The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin has been taking a lot of shots at Wal-Mart concerning the retailer’s organic food labeling practices. For one, the organization charges that Wal-Mart’s signage misrepresents nonorganic food as organic. There are photos on Cornucopia’s web site backing up the organization’s allegations. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The organic-food industry has mushroomed into a juggernaut with nearly $14 billion in sales in 2005 and annual growth of roughly 20%,” and, “food empires like Dean Foods Co. and Danone SA now churn out organic products, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has become a major seller of organic food.”
About four months ago Cornucopia informed Wal-Mart that its misrepresentation could be interpreted as consumer fraud, and later followed up by filing a formal legal complaint with the USDA after finding that many of the reported deceptive signs were still in place in Wal-Mart stores. Cornucopia’s complaints ask the USDA and Wisconsin regulators to fully investigate the allegations of organic food misrepresentation. The farm policy organization has shared their evidence, including photographs and notes, from multiple stores in Wisconsin and in many other states, with the agency’s investigators. Fines of up to $10,000 per violation for proven incidents of organic food misrepresentation are provided for in federal organic regulations.
Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman Karen Burke told the La Crosse Tribunel that any mislabeling was “inadvertent.” “Although Wal-Mart has more than 2,000 locations that may offer up to 200 organic selections in addition to thousands of non-organic offerings, we believe it to be an isolated incident should a green organic identifying tag be inadvertently placed by or accidentally shift in front of the wrong item,” she said. “The USDA certification label is featured on the packaging of the organic selections we offer for further customer information and verification.”
This past September, The Cornucopia Institute also accused Wal-Mart of cheapening the value of the organic label by sourcing products from industrial-scale factory-farms and Third World countries, such as China. The Institute released a white paper, Wal-Mart Rolls Out Organic Products – Market Expansion or Market Delusion?, that concluded that Wal-Mart was poised to drive down the price of organic food in the marketplace by inventing a “new” organic — food from corporate agribusiness, factory-farms, and cheap imports of questionable quality.
Is Cornucopia just picking on the big guy, or are Wal-Mart’s organic retail practices really questionable?