The USDA is investigating a complaint made by the Cornucopia Institute, that alleges that Wal Mart is in violation of organic standards. The complaint states that Wal Mart sold “organic” pesticides under the Bio Block name, but continually used regular oils and other inert ingredients in place of the organic varieties.
There’s been debate for a long time on whether personal hygiene products and other non-food items should be held to “organic food” standards. Almost all of the products in question have SOME organic ingredients, but the Bio Block pesticide was found to contain no organic ingredients whatsoever.
The company that makes the pesticide uses the USDA organic seal on one of its products, claims to be organic without listing the name of the certifying agency, and fails to disclose whether or not organic ingredients were used. That’s essentially illegal use of the organic label, according to Cornucopia Institute farm policy analyst Mark Kastel. He says that the USDA organic designation means something to consumers, and should not be given lightly. In the complaint against Wal Mart, Cornucopia alleges that the corporation refused to adhere to organic standards.
The controversy doesn’t end with pesticides. Wal Mart’s private-label organic milk comes from the Aurora Dairy in Colorado. A 2007 investigation found that the dairy was in repeated violation of organic standards- namely, confining their cattle instead of allowing them to graze, and bringing in non-organically raised cows to the dairy.
A Cornucopia inspection revealed that the store was labeling conventionally-produced foods as organic, such as rice milk, soy milk and yogurt. The institute let Wal Mart’s CEO know about the problems, but the store ignored them and the complaint went to the USDA. These repeated violations are symptomatic of a larger problem. Wal Mart has pledged to change its in-store signs, but it has still failed to make sure that its store-brand organic milk and other products are produced and sourced responsibly.
The Cornucopia Institute believes that farmers, processors, sellers, and certifying agencies share a responsibility to ensure that organic foods live up to their name. Some retailers are careful to do so- the Wedge, which is a co-op grocery in Minneapolis, Minnesota, handles things a lot differently than Wal Mart.
When asked to carry the Bio Block pesticides, a buyer for the Wedge questioned the legitimacy of the “organic” label on the product. Cornucopia believes that if farmers, processors and stores work together with the USDA, an “organic” designation will make consumers feel good about the food they buy.