In 2001, following regulation of the organic industry in the USA, Michael Pollan wrote ‘Behind the Organic-Industrial Complex’.[i]  It was an accurate insight into the food industry’s move to brand organic.  The market blog anticipated the same thing happening here.  Well, that time has arrived. Here we discuss the recent move to regulate the word ‘organic’ in NZ, MPI’s conflicts of interest, the slippery slope of industrial organics, and the problems of the mainstream, the effect on local food enterprise and the export focused agri industrial food system.

Industry grab

The national umbrella organisation Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) has been pushing for organic regulation for more than a year as a way to ‘protect certified organic producers’.  Brendan Hoare, the chairman of OANZ, made the claim in a 2015 Stuff press release that there was widespread abuse of the term ‘organic’ in New Zealand, suggesting that consumers of products advertised as organic are unwittingly eating food tainted by chemicals. He went on to say "There are restaurants claiming organic, there are all sorts of ranges of products saying they've got organic ingredients - there's no third party verification required,” and “We get examples of this all the time - or it could be local growers claiming organic produce at farmers markets." 

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) are now assisting in the move to regulate the organic industry as the agribusiness industry starts to take notice of the opportunities there. MPI put the proposal, to regulate use of the term ‘organic’, to the public in June this year.  As a consequence you may have noticed the media attention this is now getting. [i] MPI have been given the onerous task of policy maker.  MPI promote and police all kinds of agribusiness including conventional agriculture and horticulture, meat and dairy. They act as both regulator and champion of primary industries. Their purpose, as stated on their website, is to help “maximise export opportunities for our primary industries, improve sector productivity, ensure the food we produce is safe, increase sustainable resource use, and protect New Zealand from biological risk”.  It is easy to see a conflict of interest between their role of regulating industry practices while working to maximise export opportunities.

Media releases also assist in how we as consumers and citizens understand this issue.  In the following image, farmers markets are misleadingly presented as being synonymous with the organic sector. 

  ”New Zealand’s organic sector is worth an estimated $500 million”.   May 16 2018

”New Zealand’s organic sector is worth an estimated $500 million”.   May 16 2018

Throwing farmers markets into the mix

Unsubstantiated comments can also be misleading too like the OANZ chairman’s quote  about farmers markets and restaurants claiming to sell organic products.  Such claims, however, are likely to be insignificant compared with the examples of breaches of trust from industry food producers.[ii]  It beggars belief why they were even singled out in this discussion.  Including farmers markets into the mix is essential for an agri business image: food industry giants quash any competition no matter how small.[iii] [iv] With unlimited budgets  spent on promotion and on consumers, the most obvious place to start is on the vernacular. Local, fresh, farm to plate, farmer, market and organic are now supermarket speak.  It would be naive to think that press releases consciously or not do not reflect agribusiness influence. [v] After all, food is big business. Organic supermarket sales were $216m for the year to May 2018, but only add up 2.2 percent of total supermarket sales – specialty stores sold $30m worth of organic products. New Zealand supermarket sales (general) for 2017 were $6.2 billion, an increase of 2.1 percent from last year.[vi]

Authentically local

Farmers markets and the better restaurants are usually the epitome of local and fresh. In New Zealand they are still a mostly weekend discretionary activity and, despite the apparent success of some, markets can struggle against the odds with little assistance at a regional or national level.  I find it hard to imagine how regulation of the word ‘organic’ will benefit small producers who live and work within the local food networks. This is regulation designed for agribusiness, and a new brand for its distributors. The distinction between this and local food networks needs to be madeLeave the markets and their stallholders out of any organic regulation.

OANZ are, it would seem, the poster child for agri- food business. Integrity has already been lost there. 

But not all is lost. Soil and Health, who have undergone significant governance changes as a result of the move by agribusiness supporters into organic branding, said quite rightly in their submission that they want a “proviso that the regulation must not disadvantage small scale producers”. [viii]  [ix] 

The arguments that support the regulatory approach: Export, trade, feeding populations

 The export trade is central to this regulatory approach, as is the assumption that it leads to economic prosperity.  NZ needs to comply with the other countries’ standards in order to strengthen the trade and export of organics, we are told.  Incidentally we still await country of origin legislation. [x] Trade treaties are so powerful that they effectively [xi]operate like de facto global governments.  Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the industrialised western world who have yet to follow the USA by adopting an organic certification system on a national level. The assumption is that it is a necessary requirement.  The consensus amongst industry leaders is that NZ needs to get into step with the likes of the USA, Canada, the European Union and Japan, who have similar regulatory laws.  This trade paradigm is based upon such things as agri chemicals, breeding, crop production (farming and contract farming), distribution, farm machinery, processing, and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales. With the dominance of industry scale food production it makes total sense that some form of regulation is needed to protect citizens from food industry corruption in the form of false claims and inadequate food labelling.

Regulation, unsurprisingly, has its supporters in the food industry including the dairy, beef and big box food distributors.[xii]  Heavily subsidised infrastructure allows goods produced on a large scale and transported long distances to be sold at artificially low prices - in many cases at lower prices than goods produced locally.[xiii]  Redundant trade is when countries export and import the same foods. Helena Norberg Hodge, a localisation advocate, informs us that in a situation of runaway climate change and dwindling fossil fuels such redundant trade needs reanalysis.[xiv]  Trade has become an end in itself.  After decades of prolific, damaging, and inhumane industrial farming, subsidies for the largest and wealthiest farms and support for associated research, we have been left with a cut throat retail food environment dominated by a  handful  of corporations: this is the mainstream.

Transnational corporations, who are largely responsible for the bulk of processed foods we consume, are often recipients of significant economic development subsidies. This is certainly the case in the USA.  Yet small food independents (businesses, producers, farmers and growers) catering for local and domestic communities can struggle to survive. These small industries seldom receive any subsidies or any policy that works in their favour.  Local growers struggle to compete with the cheaper industry scaled growers.  Legislation is also largely influenced by big businesses who lobby the government committees that create policy. [xv] To quote a controversial environmentalist Vandana Shiva; “the right of corporations to force-feed citizens of the world with culturally inappropriate and hazardous foods has been made absolute. The right to food, the right to safety, the right to culture, are all being treated as trade barriers that need to be dismantled…we have to reclaim our right to nutrition and food safety. Food democracy…is the new agenda for ecological sustainability and social justice.”[xvi] But MPI would say this is beyond their scope.

Unchallenged assumptions about trade and agribusiness make any change within the system difficult.  Policy makers need to challenge the belief that we need industrial scale food production at all costs and that genetic modification is essential for superior food  production.  Science, like religion, can be hijacked by those with an ulterior motive.

