(Beyond Pesticides, May 14, 2007) Wisconsin consumer fraud investigators have released the findings of a three month long look into claims that Wal-Mart has been mislabeling conventional products as organic. The state’s numerous findings of improper labeling confirmed a complaint placed by the Cornucopia Institute in January.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, in a letter to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., advised the company that “use of the term ”˜Wal-Mart Organics’ in combination with references to a specific non-organic product may be considered to be a misrepresentation and therefore a violation” of Wisconsin state statutes.
While the report did not take action beyond extending a warning to Wal-Mart, the Cornucopia Institute was pleased with the investigation’s outcome. “This finding is a victory for consumers who care about the integrity of organic food and farming,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Institute. “Wal-Mart cannot be allowed to sell organic food ”˜on the cheap’ because they lack the commitment to recruit qualified management or are unwilling to properly train their store personnel. Such practices place ethical retailers, their suppliers, and organic farmers at a competitive disadvantage.”
While Wisconsin has completed their investigation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to act on a complaint that the Cornucopia Institute filed before submitting one to Wisconsin. “A six-month period without any federal enforcement action is absolutely inexcusable when the largest corporation in the country is accused of defrauding organic consumers,” said Mr. Kastel. “Last November, we supplied photographic evidence and documentation to the USDA investigators who contacted us about our complaint. But their inaction, and our confirmation of these ongoing violations in Wisconsin earlier this year, prompted us to forward these continuing problems to Wisconsin state regulatory authorities.”
The Cornucopia Institute blamed Wal-Mart’s business model for its failure to responsibly market organic products. According to Mr. Kastel, “Wal-Mart’s model of top-down management and investing as little as possible in wages and training for local employees just isn’t working right in organics.” Since other Wisconsin retailers have not been found to have similar lapses in how they label their organic products, this seems to be a problem specific to Wal-Mart. Through their large-scale fraudulent advertising of organics, Mr. Kasten says “they have discredited their organization and injured some in the organic industry along the way.”
Beyond Pesticides advocates for organic integrity at all levels of production and marketing, from Wal-Mart’s labeling to cloned animals. For more information on Beyond Pesiticides’ Organic program, including information on the 2007 Farm Bill, click here.
Source: The Cornucopia Institute