Organic Companies: Balancing Sustainability & Trust

organic food stampDid you know buying organic food can strengthen sustainability initiatives and boost community impact? However, in a day and age where nearly every brand on supermarket shelves is owned by one of a dozen mega conglomerates, we often wonder which organic companies can we really trust?

Many large conglomerates, have bought up organic food and drink companies, like Odwalla and Honest Tea, continuing to market the product without any mention of their involvement. Why does this matter?

For one, the partnership can be a conflict of interest. Companies like Coca Cola may favor profit margins instead of organic food integrity. Secondly, many of these partnerships do not require the conglomerate to uphold the standards of the original organic product.

Take White Wave for instance. The Silk Soymilk producer was purchased by Dean Foods in 2002, and the product began to subtly change. First they introduced new products made with non-organic soybeans, then they made a full-blown shift in all their products from organic to all-natural. This was done with virtually no indication to the consumer. The packaging remained the same, along with the price and even the UPC codes. For many consumers the product was virtually indistinguishable from the original organic version.

Horizon, an organic milk company catering to children, had a similar shift when bought-out by Dean Foods. Horizon has since been accused by the Cornucopia Institute of selling non-organic milk with an organic label. Dean Foods is a perfect example of why the ideological differences in non-organic and organic companies do not make for a good partnership. The company is in control of nearly 90% of the milk market. They have also reported record profits in years where dairy farmers across the country have gone out of business. There are lawsuits pending against the company by dairy farmers and they are being investigated for monopolistic practices by the Justice Department.

This isn’t to say that every organic company owned by a large corporation will eventually begin making a bad product, however, it does provide consumers with a good reason to steer their purchases towards privately-owned organic companies.

Many organic companies, have remained private entities and continued to put out a great organic product. These are a few of their stories.

Eden FoodsEden Organic

Eden Foods has remained a privately owned company for over 43 years despite a huge number of buyout offers. The company’s founder has been incredibly vocal about his decision not to sell-out. He has stated that he wants to retain his control over the quality of the product and the sustainability of its production. The company even played an integral part in refining the USDA regulations on certified organic, helping to eliminate genetically engineered and irradiated foods from the list of acceptable organic products. The company has even chosen NOT to add the USDA organic seal to their product because of continued disagreement with USDA regulations. Their website states “Though all Eden organic food is grown, handled, processed, and certified in a way that meets and exceeds the requirements for using the ‘USDA Organic’ seal, Eden chooses not to use this seal on its food labels. In short this seal does not approach Eden’s standards for organic, in practice or in spirit.” All of Eden’s food is GEO-free, irradiation-free, and BPA-free since 1993. The company also makes it their mission to support local family farms by sourcing 70% of their ingredients from within a few hundred miles of headquarters and by paying farmers directly, getting more money into their pockets.

Nature’s PathNature's Path

The Nature’s Path home office in British Columbia houses an on-site organic garden, compost bins, a rooftop garden, and a rainwater harvesting system. Arran Stephens, founder of this family-owned Canadian company, believes in keeping the business small enough that he himself can personally run it. His vision “to be a trusted name for quality organic foods in every home,” is his reason not to sell to the highest bidder. Inspired by his father, an ecologically conscious organic farmer, Stephens believes deeply in sustainability. His father taught him to “always leave the soil better than you found it,” and that’s what he intends to do for good. Their website states “we haven’t ‘sold out’ – and we don’t intend to.”

Organic ValleyOrganic Valley

Organic Valley is about as grass-roots as a company can get. It is a true cooperative of 1,326 family farms all of which share in the management and the profits of their products. The company dedicates itself not only to producing quality organic products but also to educating the public on the importance of sustainability. Their website allows users to calculate the amount of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides and fertilizers they have prevented from being released into the environment by buying Organic Valley. In 2008, the Ecological Farming Association awarded their “Sustie Award” (“Steward of Sustainable Agriculture”) to the company. The award in intended to honor groups “who have demonstrated in word and action a long-term significant contribution to the well being of agriculture and the planet.”

It’s clear that buying organic food strengthens sustainability initiatives but did you know it can increase community impact?To learn more about the importance of buying organic, check out this explanation 

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