The real cost: the environment, climate change, health

What more convincing do we need to understand that the food system is broken? The signs are here, everywhere. Environmental effects of animal agriculture and the health perils of having to consume cheap food are a direct result of subsidising the industrial production of foods.[xvii]  Although New Zealand agribusiness may receive less subsidies than countries such as the USA, it still externalises those costs all the way along the food line from the chemicals that are used to grow it, the pollution it creates, to the poor health of the consumers who purchase it. [xviii] Trade embargoes and other political wrangling are the most significant contributors to third world starvation.[xix] We now know that the true cost of cheap food is actually far greater than we are led to believe.  When a country continues to measure its success by its Gross Domestic Product it fails to take into account these other relevant factors. But we end up paying for it. The existing model of food production and distribution has resulted in the mess which supporters of regulated organics claim will now save us.  [xx] [xxi] [xxii]  [xxiii]

MPI’s Food Safety has little to do with the health of the populous. So it is not surprising that MPI had previously claimed with reference to organics that there was no "serious risk to the health and wellbeing of consumers or to (existing) trade" from lack of regulation. So are they up to the task?  The chair of OANZ said New Zealand industry listens to the global market. Shouldn’t we take this as a warning! He went on to say that “Consumers want change, so they can live their values, producers and farmers are seeking change to do what is good for the land they love, and global markets are demanding greater and greater choice as organic goes mainstream”.

The problem with the mainstream

Supermarkets are the mainstream. They control the retail food industry and especially so in NZ with the duopoly between Food Stuffs and Progressive Enterprises.  They operate like cartels and dictate purchasing prices from growers. They influence regional and governmental policies.[xxiv] In the United States large food companies have "assumed a powerful role in setting the standards for organic foods”. Supermarkets and processed food in particular represent the extremes of the food industry; cheap food, super convenience, plastic and more plastic despite consumers resistance.[xxv] Supermarkets turn our communities into food deserts. Big box supermarkets actually limit food choices by putting anyone who competes with them out of business.  They operate as butcher, baker, fishmonger and grocer, and even coffee shops and petrol stations. Is this really good town planning? 

Isn’t the mainstream the problem?

If there was any truth in the rose tinted statement by Hoare that “Consumers increasingly want their purchasing practices to reflect their ethical values, or their social values, or their political values,” and as he suggested recently “there was a national and global mood for change to natural, ethical, sustainable food and other daily used products”, then doesn’t the mainstream food system utterly contradict this?

What confidence can we citizens have in an industry and governmental agency that has up until now been complacent ethically, socially and environmentally?[xxvi]

Citizens who truly want to purchase items that reflect their ethical, social and political values would find it a challenge to have their needs met most days in the aisle of any supermarket. Combine that fact with the decline in consumption of meat or dairy,  you could possibly have an industry issue. [xxvii]  The solution for industry could be in the proposed regulation of the fashionable organic brand.  Is this the motive?

The assumption is that if business does it organically then they are doing it better. Some may actually achieve this, which has to be a good thing.  But by now I hope you have realised that if that business has to operate under the existing system of agri-food production then the answer is not necessarily so.  You have only to look at the USA who have regulated organic since 1997 to see the problems we are likely to face.


USDA’s  slippery organic slide

“ is at a crossroads. Either we can continue to allow industry interests to bend and dilute the organic rules to their benefit, or organic farmers – working with organic consumers – can step up and take action to ensure organic integrity into the future.” So said Francis Thicke in his article ‘What does organic mean’[xxviii]

Who owns organic in the USA, who will the industry leaders be in NZ? 


Organics as a brand

It has been said that organics as a brand only works if you can get really rich, and of course you have to own it.  So in the USA the first wave of acquisitions of organic processors was concentrated between December 1997 when the draft USDA standard was released, and its full implementation in October 2002. A second wave of acquisitions has been occurring since 2012. Few companies identify these ownership ties on product labels. 

Who do the auditors work for?

Third-party regulatory certification usually undertaken by the likes of  Biogro, Assure Quality, OFNZ as organic auditors will, say MPI, adopt a New Zealand standard which all agencies will have to comply with.

So who defines the word that defines the regulation?

There have been serious and frequent legislation problems thus far in the USA with a conflict of interest in the organic inspection programs [xxix] ranging from compliance lenience to erosion of standards as a result of large food corporations dominating membership of standard setting boards. [xxx] [xxxi]Governments either encourage or suffer extensive lobbying from business interests and this is evident in the changes in legislation at every term.[xxxii] Standards can be watered down and the definition of organic changes. Small producers are questioning the legitimacy of the organic certification system. [xxxiii]  Egg production, hydroponics [xxxiv], artificial chemicals, quality of foods like baby food are some examples of the slippery slope the industry can successfully lobby for and get away with. [xxxv]  [xxxvi]  [xxxvii]  [xxxviii] [xxxix]  [xl]For years, an organic watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute, [xli]raised questions about the rigor of organic enforcement. This year, however, amid reports of failures in several significant components of the industry, the program has faced a remarkable level of scepticism. Many have warned that gaps in enforcement of the "USDA Organic" label are eroding consumer faith. [xlii] There is no guarantee that the trade of organics is reliable either. [xliii] [xliv] [xlv] Food production too is necessarily diverse in the non-agribusiness way. It reflects local climates, soils, wildlife, pests etc, so any one size fits all model for organic regulation is potentially problematic. [vii]  If you are operating on an industrial scale then regulation may suit you well, but not a one size fits all.  


The backlash

There have also been serious concerns that the original organic small growers are being squeezed out .[xlvi] Hence the backlash that has now evolved since regulation, and the emergence of an alternative. [xlvii] [xlviii][xlix] [l] Regenerative organic,  beyond organic aim to fill in the gaps in the current USDA organic rules. Alternative organic labelling is appearing. [li]Perhaps this is the future for New Zealand growers and producers who don’t seek an inferior organic certification.  To some extent it is already happening at the alternative outside the system local level when grower meets customer.  [lii] “Most of our farmers, at farmers markets  go beyond the organic story, so they're exceeding those USDA organic certifications".[liii]

Converting food production to organics the traditional way is by far the preferential way of growing food and  to encompass a holistic approach is central to its integrity.  Government regulation that focuses on export trade and large scale food production is not compatible with this. 

 “Organic farming appealed to me because it involved searching for and discovering nature's pathways, as opposed to the formulaic approach of chemical farming. The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.” 
― Eliot ColemanThe New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener

The hurdle is for communities to challenge this global food, export policy bias that affects how we access food every single day of our lives.  Incorporating organics within this framework yet managing to maintain its integrity will be a challenge for any enlightened government.  I am not sure the Ministry of Primary Industries is the right organisation to handle this because of their conflict of interest with other agribusinesses.   

Reclaiming the middle road

The words fresh and local now have a hollow sound to them as they are constantly repeated by the agribusiness producers and retail distributors.  Time will tell if the same fate awaits the word organic. 

Local food initiatives, organic or naturally grown, could benefit from regional and national support.  Currently most food policy’s  favour  industrial production and trade of food. The organic regulations mooted certainly don’t appear to offer any encouragement to small food producers servicing their local area.  In fact they appear to continue to operate at the expense of the local.   Is a middle road possible?    The most effective form of assistance could be regulation of the supermarkets.  Support of local food initiatives could improve local food literacy, provide incentives for small food producers, shift the emphasis to diversified, low input production for local consumption, improve economic stability, encourage better healthier eating choices, provide for a healthy population and as we know when visiting our local farmers market provide an unparalleled social activity. A middle road incorporates the better aspects of all sides.  

