Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sold out? Mainstream Success May Spoil Organic Agriculture

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Sold out? Mainstream Success May Spoil Organic Agriculture

Article excerpt

MY NAME IS KEVIN C. AND I AM A COSTCO-HOLIC. You gotta love a place where you can buy a 30-gallon jug of mayonnaise, season two of Battlestar Gallactica, 37 pounds of frozen ground beef, a flat-screen HDTV, and a cut-rate mahogany coffin all in one fell shopping swoop. Just polish off the beef and the 30 gallons of mayo while enjoying BG on your HDTV, and you'll be a few (non)steps closer to using that coffin. A fella has to plan ahead.

Odd commodities regularly crop up at Costco (DKNY running socks anyone?), but something surprising even by Costco's standards has been happening at my favorite megastore. Organic goods have begun making a tentative appearance along Costco's crazy aisles just as their presence in regular supermarkets has similarly beefed up over the last few years. A recent Costco safari, for instance, netted a 4-pound bag of frozen organic broccoli and a companion package of organic green beans. Now comes word that, the mother-of-all retailers, Wal-Mart, wants to upscale its image by filling whole sections of its superstores with organic goods.

Wal-Mart is only the most recent major chain to get organic." McDonalds will soon offer fair trade, organic coffee in New England; Kelloggs plans organic versions of popular cereals like Rice Krispies; and regional organic dairies and producers are being swallowed up by larger food and dairy conglomerates who see money in them there nontoxic hills. At $14 billion in annual sales, organics represent a tiny fraction of the nation's $500 billion food budget, but with a growth rate of 20 percent per annum in recent years, organics have been the fastest growing sector in the food market.

The entry of big players like Wal-Mart could prove the market-making moment when organics, once the whiny preserve of Birkenstockers and macrobiotic know-it-alls, go mainstream, opening up to the rest of us simple folk, who have vague aspirations of eating ethically but who often choke on the 50 to 100 percent organic premium. This should be cause for rejoicing among promoters of the organic option, but Wal-Mart's announcement has been the cause of as much consternation as celebration.

Part of the reason for the conflicting commercial reaction can be found stamped on the bottom of my properly green package of organic broccoli: "Made in China," it reads without further explanation. …

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