By Becca Harber
A number of organic food companies, in most cases regional businesses originally, have been bought up by some of the world's biggest agribusiness corporations. These purchases tend to take place very quietly so that consumers won't know that these companies — and their products — are no longer what they were. Many such products can be found on GreenStar's shelves. The Hain Celestial Group, in a joint venture with Cargill, owns no less than Earth's Best, Spectrum Organics (oils), Garden of Eatin', Arrowhead Mills, Health Valley, Imagine Foods and non-dairy Dream brands, Celestial Seasonings, Westbrae, Westsoy, Little Bear, Walnut Acres — and that list isn't exhaustive. Smucker's owns Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organics, and After the Fall juices; Cadbury, Green & Black's; and Nestle, Tribe Mediterranean Foods and Poland Spring, which many communities are fighting, trying to stop them from taking their local water, usually for free. French conglomerate Danone owns both Stonyfield and Brown Cow. Note, too, that non-foods companies that once created pure products have also traded hands. Clorox now owns Burt's Bees, while Colgate-Palmolive owns Tom's of Maine and Procter & Gamble bought New Chapter supplements.
Because the priority for these mega-corporations is their bottom line, minimizing expenses in order to maximize profits, their products' quality, sooner or later, almost always becomes poorer. For example, in 2007 Danone had to recall large quantities of its yogurt after it was found to contain unsafe levels of dioxins. Kashi cereals actually found themselves in a lawsuit because of the large amounts of GMOs and pesticides discovered in their products, according to the Cornucopia Institute's report. Kashi's Heart to Heart Blueberry cereal was found to contain grains coated in residues of many pesticides. Other products were oftentimes found to contain 100 percent GMOs.
All told, it's Dean Foods (Dean Foods), the largest U.S. dairy corporation, that exemplifies how organic products tend to change when agribusinesses own them. Here's what Brooklyn's Park Slope Coop, in a product blog, announced to their membership in 2009 after Dean Foods purchased White Wave/Silk:
The Coop will no longer be selling 1/2 gallons of Silk soy milk.... This decision was prompted by recent actions taken by Silk/Dean Foods, and their integrity as a producer of organic soy products continues to be called into question. Major factors influencing our decision not to sell Silk are as follows:
1. In 2009, Silk — whose soy products were formerly 100 percent organic — reformulated their product line, converting almost all products to conventional soybeans. They did this quietly, without telling retailers or changing the UPC code numbers on the products [or lowering the prices]. Many retailers, including the Coop, didn't find this out until consumers noticed and complained. The non-organic Silks are labeled "Natural." When we questioned Silk ... we were told, "There's a shortage of organic soybeans in North America." However, it's been argued that Dean ... "helped create these shortages by opting for cheaper organic imports instead of supporting domestic farmers with sustainable prices" who wanted to grow organic. [For more, please read the Cornucopia Institute's Soy Report & Scorecard]
2. Silk doesn't guarantee that all their soybeans are free from GMO (genetically engineered) contamination. Organic Valley's organic soybeans are "identity preserved" — meaning each batch is tested to ensure there is no GMO contamination.
3. Silk is unwilling to share sourcing information with consumers. Dean Foods refused to transparently participate in our study, depriving customers of an independently verified review of their practices. This contrasts with many prominent soy food brands around the country ... fully transparent in their sourcing and production practices.
Based on this information, Park Slope then established a policy to replace Silk soy creamers (made from non-organic soybeans) with Wildwood soymilk creamers (made from U.S. organic soybeans). As for dairy, Park Slope has made its purchasing decisions based on the fact that "Dean Foods owns 50+ milk labels ... including Horizon Organic, which heavily depend on factory farms, each milking thousands of cows. Organic Valley is owned by CROPP Cooperative (of organic family farmers). Park Slope supports other cooperatives wherever possible, and we try also to avoid companies that source from factory farms."
There's more disturbing news about product purity where soybeans are concerned. Silk's Light and the not-so-aptly-named Heart Health soy milks are made with hexane-extracted soy flour instead of whole soybeans. Hexane is a solvent, a byproduct of gasoline refining, and a neurotoxin. Soybeans are immersed in this neurotoxic petrochemical as part of the process to make soy flour, the main ingredient in these Silk products.