The question for New Zealanders is will MPI learn from our trading partners mistakes and ensure the word organic does not lose its meaning as it caters for industry. 

Rise of the conscious consumer

The chair of OANZ  says “We live in the age of the conscious consumer – a well-informed, instant sharing and caring, savvy, opinionated community that knows no borders.” 

This global mindset is a 90’s anachronism. It has an agribusiness bias.  It is questionable whether it reflects today’s conscious consumer at all. What may have seemed a good idea twenty years ago by supporters of organics has not taken into account the changes our food system has since undergone.  We are now seeking naturally grown foods  closer to home and we want to purchase our goods from people who have earned our trust. 

We can only hope in the meantime that there won’t be any unfair burden falling on small scale enterprises because of any regulations aimed at problems caused by large scale production or for that matter any inclusion of farmers market in this agribusiness branding of the word.   Local food enterprises need to distance themselves from this to retain any integrity.   

If the USDA organic certification is watered down to an industry standard what hope is there for any integrity in the New Zealand organic regulatory system? [liv]

Keep your eye out for the opportunity to put in your submission to MPI in the next round sometime this year.

Grass roots initiatives keep it real

Ohoka Farmers Market reluctantly became independent earlier this year, resigning from the Farmers Market NZ organisation, after a great 10 year membership. We did so in protest of their accepting corporate sponsorship from agribusiness financier Rabobank.   

Grass roots initiatives which aim to encourage and support local food enterprises in the region would also embrace the shift from global to local.  To do so they encourage the diverse, independent, bottom up initiatives. They also provide a structural basis for community. Real food, a basic daily necessity, has the power of providing communities with a sense of connection.  But to ensure the grass roots growth we have to be mindful of the agribusiness interest in it.   

What can you do? The easiest way to make a difference is to be mindful about what you choose to eat.  Keep supporting your local independent farmers market  which consists of many individual food businesses.  Make a submission at the next round of MPI talks.  Talk to your local MP about independent local real food. 

Thanks for reading, Barb (Ohoka Farmers Market Manager)

References and further reading:




























[xxix] Conflict of interest embedded in the organic inspection program. To win the "USDA Organic" label, farms need not undergo a review by government inspectors. Instead, farms hire their own inspection companies, or “certifiers,” to conduct the visits. Because organic farmers select their own inspection agency, a farmer who wants to keep hens confined need only hire one of the more lenient agencies.

[xxx] Erosion of the standards; Not unique to the USA many members of standard-setting boards come from large food corporations.[80] As more corporate members have joined, many nonorganic substances have been added to the National List of acceptable ingredients.[80] The United States Congress has also played a role in allowing exceptions to organic food standards. In December 2005, the 2006 agricultural appropriations bill was passed with a rider allowing 38 synthetic ingredients to be used in organic foods, including food colorings, starches, sausage and hot-dog casings, hops, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, and gelatin; this allowed Anheuser-Busch in 2007 to have its Wild Hop Lager certified organic "even though [it] uses hops grown with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides."[81][82]

[xxxi] Objections from some of the largest egg operations — including Herbruck's — and two key Capitol Hill advocates appear to have stalled the proposal. Farm groups representing large conventional agricultural companies have also objected to these requirements.

[xxxii] In May 2018 , the Trump administration further delayed the implementation of the proposal for six more months, “to allow time for further consideration,” a move that many see as a prelude for dropping the regulation permanently.

[xxxiii] Unfortunately, consumers have no idea what they’re getting with ‘USDA Organic’ anymore.”

Organics as brand only works if you can get really rich, and of course you have to own it. So in the USA the first wave of acquisitions of organic processors was concentrated between December, 1997 when the draft USDA standard was released, and its full implementation in October, 2002. A second wave of acquisitions has been occurring since 2012. Few companies identify these ownership ties on product labels.1

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find that big business is taking over the USDA organic program because the influence of money is corroding all levels of our government,”


[xxxv] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday announced its intention to officially withdraw the Obama-era livestock rules that would have strengthened animal welfare requirements for organically certified meat and dairy.

[xxxvi] Hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics growers can earn organic certification. All three techniques involve growing crops without soil, also called hydroculture. For eight years, laws were in place, but different parts of the industry interpreted the laws differently, and the USDA didn’t rush to clarify the issue.

[xxxvii] Organic advocates are also calling for a ban on questionable practices such as allowing ingredients in organic products derived from “mutagenesis” (using chemicals or radiation to genetically mutate life forms), treating animals on organic farms with genetically engineered vaccines, the spraying of the antibiotic streptomycin on organic apples and pears, and the little-known loophole in organic standards allowing the injection of antibiotics into newborn chicks

[xxxviii] As Lynne Curry wrote in her thorough backgrounder, the language in the current organic standards that govern animal welfare is pretty loose the definition of “outdoors” sounds pretty straightforward to laymen. But those terms, as it turns out, are rather loose, and inherently more about birds-per-foot than how you quantify air and sky.

The responsibility for regulating the industry lies with USDA's National Organic Program, which defines what farming methods count as organic and issues certificates to farmers and handlers that comply with those rules. Those certificates allow those farmers and handlers to sell food as "organic." The organic label enables them to charge as much twice the price of a conventional product.

[xxxix] Under USDA requirements, organic livestock are supposed to have access to the “outdoors,” get “direct sunlight” and “fresh air.” The rules prohibit “continuous total confinement of any animal indoors.” Organic livestock are supposed to be able to engage in their “natural behaviour,” and for chickens, that means foraging on the ground for food, dust-bathing and even short flights.

Rules are much less stringent than many consumers think: a  henhouse can be deemed “USDA Organic” even if it holds 180,000 birds who are  not allowed outside and are kept at a density of three hens per square foot of floor space. In a follow up decision, the USDA ruled that the animals in “organic” products need not be treated any more humanely than those in conventional farming.

The USDA allows Herbruck's and other large operations to sell their eggs as organic because officials have interpreted the word “outdoors” in such a way that farms that confine their hens to barns but add “porches” are deemed eligible for the valuable “USDA Organic” label. The porches are typically walled-in areas with a roof, hard floors and screening on one side.

As for how densely organic livestock may live, the USDA rules do not set an explicit minimum of space per bird.

Similar concerns for animal welfare have spurred the demand for organic eggs, which are supposed to come from birds that are not only cage-free but also allowed outside. About 12 percent of grocery store expenditures for eggs goes toward those labelled USDA Organic, and many buyers appear to think the hens are allowed out.

Unapproved Ingredients Make it into Baby Food? Chemical additives have skirted USDA approval and made their way into infant formulas – some of which even bear the USDA Organic Seal! This confirms that even organic certification is NOT watertight.

