by Jim Goodman

That was the question asked by the host on a recent Public Radio call-in show. Her question to her guest from the Cornucopia Institute was in regard to recent charges that Wal-Mart was passing conventional grocery items off as USDA certified organic.

A mistake? I doubt it. Seriously, think about it, you start a big push in marketing a new line of high profit products and one of the first things you do is mislabel your products, “accidentally”? As Jim Hightower would say “Do they think we were born with sucker wrappers around our heads?”

Ever since Wal-Mart announced earlier this year that they planned to greatly increase their organic offerings at a cost of only 10 percent more than their conventional foods, those of us who grow organic food have been skeptical.

Now it appears our skepticism was well placed. I personally felt the worst we might expect would be imports of cheap “organic” food from China, but hey, why not go for the gold, just sell conventional food as organic.

There was much excitement about Wal-Mart expanding their organic sales and how it would do so much to help organic farmers, huh? did Wal-Marts entrance into the conventional grocery business help conventional farmers, did their profits go up? Hardly, but it did put lots of small grocery stores out of business and certainly added more black ink to Wal-Marts multi-billion dollar bottom line.

In its short history as an organic retailer Wal-Mart is already under scrutiny for sourcing its organic milk from a factory scale dairy that is under investigation by the USDA for failing to comply with federal organic regulations. It would also appear that they have no qualms about selling organic produce from China as long as it’s cheaper and more profitable than sourcing from the US, but then Wal-Mart is an old hand at offshore sourcing, just ask the US textile industry they helped ruin.

I wonder if a Wal-Mart mistake was the reason 1.6 million women have joined in a civil rights lawsuit against Wal-Mart? This action, now the largest class-action lawsuit in history charges Wal-Mart with sex discrimination in pay and promotions.

When an Oregon jury found Wal-Mart guilty of systematically forcing workers to work overtime without pay, the evidence obviously pointed to more than just a “mistake” on the part of Wal-Mart.

On 10 separate occasions the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Wal-Mart broke the law when it fired union supporters. A mistake, or are they just slow learners?

“A pattern of national disregard by Wal-Mart” was how Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal described the company’s adherence to environmental protection laws. More mistakes, or just their way of doing business?

In Wal-Mart’s tightly structured business model everything is controlled (down to the temperature and in-store music) from the head office in Bentonville, Arkansas. The home office knows exactly whats going on in the stores and they certainly didn’t become the worlds largest retailer by making mistakes.

Everyday Low Prices, the Wal-Mart slogan, wins the hearts of many because “poor people can afford to shop there.” Those low prices are kept low by the exploitation of international sweatshop laborers, driving competitors out of business and paying their associates wages so low they must turn to Medicaid for health insurance and often buy their cloths at Goodwill.

Wal-Mart does have a history, a history of low wages, union busting, sweatshop exploitation, discrimination and doing whatever it takes to make a profit. So what’s a little mislabeling? Like many of their business practices, a big mistake, but their most consistent mistake is thinking they can get away with it.

A caller to that same radio program asked the guest why he was picking on Wal-Mart. While the guest correctly focused on examples of Wal-Marts unethical and illegal behavior, in particular their flouting of organic standards, my answer would have been shorter, we’re not picking on them, they’re picking on us.

    – Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, WI

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