Misconception Number 36: The organic food sector is becoming a big business, attracting supermarket multinationals that are gaining more and more of the share of organic sales to consumers. These companies put increased pressure on suppliers and eventually farmers (whether organic or not) to reduce prices and increase standardization of produce. Hence, the organic industry, by selling out to big businesses, is loosing its fundamental values. There is no point in buying organic food in supermarkets.
Summary of Counter-Arguments:
Details of Counter-Arguments:
Increased supermarket penetration is indeed the current trend of the food supply chain, whether organic or conventional. As the organic sector develops and becomes more mainstream, organic products naturally find increasing space on supermarket shelves. Increased standardization is also largely due to consumers’ expectation. Should we blame the organic sector for being demand-driven? After all, the entire voluntary certification system is based on satisfying specific consumer expectations. Supermarkets are fairly efficient in their distribution and do have the potential to spread organic produce to the broad population at a lower price due to bulk purchase and sales and other economies of scales.
A recent study of the organic market in the EU showed how little correlation there is between consumer and producer prices for organic food in the EU. Low prices in supermarkets seem to be mainly due to more efficient logistics. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the large scale introduction of organic products into supermarkets do help bring consumer prices down and, thereby, increase the volume of the organic market, without necessarily driving producer prices down.
Standardization does not necessarily mean lowered organic standards. The fear that supermarkets are driving down organic standards is hard to substantiate. On the contrary, countries with the highest supermarket penetration are also the countries where supermarkets insist producers follow private standards that go beyond the regulatory minimum. Supermarket chains are also particularly risk-averse when it comes to the risk of fraud among their organic suppliers, as a fraud scandal would have huge financial consequences. They often organize their own additional controls to decrease this risk.
Organic certification is mainly about guaranteeing that a certain production system has been used to produce and process the products that consumers buy. Where consumers chose to do their shopping and which kind of actors take part in the supply chain is beyond the scope of organic certification. Of course there are always some organic producers and consumers who refuse to use mainstream market channels, choosing instead to conduct business in the context of local markets, cooperative organic shops, online sales, and many other alternative marketing channels. This is useful and should be encouraged, but the organic food sold in supermarkets is still organic, and the bigger the choice of organic foods offered by supermarkets, the more consumers will turn to organic food.
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