Last December, the U.S. National Organic Standards Board, an expert panel that advise the USDA Secretary on organic matters, narrowly approved Martek Biosciences Corporation's petition to allow the use of their genetically modified soil fungus and algae as nutritional supplements in organic food.


[xlii] According to the inspector general: “The USDA “was unable to provide reasonable assurance that … required documents were reviewed at U.S. ports of entry to verify that imported agricultural products labelled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms."

Chapman said. “This is not just a few bad eggs. Unfortunately, consumers have no idea what they’re getting with ‘USDA Organic’ anymore.”

[xliii] As much as half or more of some organic commodities are imported, and in a September audit, the Inspector General of the USDA revealed that bogus “organic” products from overseas could easily get into the U.S. undetected. 


[xlv] “Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find that big business is taking over the USDA organic program because the influence of money is corroding all levels of our government,” Thicke said at the October 24, 2017, meeting, according to a transcript. “At this point, I can see only one way to bring the organic label back in line with the original vision of organic farmers and consumers. We need an add-on organic label for organic farmers who are willing to meet the expectations of discerning consumers who are demanding real organic food.”

[xlvi] Combined with the fact that food retail sales are sold predominantly through high volume distribution channels such as supermarkets, the concern is that the market is evolving to favour the biggest producers, and this could result in the small organic farmer being squeezed out.(wiki)

[xlvii] Organic practices were pioneered and promoted by farmers and stakeholders not politicians. This has resulted in a back lash to the industry focussed organic industry.

[xlviii] It has been claimed that organics success in the USA threatens to eclipse its activist orgins, some of its original promoters seek to reclaim it.




[lii] Several farm groups are, out of frustration, creating alternatives to the “USDA Organic” label. Most prominently, the Rodale Institute, a key early supporter of the “USDA Organic” label, and Patagonia, the apparel maker, and real organic project. Promoting a new “regenerative organic” standard will fill in gaps in the current USDA organic rules. 

Other ref and links of interest:






Speech to the Oxford Ohoka Community Board Thursday Dec 7th 2017

Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you tonight.

I am here in my capacity as the organiser of the Ohoka Friday morning Farmers Market and as a representative of the hundreds of businesses that make up the Ohoka Farmers Market. I wish to express our support of the Draft Alternative Ohoka Domain Plan which  Greenspace Management  have also recommended be approved as opposed to the original Draft Domain Plan. 


We are also all grateful to Greenspace staff and council representatives for enabling this Alternate plan to be presented to you tonight. I believe the alternate plan  does not compromise any aspects of the first proposal and it better allows for the needs of farmers market in winter and wet weather. 

The Council has over the years recognised the significance of this market which has operated for 9 years every Friday all year from the Ohoka Domain and we believe that  this alternate plan goes a long way in confirming  to the hundreds of businesses who trade there that the market is a valued event to the region. 

Why is the alternate plan our preferred option? The alternate plan takes into account the configuration of the carpark over winter from which the market operates and it is this area that we are dependent upon in order to operate efficiently.

The adjustment to the existing carpark space initially presented in the first plan is extremely significant to us. The alternate plan with a slightly larger car park area will now allow for the market to operate during winter providing potential carparking space for customers outside of the market by enabling us to get stallholder cars into the market set up. For every one stallholder car over winter that we can accommodate inside the market means 10 customers can use that space outside the market for an average of 20 minutes each. This is hugely significant to the viability of the market over winter and for wet weather markets.

 We are also hopeful that the matting along the entrance to the domain will go some way to alleviate some of the concerns that were raised during the submission process regarding car parking and verges. I believe the local and wider community stand to benefit from the proposed plan; from the playground, gatehouse, native bush and market. 

Also as a result of the submission process some surprising feedback was made which I would like to briefly address in hope that I can shed some light on what I consider are grossly unfair misconceptions. 

The market is a private business as are the hundreds of other businesses that it is made up of.   But there is a very significant difference with these businesses and the normal that needs to be stressed.  Most if not all of them are social enterprises including the market itself.  Social enterprises are a way to combine a social element into the DNA of a business.  It is effectively a different model for businesses.  The business can still be viable financially but the objective is not about making money. The focus for the market and I can speak for many of the other businesses is to focus is on the purpose.  Social enterprises exist with the purpose of strengthening their communities from within, socially and environmentally.  

Profit and charity aren't two words usually associated with one another, but increasingly we are seeing this mixing of business with good intentions to create social change.   We consider we, and many of small food business that make up the market are doing just that. Plus we provide the opportunity for more good intentions to happen. 

The submission process good as it was showed us market people that we still have some work to do in getting this message across to some members of the wider community. 

So how do we do work at the social change?  Characteristic of all social enterprises us included, is the means to improve 3 things. Social wellbeing, environmental sustainability, and finally if able - economic performance. This forms the basis of what we do every Friday morning. The market does this  by encouraging and supporting and selecting food and craft artisans who are also purpose driven and share the same goals. The idea being that if we all work together we have more chance of creating some results compatible with the objective.  I like to think that part of the success of this market has been as a result of this.  We are fortunate that in the Waimakariri we have several councillors who also appear to have an appreciation of our objectives and appreciate the bigger picture at stake here.   Consequently our popularity has made us one of the top 4 best farmers markets in NZ. 

The  local social impact:  The businesses associated with the market are approx 80%  local ratepayers, from Waimakariri; Waikuku, Ohoka, Loburn, Sefton, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, from neighbouring Hurunui, Oxford, Selwyn, Christchurch, Banks Peninsula etc. The economic impact is as I have said is often secondary to a business whose primary objective is on the social enterprise itself. Not always an easy thing to achieve. 

So who are the hundreds of small businesses that attend the Friday market?   They are entrepreneurs. They have taken all the risk. It is them personally who has started up their small independent privately own business.  They are ordinary people who are also agents of change.  They seek self-governance and financial success is often not the primary motive behind their participation. Although sometimes they do find financial success and they go on to own a larger business and employ others. Funding, financial backing or philanthropy if any, is more likely to be sought from those who also share the same social objectives.  We, the market, incidentally have never asked for council financial assistance and don’t now. But we do seek your support.

By far I have found that the stallholder’s eagerness to contribute to their community is by far the most important motivation in their participation at the market.  The people who are behind these small businesses want to be part of this social enterprise, move into the area, buy property,  buy land, buy lifestyle blocks and diversify land use, buy machinery, set up commercial kitchens, pay food licences, pay rates, pay GST, buy hardware, build, buy from local business, supply conscientious restaurants and cafes seeking the local the seasonal, farm to plate mantra, thereby improving the eating experience of their own customers,  they export they employ locals and ultimately they pave the way for other similar businesses. They provide inspiration for future food and craft artisans. They enable other markets and events to work as you have to have viable stallholders to ensure their continued success. Ohoka is the first of the weekly food markets and some stallholders attend up to 6 markets a week.  They go on to do business at other markets during the weekends.  All the markets depend upon each other’s success for their own success. This is real social enterprise in action at a local level. And the risk is all theirs.

