Who Can I Buy From?

It may come as a surprise to some that many of the natural/organic companies we may think of as “small” and “independent” – you know, that visual of a company, where the homespun farmers keep pesticides and hormones out of their foods with their own two hands, then sell their products proudly and directly from their small farms to you – are not so small anymore, and perhaps owned by a conglomeration of business executives in suits who also sell Coca-Cola products to the world.

“Many consumers choose foods that come from organic small-scale or family farms, because they don’t want to buy foods from multinational food companies,” says Dr. Phil Howard, an associate professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. “Little do they know, what appears to be organically grown by a family farm, while still organic, might actually come from a major corporation like Coca Cola, Clorox, or Kraft. But because parent companies aren’t required to put their name on packaging, it isn’t always obvious who actually owns the product.”

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As One Green Planet reported, many small organic companies are actually owned by huge corporations that sell a whole lot of stuff that isn’t healthy at all.

Here’s a little tidbit from the article: “Were you aware that Mars, Inc., the company that owns GMO-filled foods like M&M’s and Snickers, also owns Seeds of Change, a line of organic seeds, herbs and flowers? Nestle, the company that brings us Kit Kat bars and Hot Pockets, also owns Sweet Leaf Tea, a company that proclaims that ‘Every bottle of homemade goodness starts with Granny’s original recipe.’ Tell that to Big Food! Coca-Cola owns Honest Tea and Odwalla, and Pepsi owns Naked Juice. All ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ companies. General Mills owns Larabar and Cascadian Farm. And did you know Kellogg, the maker of toxic Special K foods, owns Morningstar Farms, Bear Naked and Kashi?”

If that’s not enough, to see just how infiltrated the organic industry actually is, check out this chart, updated in May of this year, created by  Howard.  You may find that your very favorite organic cereal is owned by Kraft, General Mills, or even Miller-Coors!

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This may be shocking – or perhaps not so startling at all. But the fact of the matter is that every time we buy from a organic company owned by big food, we may be also supporting some of the practices and theories governed by the large companies – think support of GMO farming technologies, sketchy labor practices, and a slew of truly unsafe ingredients being fed in mass to the public, guys!

According to Howard, the organic industry is “becoming increasingly consolidated.”  And, consolidation means “that fewer and fewer people are making decisions about how organic food is grown, processed, distributed and sold.”

And, once again, if you’re opposed to GMOs, consider that you might even been contributing to the effort to leave GMO foods unlabeled: according to Gmo-awareness.com, “Your dollars spent on these ‘corporate organics’ all wind up back in the coffers of the corporation—most of whom don’t think GMOs are a problem and/or donated money to prevent GMO labeling. This doesn’t mean corporate organics aren’t organic, nor does it mean they are no longer GMO-free (provided they’ve been properly certified). It just means the dollars you spend on corporately-owned organic brands are helping to keep GMOs from being labeled.”

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Now, it might be impossible to stop buying from all of the organic companies owned by big food, and all of this is not to say that the USDA organic standards are not upheld by these companies (all companies, no matter who owns them, must comply in order to bear the organic label on its products), but you can do something to reduce your fiscal support of companies governed and backed by the very companies making so many people unhealthy: buy from companies still owned independently.

“One way [to help stop the organic industry consolidation] is to support smaller-scale and independent farms and processors through your purchases, if you can get that information about size and ownership,” says Howard. “Sometimes this will mean paying a bit more, because big corporations can afford to sell at a loss if it means driving competitors out of business.”

So, what brands make the cut?

According to this chart, some of the more recognizable companies such as Amy’s Kitchen, Applegate Farms, Bob’s Red Mill, Organic Valley, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Equal Exchange, Eden Foods, Pacific Natural Foods, Traditional Medicinal, Frontier Natural Products, and Yoga Tea are still of “independent” status.  If you’re interested in buying from independent companies that have, in addition, publicly voiced opposition to GMOs, here’s another list, which adds Annie’s, Apple and Eve, Late July, Rudy’s Bakery, and Sambazon, among others, to the list you can buy if you want to shop independent.

So, while the bad news is that the organic industry may not be owned by the people you thought, the good  news is that there are plenty of companies that still maintain independence from the massive conglomerate companies – and perhaps remains just a bit  more wholesome in their values and business as it translates to your plate.