Is the food you consume safe?

by Greg Booher LTC Farm Business and Production Management Instructor

The growth in the organic food movement has been amazing to observe. I really thought when the economic downturn started and families found themselves financially stressed, the sales of organic food items would drop off. In fact sales of organic produce from general supermarkets did slip from 63 percent in 2000 to 58 percent last year. But in supercenters and discount stores, organic produce sales have risen from 9 percent to 15 percent.

Wal-Mart stated they will be marketing organic produce for 10 percent more than conventionally produced produce. Other large supermarkets said they retail organic produce for 20 to 30 percent more than non-organic produce. Wal-Mart, most likely, would not do this if they didn’t think the organic movement is here to stay. They expect to capture more total retail sales in their stores by catering to this growing market segment. The greatest growth has been in meat sales (55.4 percent), dairy products (23.5 percent) and condiments (24.2 percent).

So many of the decisions we make are based on emotion rather than solidly conducted science. We react and buy products based on television exposure and the popular press. A new report by market research consultants, The Hartman Group, finds that consumers are driven to seek out organic produce due to the potential impact hormones in food products might have on their children's health. The report also indicates African Americans spend more per capita on organic produce than do whites, and there is no correlation between income and purchase of organic produce, according to a recent study published in Choices Magazine (an online peer-reviewed agricultural economics journal.

Stonyfield Farm's video tells the story of America's switch from family farms to modern agriculture, which let “Big Agriculture” profit while consumers got addicted to convenient foods that are bad for their health. “Cancer rates are steadily rising, in kids and moms and dads,” Hirshberg raps. “A baby born in Birmingham, Boise, Bend or Boston, now has in her cord blood almost 300 toxins. The U.S. Cancer Panel Study makes me ill at ease 'cause 41 percent of us will get this disease. Cut out unnecessary chemicals is what they prescribe. So to avoid getting sick, just change the stuff you imbibe!” Marketing Daily News, Organic CEO’s Engage in Video Duel, by Tanya Irwin, April 5, 2011.

We live in a time where we have access to so much knowledge. We essentially have the world’s biggest library at our fingertips in a device no bigger than a small pocket note pad. Funny thing is, we don’t seem to be any better educated than before we had the Internet.

The Stonyfield quote has some truth to it but mostly is false information and taken out of context. Stonyfield’s inference that family farms are history and “Big Agriculture” has taken over and reaping big profits is misleading and false. The truth is your dairy producer neighbor averaged a return on assets of 5.7 percent in 2008 and the largest dairies in eastern Wisconsin, based on Lakeshore Farm Management Inc. data, averaged less than the average dairy at 4.17 percent ROA.

No denying cancer is a scary disease, but is the problem chemicals in our food supply or as Stonyfield themselves says, “our addiction to convenient foods?” Changing what we eat is right on, but might the focus be better directed to controlling what we eat, i.e. more fruits and vegetables, as well as how many calories we take in?

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