If anyone ever doubted the significance of the stallholder’s attendance every week then you would be ignoring the wider social impacts:   The regular shoppers, friends of the market and the visitors to the market come from all over.  They number in their thousands from celebrity chefs to rugby captains, cricket coaches, tv presenters, the old and the lonely, the young the entrepreneurial, tourists, local b & b, air b & b visitors, land agents with potential clients and politicians, walking groups, biking groups etc.  

The wider social impacts can be seen by our support of charitable organisations who also complement what the market is about. Local charity jams a long time stallholder  who  gives to local causes , Wellbeing, the Ashley River Rakahuri River care group Kaiapoi Parish, Rangiora Lions Club, Rangiora Fire Service, community groups, to mention a few,40kg of apples fortnightly have gone to the students of a local low decile school for a number of years. We are always looking for compatible causes to support. Our supporters know all this. Incidentally we have financially supported the Ohoka Domain and also previously shingled the Ohoka Hall carpark.

Environmental and educationally the WDC have used the market for waste, recycling and water related educational issues. Swannanoa, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, and some city schools have all used the market at one time or another as part of their curriculum.  We have been the subject of university thesis on sustainable local food production, post-quake food resilience, magazine articles and of course stallholders winning national and regional food awards and featuring in all kinds of local and regional food promotions.

What started out as an experiment has grown into a popular and much appreciated food market that accommodates a wide and diverse group of people from your region and beyond.   

To conclude the market is a place of significant social collaboration and has become a way of life for many.  It does not exist for profit, it exists for purpose.  For 3/12 hours every Friday morning every week, month and year,   it is a place for people to gather, to buy healthy food, discuss their food options, share local knowledge, learn about their local growers,  meet neighbours and friend’s and make new friends. 

It is an inclusive event and it reflects the ever changing diversity in our region that so many of us have come to appreciate and to some extent take for granted. If there is any true wealth it is in the community’s self-determination which has enabled the market to become as popular as it is. And of that we can be proud. 

So your decision tonight matters to all of these people I have mentioned. The market has a positive impact on so many people’s lives.   We will be thankful to you as community board members of your decision to approve the Alternative Draft Ohoka domain plan, which I sincerely hope you will. 

Thank you for your time.                                                    Barbara Warren 

The alternate plan was approved by the Community Board and is subject to funding in future years' budgets. The total cost to ratepayers will be $290,000.  $20,000 of that includes the pathway and the small extension to the car park the rest is the playground and landscaping. 

If you would like to view the submissions you can do so at the market where they are displayed for everyone to read. They make interesting reading and show the significant support the market has.  There are of course the grumblings from a very small number of ragtag local individuals who have justified their obvious long time resentment of the market on the false premise that the market has its hand out for council funded money and is not entitled to it.  It is unclear as to why some submitters had come to this conclusion that  OFM had asked for a larger car park to be funded by the council. We did not. Contrary to this, we have never requested any financial assistance and we do not do so now.  What we sought was Council and local groups support of what is obviously a significant weekly event for the area and of benefit to all.  Council have done this by approval of the alternate plan.  We can only hope that the individuals who in pursuing their own personal hobbies no matter how worthy and so eager for ratepayers money, use it to the benefit of all and come to appreciate how they too can benefit from the market in their area.   Perhaps they may be enlightened from reading the speech above, but no doubt they haven't and won't.  Some change comes slowly. 




Big Picture Activism - Renewal at a Local Level

Big Picture Activism

There are countless grassroots projects already underway in our country reflecting the 'localisation' movement  and  it is reassuring to know that we are simply part of a worldwide trend in reaction to the global economic situation. 

Whether it's farmers markets, community supported agriculture, community gardens, renewable energy initiatives, buy local campaigns or climate change awareness we are, whether some of us like it or not, intrinsically linked by the Localisation movement which encompasses all of the above.

So it is reassuring to have the Localisation Movement put into words by Helena Norberg Hodge. Contrary to some of the news around Globalisation we hear,  this is good news.  

I want to share it with you in the hope you might venture further and discover what is happening out there.     

A little about the lady:

Helena Norberg Hodge is an Australian based international speaker. She  has gained a reputation as the pioneer of the local economy movement.  Her latest booklet titled Essential Steps to an economics of Happiness makes essential reading for those wanting a greater appreciation  about local food economies and for those who are keen to have their assumptions challenged.

She is author of Ancient Futures, Bringing the Food Economy Home and From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture and she produced and co-directed the award winning The Economics of Happiness.  Her focus is on local economies which enable cultures to meet the modern world without sacrificing social and ecological values. 

Helena refers to Big Picture Activism and depending how deep in the woods you are, you will either be interested in knowing more or fearing knowing more.

So what is Localisation

Localisation as a noun consists of the removal of fiscal and other supports that currently favour giant transnational corporations and banks. It reduces dependence on export markets in favour of production for local needs.

It does not mean isolationism, protectionism or the elimination of trade.

Localisation as a verb enables you and your community to be more self-reliant and food secure.  It enables you to shop locally for produce and products grown or made locally, or regionally. Decreasing the distance between the producer and consumer is central to localisation.  It provides a healthier balance between local markets and monopoly dominated global markets. It encourages more ethical use of the land and the environment, stronger and healthier communities, diversity and more localised control over resources.

Localisation can obviously mean different things to different people. After all some cultures have been around longer than others with more time to create some history of culture.    

Perhaps in your neck of the woods you consider the locals as being regressive and perhaps you could convincingly argue that the shift of the youth to the city makes total sense to you.  Perhaps you consider Farmers Markets as being the threat to your local area as you may perceive they threaten your  way of life.   

Both arguments are to some extent what Norberg Hodge refers to as ‘single issue’ .

Single Issue vs Bigger Picture

Single issue gets in the way of the bigger picture. Many of us are guilty of this often with a little help from the mainstream media.  Single issues can make us impatient, wanting action now on any given pet subject whether it's plastic bags, coffee cups, clean water or animal agriculture.  We can lose the perspective if there was any.  So Norberg Hodge urges us to challenge our mental blocks, our preconceived ideas on how or why things may appear as they are. She challenges Dogma.


Dogma is a view that is based upon assumption.  Whether it is a scientific view, religious or one based upon some kind of education or training we can still make assumptions and consequently uphold beliefs which have no foundation.  

So you have got this far..

Norberg Hodge stresses the importance of acknowledging our common ground which may include accepting the negative economic influences that are behind environmental and social justice problems. 

She cites trade treaties like the TPPA, unregulated business activity which enables large transnational corporations and banks to invade and absorb the markets of smaller locally orientated businesses. taxpayer funded business subsidies, debt and deregulation of trade and finance as contributing to the ever expanding corporate rule now on a global scale.

Ignorance or Greed

Ignorance she says is  based upon the long held views (dogma. Ed)  that countries  and governments need to keep growing and expanding trade and that they have no ability to contemplate the overall impact of these actions.  