It's also no surprise that Dean Foods contributed $253,000 to oppose California's Proposition 37, which would have required genetically modified foods (GMOs) to be labeled as such. Pre-vote surveys showed that a large majority of Californians supported Prop 37. However, the proposition failed after some of these junk-food-producing corporations that use most of the pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs in the world worked to kill it. The other top funders against Prop 37 were Coca Cola (which, by the way, now owns Kashi, Honest Tea, Gardenburger, and Odwalla) — they invested $1,164,000 to stop GMO labeling; Naked (juices) owned by Pepsico — $1.7+ million; Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen (General Mills) — $520,000; Bear Naked and Morningstar Farms (Kellogg) — $632,500; Knudsen, After the Fall, and Santa Cruz Organics (Smucker's) — $387,000; and French Meadow, Lightlife, and Alexia Foods (ConAgra) — $1,076,000. These giants are (literally) hugely invested in keeping people from knowing whether GMOs are in food that we're consuming and that ultimately becomes part of our makeup. It's beyond the scope of this article to discuss the numerous dangers of GMOs to humans and the life web.
It bears mention that supporting Proposition 37 were some independent non-corporate companies: Dr. Bronner's ($290,000), Nature's Path ($247,000), Lundberg Family Farms ($200,000), Nutiva ($50,000), Organic Valley ($50,000), Amy's ($25,000), Eden Foods ($10,000), Uncle Matt's Organic, and others. Though their opponents vastly outspent these companies, it's heartening to be able to name these holdouts who not only value clean products but also spend toward legislation that would protect this purity.
Since all of Dean Foods's conventional milk products are produced with GMO feed, it makes all the sense in the world that this mega-corporation is a huge GMO supporter in many ways, including its advocacy for the recent USDA approval of restriction-free GMO alfalfa. Like other GMO crops (soy, corn, canola, eucalyptus trees, etc.), GMO alfalfa contaminates the rest of its species, forever and irreversibly changing its genetics. Dean Foods's White Wave has a licensing agreement with Land O'Lakes, which owns GMO alfalfa co-creator Forage Genetics. Dean Foods even sent the same lobbyist who advocates for their conventional milk products to talk to the USDA about the bogus idea of so-called coexistence between organic and GMOs.
For the above reasons, the Organic Consumers Association has called for a boycott of Dean Foods/White Wave/Silk.
(For more info, check the Cornucopia Institute's Soy Report & Scorecard)
There are still alternatives to supporting corporate giants. Some of the still-independent companies (at least based on available information) include: Organic Valley (a coop), Lakewood Juices, Pamela's Products, Seven Stars Farm, Hawthorne Valley Farm, Blue Diamond, Woodstock Farms, Applegate Farm, Alvarado Street Bakery, WholeSoy & Co., Republic of Tea, Traditional Medicinals, and Newman's Own Organics. Further, buying products grown or made locally or regionally almost guarantees you'll be supporting non-corporate businesses.
You can read more about corporate ownership and non-corporate on this website: http://nutritionwonderland.com/2009/02/organic-corporate-hierarchy.
New in Grocery
As always, we've got you covered for Thanksgiving, from the main course to the sides and everything else.
All right, members, you know the drill. ... It's Thanksgiving time once again! This year, just like every year, we have everything you're looking for to complete your holiday table right here in the Grocery Department. Organize your meal around either a local turkey or a number of main-course vegan options. From there, we've got stuffing boxes or ingredients, tasty, high-quality organic pumpkin and organic cranberry sauce in cans, organic baking ingredients, and every other fixin' you might need! For the record, it's never too early to start thinking about the next round of holidays coming up soon. We'll be rolling out some tasty desserts and treats to keep the holiday celebration going and going and going and going. ... And if you haven't yet, look for our new and improved Co-op Basics list, found at the front of the store. The Grocery Department is full of bargains perfect for pantry-stocking.