents. Frequent tilling is common in organic farms to keep weeds in check but this degrades soil quality. However on the same farm, the conventional plot is plied with petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Cascadian farms produces organic TV dinners with 'organic' additives like xanthum gum and natural chicken flavour! - this is a radical corporate-meets-organic concept. 70% of the organic milk market in America is controlled by Organic Cow. To extend sell-by dates to facilitate shipping they 'ultra pasteurize' their milk. This process destroys enzymes in the milk rendering it less nutritious. Additionally cows on the farm are not allowed to range but are kept in lots eating organic grass and being milked three times day.
Organics require the same amount of irrigation, fuel, electricity and transportation as conventional. They do save energy from production of synthetic fertilizers but on-farm energy use is the same. Local delivery of compost and manure uses single-unit trucks which is the single biggest reason for a high footprint. What does this mean for CSR on an industrial-organic farm?
The Organic Valley Coop has recently joined the EPA in a a waste reduction scheme. In the last year the Coop reduced waste by 25% by diverting more than 100,000lbs of waste from landfills in addition to investing in water and energy conservation. The Three Mile Canyon farm based in Oregon works with Nature Conservancy to ensure sustainable agriculture. Their CSR report confirms a commitment to the triple bottom line.
What appears to be a middle-ground is shaky unless there is a assessment in the near future of how best the concepts of CSR can aid the concepts of industrial-organic. This largely depends not just on farm operations but also on consumer perceptions of the difference between traditional and industrial organic. This is an important difference because it means that small organic farmers can claim a niche in the murky world of agribusiness.