There is a blind faith in our export industry which we rely on so heavily which as an example imports 3794 tonnes of Australian tomatoes and also exports 3366 tonnes of tomatoes to Australia. Efficient trade? 

Deregulation and Free Trade

Globalisation as a noun means  the deregulation of trade and finance in order to enable businesses and banks to operate globally. It encourages the emergence of a single world market which is dominated by transnational corporations. These include banks, the corporate media and processed food corporations.

Globalisation as a verb is an economic process which ultimately leads to free trade agreements by deregulating trade and investment. It enables big businesses and banks to enter local markets and dominate worldwide.  It has been referred to as a code name for corporatization. 

The Global Community

Global Community is a term which simply means the community of the largest banks and corporations in the world. 

Globalisation encourages and enables industrial production of everything from food to fossil fuels by means of deregulation of trade, little regulation of big business and subsidies for big businesses.  It means cheap food from cheap ingredients at the expense of nutritional content and environmental damage.  It is not about local sustainable communities.

It is a given in some sectors of our community that Globalisation with its deregulation of trade and finance enables corporations to operate globally at the expense of local culture, small businesses, local communities and our environment. 

Local vs Global

The ideas behind the localisation movement seek to reshape and ultimately decentralise the economic power that the big corporations and industries hold over us in our everyday lives.  The juggernaut that is consumerism for the sake of consumerism is destroying many parts of our communities. People's access to real food and lack of knowledge about real food are small examples. 

Policy Shifts

In Europe more than 80 international networks of organisations  and individuals  oppose further deregulation of trade.  A Draft Alternative Trade Mandate was created with 193 candidates for parliament pledging to support the mandate's aims.  This included 'allowing countries, regions and communities to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services... to prioritise local and regional food systems over global agricultural trade... and to hold corporations accountable for the social and environmental impacts of their operations."   

For more  Google: Five Star Movement.

Norberg Hodge talks about communities being lost and losing their control. Yet we could easily be blind to any of this depending upon our level of awareness.

Localisation strives to take more control over the things that affect how we are able to live by offering people an alternative.  

The problem is not everyone will want this kind of change. 

Place Based Businesses

Farmers Markets are place based.

There is no tyranny of distance in the trade of food at your farmers market or purchasing  direct from your grower.

Statistics tell us that there are a significant number of jobs associated with food markets, the local area becomes food resilient, the community is diverse, the food is likely to be healthy, the farming practices likely to be sustainable, the community learns about food and the environment which in turn has to be for the good of the whole region socially, politically and environmentally.

It is indeed a win win situation. 

The number of farmers markets in the US has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to over 8,268 in 2014, and in the UK from zero in 1996 to around 750 in 2012.

A related trend is the demand for local organic food. Although big industries are tapping into this demand by growing organics on industrial scale farms, local small intensive farms are conducive to local food markets, organic methods  and diversified production for local communities.

Other consequences of locally based food economies include Farmland Trusts, Community Media without corporate sponsorship, education initiatives around local food and farming, Healthcare with a nutritional foundation and community building including community gardens.  Locally based food economies  do not include multi national food industries who rely on industrially produced ingredients and products, factory farming  and a business model reliant upon a cheap labour force. (Even though they may try and tell you otherwise).  

Local Food Connects Communities

Communities based around a healthy local food economy are more able to reclaim local democratic decision making power.  After all shouldn’t we have a say if or what multinational business set up in our region? 

Local Food Connects us with the Global

Big picture activism enables us to connect with the food we eat with how we or others live.

It encompasses how we can make a livelihood,  the condition of our environment, our country's food resilience, the state of our democracy,  the ever increasing gap between those who have and those who don’t, how we keep warm and can cook in our kitchens, the policies behind the establishing of a small business, the commercial and urban sprawl, how our land is farmed,  our food security and dependence on supermarkets, the presence of junk food chains and industrial farms who receive government subsidies, our state of health, our mental health and indigenous cultures who have lost to western influence.   

Localisation is more than just a single issue.                                                                          

It encompasses our very existence in these increasingly globalised times.


It is another given that food, something which we need every single day, is core to the Localisation movement. 

Food is proving to have the ability to connect us in more ways than we could possibly realise. 

That connection is via people power. Not to be confused with terrorism or riots.  

In fact you see it in action at your Farmers Markets throughout the world.


Local Finance, Local Business, Local energy, Local food and farming.... 

Norbeg Hodge calls for change to top down policies.  A global to local shift.

A local shift that requires diverse, local, bottom up initiatives.

Small scale steps - of which your Farmers Market is one.  


So if we were looking for a model of local renewal then you could start here.

If you want to read more you can download the whole document.


Thanks for reading

Rose  Thorne




Waimakariri District Council considers the impact of Glyphosate on our environment.



      This blog was written last year - it has been posted again because the topic is today a current one again!                       

Food Matters NZ hosted a talk back in Feb 2015  at Canterbury Uni with three invited overseas speakers regarding food and synthetic poisons.  This was an evening I won’t forget and as a consequence I have to share this experience and what I have discovered since with you the reader,  I hope you will be alarmed, perhaps angered and indignant at the end of this blog.

The evening went for over 2 hours and my blog is rather long, but there is a lot to say and I hope you will take time to read it, research it and share what you find. 

I left that talk with a feeling that I and my family had been duped. Perhaps you will read this and say “I knew that” in which case I would be eager to know what you are doing about it. There needs to be some serious discussion on this either to disprove or make others aware of it.      

If like me you had some understanding of specific synthetic herbicides then maybe like me you will realise that really you knew nothing at all and you should have.  

Dr Don Huber is  Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, a land grant institution in the USA, and has been studying plants for 55 years. He has received various awards for his scientific accomplishments and contributions to government.

He was Cereal Pathologist at the University of Idaho for 8 years before joining the Department of Botany & Plant Pathology at Purdue University in 1971. 

He has more recently been referred to as a ‘whistleblower’ on the systemic herbicide Roundup.

If like me you are a gardener you will know that Roundup has been used as a broad spectrum systemic herbicide since the early 80’s.  It was first patented by Monsanto in the 70’s. An active key ingredient to Roundup is Glyphosate. The trade name used is Roundup, and Roundup Ready.  Monsanto’s patent on Roundup expired in 2000 and since then Glyphosate has been marketed by many other companies.

We were led to believe that this was a relatively harmless chemical.  I mean its sometimes beside food items in the Supermarket right?  In fact I can recall the saying “you can drink it, it’s that safe”.  It is available in small friendly gardener size spray bottles to mega large industrial containers which are used commonly by farmers, horticulturalist, and councils.

More recently it has become associated with GMO’s.  Glyphosate is used on the main GE crops which are engineered to tolerate it, soy, canola, rice, cotton seed and sugar cane.

We were told Glyphosate broke down once it touched the soil that it was not residual and was not at all harmful to humans. Studies proved it.   You could wash it off with water if you got any on your skin, it was that safe.


  This is what Dr Huber says about it:

 Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide (i.e. it is absorbed into and moves through the whole plant), and is carried into the harvested parts of plants.  Exactly how much glyphosate is present in the seeds of corn or soybeans (genetically engineered to withstand this chemical) is not known, as grain products are not included in conventional market surveys for pesticide residues.  The fact that this and other herbicides are known to accumulate in fruits…raises questions about food safety, especially now that more than 37 million pounds of this herbicide are used annually in the United States alone. Even in the absence of immediate (acute) effects, it might take 40 years for a potential carcinogen to act in enough people for it to be detected as a cause.  Moreover, research has shown that glyphosate seems to act in a similar fashion to antibiotics by altering soil biology rendering bean plants more vulnerable to disease”.

 Glyphosate is a chelator which means it locks up mineral nutrients.  It is also an antibiotic.

 This is where it gets scary.

 Oct 08, 2014Dr Huber’s brave crusade against Bio Tech Inspired Bites Posted by Robyn O’Brien

 “Human enzymes are affected by glyphosate just as plant enzymes are: the chemical blocks the uptake of manganese and other essential minerals. Without those minerals, we cannot properly metabolise our food. That helps explain the rampant epidemic of obesity in the United States. People eat and eat in an attempt to acquire the nutrients that are simply not available in their food.”

According to researchers Samsell and Seneff in Biosemiotic Entropy: Disorder, Disease, and Mortality (April 2013):

 “Glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology . . . . Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Glyphosate like any other antibiotic kills human gut bacteria.

Anyone who has suffered any gut issues will know antibiotics do this and this  actually affects around 5% of the population inEurope and North America alone.   

 Glyphosate doesn’t get broken down when we digest it in the form of processed foods or in wheat.  In fact we absorb it and it kills our villi in our gut which means we cannot absorb vitamins and minerals essential to our health.  Now, this is the interesting bit.  Gliadin which is often referred to in Coeliac Disease is a protein in wheat.  I am no scientist but I understand that Glyphosate latches on to Gliadin creating a longer chain molecule which is indigestible.  This means our bodies go into defence mode and we start an immune reaction. Inflammation and the rest of IBS symptoms follow.  Long term this continued pattern of poisoning can create all kinds of illness for our bodies, the implications that scientists and health professionals are only starting to realise. Some of them are making the link with this herbicide.

 This graph below from the USDA shows correlation between glyphosate and celiac incidence.  Correlation is not cause, but smoking didn’t cause cancer either.  


Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance – this is a Toxicology report completed in 2013 by Versita.

Others are on to this:

“If you eat processed foods, most of which are made with GM corn and soy ingredients, you’re consuming glyphosate residues…..”

Read more:

As if GMO’s and the lack of evidence that they are safe are not enough, the link with Glyphosate is disturbing.

 Glyphosate-based herbicides are now the most commonly used herbicides in the world. Glyphosate is an essential partner to the GMOs that are the principal business of the burgeoning biotech industry. Glyphosate is a “broad-spectrum” herbicide that destroys indiscriminately, not by killing unwanted plants directly but by tying up access to critical nutrients. This is critical in understanding how that chemical works with our bodies. 

Remember Monsanto has always said that Roundup is safe and what affect it has on plants does not apply to humans.


 And again the Glyphosate link with its health affects from :

Aotearoa Independent Media Centre

“Roundup is widely used in home gardening. in New Zealand, however its active ingredient glyphosate is linked to infertility, birth defects, obesity, cancer, bowel and stomach disorders, kidney disease and endocrine disruption.”

 GMO foods and glyphosate herbicides are now a worldwide phenomenon.

Its critics are saying strongly there is a direct correlation with the increase in digestive problems like Coeliac Disease and the label IBS for everything else that doctors can’t explain. 

 Are you thinking this is just another crack pot conspiracy?

At worst it is a potentially grossly negligent and irresponsible product to be marketed to an unsuspecting human population.  At best it is a product that lacks sufficient evidence of safety to support its marketing as the home weed killer.       

When anyone challenges corporates like Monsanto, you can expect they will respond.  

Is Dr Huber a wacko?    You might think so from the number of blogs on the web written by his critics who interestingly enough either have worked for companies like Dupont, Monsanto (you get the picture) or blog under pseudonyms (always a sign of confidence!) or are farmers who support its use because they use it.

 This is a natural response from those who have business interests in the herbicide or simply don’t want to know.  However, you will see that there is an avalanche of mounting evidence which supports Dr Huber’s claims.

 Yes the GMO’s are likely to have been treated with Glyphosate but the most astounding claim to me that night was the link with Glyphosate and gluten intolerance.

 With further investigation, and I hope you will research this too in addition to the links I have attached, it is claimed that the recent increase in gluten intolerance and celiac disease could even be linked with this herbicide.

There is evidence out there that also suggests that since the use of Roundup (late 70’s in NZ) became the norm for ‘conventional’ farmers and horticulturalists various other serious health problems are being realised.

The claims made regarding the gluten intolerance are convincing and there are several reputed academics that are supporting these claims. At the very least there needs to be some investigation into these suggestions and  long term peer reviews should be considered by the medical profession. 

 Dr Stephanie Seneff is one such person with concerns over Glyphosate.  Sheis a controversial Senior Research Scientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Controversial because she is considered so by those who don’t support her argument.  She has studied in depth the statistics. She has one of the most succinct explanations regarding this epidemic of western gut problems and I urge you to view this link below to read the transcript from her interview and also a live recording of it.


 For those of you who have lived with IBS symptomsit wasconsidered that the wheat we were eating was indigestible. We were learning that it was the hybridised wheat of recent decades causing the problem and eating the older varieties lessened the symptoms.  From anecdotal evidence, which can be the best way to find out what works and what doesn't,  many people have suggested that a change of diet to a more plant based organic diet has eased many symptoms of IBS. 

Maybe you have dropped wheat from your diet completely. You may have changed your eating habits to include only gluten free flours, you will be avoiding all processed foods too I guess?   What about Organics?  Sometimes?   

 But what if the vast majority of processed foods, even those that say they are gluten free  contain  glyphosate?   How would we know?  Would it matter?  What if the ‘conventional’ vegetables and fruit which are so juicy and moist are juicy with glyphosate? 


 It gets worse…What if the Canola Oil, the Soy Milk, the Tofu, the cane sugarfor starters contain GMO’s (which incidentally don’t require food labelling to tell you so), are also drenched in Glyphosate?   

It was with relief that I stumbled upon this site below:

Yes the name is scary - Moms across America.  

However, this is very convincing stuff.  Glyphosate in breast milk!  Yes , this alarming to say the least.  Check it out and come to your own opinion, this takes you directly to the test results:

 In New Zealand it is normal practice for some horticulturalists to spray glyphosate on their crops of onions, potatoes, pumpkin just prior to harvest.  This assists in collecting the crop without the plant cover.  How much glyphosate is traceable in these crops when the consumer eats them?

As glyphosate is residual which means contrary to whatwetold by Monsanto, that the chemical remains in the soil.  This has serious consequences for those of us who are growing, farming and eating from land that has previously been treated with Roundup.  

 In the Dairy Industry we all should know well that most dairy cows are fed a supplementary diet of GM soy and corn.  So presume glyphosate is in that mix.

How much glyphosate is in our non-certified organic milk and its side products?  Anyone want to test a glass of milk?   

 Common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as the practice allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest and kills weeds at the same time.

Sugar Cane is ‘ripened’ by spraying with glyphosate and interestingly there has been a surge in kidney problems amongst the agricultural workers in Central America who work on the cane fields.

 See more at:

Glyphosate is frequently used in agri business operations.  Agri business is factory farming, industrial scale animal production, mono culture crops.  Agri business is world wide.   

It was used in Argentina October 2013 with these results:


 Monsanto also reiterated that glyphosate – a chemical used in the pesticide Roundup – was proven to be safe. Company spokesman Thomas Helshcher dismissed the correlation between use of pesticides and a rise in ill health as lacking in validity.

 More worryingly, the study found that in the soy-producing province of Santa Fe in northern Argentina cancer rates were two to four times higher than the rest of the country. Furthermore, Researchers also found high rates of thyroid disorders and chronic respiratory illness. Coincidental? 

 Note the responsibility is being put entirely on the farmers shoulders.

 The Monsanto protection team can afford to spend a lot of money proving they are not guilty of poisoning a population.  They have had to do this before in 1977 when the use of PCB’s was banned. Monsanto knew about the toxicity of the PCB’s from the beginning but it was assumed that the PCB’s if contained in products would be harmless to humans. Not so, they were cancerous to animals and humans and were banned in 1979. Time and money is nothing to those who can afford it.

Monsanto do a brilliant PR on ugly symptoms like this. It is already rallying around this topic by throwing in the loopy links and discrediting the authors by personal attacks.  It’s supporters are generally bloggers with pseudonyms or stooges of the corporations or poor farmers who don’t know any better. Whoever they are, the questions remain.

 Will they undertake any tests that will prove that this herbicide is safe and that all our foods and liquids are Glysophate free?

 Can we rely on any independent research like Moms of America? 

Apparently the moms have sent their results to the NZ Food Standards Assoc sometime in 2013.

What was the NZFSA response?

What do our doctors think about this issue? How much time has your doctor spent looking into this?

If the processed product is not certified organic one can be sure that if it has soy, sugarcane, canola, wheat or cotton seed in its ingredients then itcontains  GMO’s.  FACT.

 You can also assume that if by 2014 94% of the planted area in the US was going into  GE soybeans, 96% of GE cotton and 93% of GE corn as well as animal feed,  that much of our imported processed foods on the supermarket shelves and animal feed will have been sourcedfrom varieties which are routinely sprayed with glyphosate.

GMO’s are synonymous with glyphosate.  MOST LIKELY

 If the item of food contains more than 1% of a GMO then you should be able to read this on the label. FACT.

 If it contains less the 1% of GMO you won’t know about that 1% GMO or Glyphosate because that wasn’t considered a food safety requirement by our Food Standards Committee. In other words if it has any GMO/glyphosate in its ingredients you won’t always know. FACT.

 If you buy Certified Organic howeverand its New Zealand Certified Organic you should be able to have  trust in our system of certification which is GMO and Glyphosate free.   FACT.

 MPI enforce the Food Act.  We can rely on them for factual information and accountability right?

The Food Act is our (NZ) legislation relevant to how food is handled processed in New Zealand. Remember the debate on GMO labelling? Well now you know that GE crops are routinely sprayed with glyphosate and that if it contains more than 1% of GE ingredients  then it should be labelled. But is it?

 According to GE Free NZ;

“Unless stated as non-GE or Organic, around 70% of processed foods from imported soy, corn, canola, cotton seed contain GE derived ingredients mainly in the form of vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, soy isolates, soy lecithin of which high levels are used in breads and cakes. 

But as I have already said if its less than 1% you won’t know.

How about our NonOrganic Milk?  Dairy farming has developed a dependence on GE-feed.    Over the last ten years there has been a huge increase and intensification of dairy farming which has relied on nitrogen fertilisers and imported livestock feed.  Dairy cows  are fed GE cotton seed meal and soy. 

There is no legal requirement to  label the presence of the GMO’s in animal feed.

So what levels of Glyphosate and GMO’s are in this feed?

Has milk ever been tested for Glyphosate?  

What about chicken? Pork? Does this mean the meat contains GMO’s?

Will the producer tell us?


 Food Standards Australia New Zealand developed the food standards for both countries.

Food Standards Australia News Zealand’s decisions are approved by the Australian and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

 The Australian and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council is composed of 12 members , 10 are Health Ministers or their representatives from each Australian State and only two are NZ representatives .

One of which worked for the NZ Dairy Board.

 The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is composed of 12 countries, NZ Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, USA and Vietnam. Initially 2002 it comprised of only NZ, Chile and Singapore and was called the Pacific Three Closer Initiative.  In 2008 the US agreed to join. Since then the remaining countries have joined albeit some with trepidation, including Canada and Japan. The TPPA is still in developmental stages in some areas, with resistance from some countries to the USA dominance with regards to regulatory processes and its free trade policies particularly with pharmaceuticals. The  purpose of the TPPA is to enhance trade and investment.  Supporters say that it will increase the wealth of the countryand we can do this by allowing more GMO crops to be grown under the patents of companies like Monsanto. But some counties including USA are fortunately having issues with this agreement.     

 Here is a list of countries which have banned or attempted to ban GE.

Including Austria’s ban of GE Maize, France;Rapeseed, Germany; Maize, Four Regions in Italy, Island of Jersey, Wales tried, Switzerland, Norway, Tasmania;Rapeseed, Thailand but not research, Phillipines; 5 yr moratoria, Sri Lanka,  Saudi Arabia ban on GE Wheat and GMO’s, Egypt;Wheat, Algeria, Brazil; GE seeds, Paraguay, USA; Vermont and North Dakota have filed bills  to ban GE Wheat, Denmark has banned the sale of Roundup to private individuals from 2015.

NZ local bodies in Auckland and Wellington have declared themselves GE Free, trials with GE salmon have been blocked by NZ Government.  

Russia has banned GE.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has lent Ukraine $17 billion on the condition Ukraine allows GE crops. That’s odd,  isn’t Ukraine at war with Russia?

 As of today 27 health leaders in Australasia as well as US Canada and Malaysia and Chile have called for greater transparency in the TPPA agreement regarding health.  The secrecy behind this agreement is causing concern in many quarters of the countries most affected by it..

 Represented among some signatories with concerns about the administration of health came from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), the Public Health Association of New Zealand, and prominent clinicians and academics Professor Boyd Swinburn and Emeritus Professors Robert Beaglehole and Ruth Bonita of the University of Auckland, and Associate Professor Philip Pattemore of University of Otago.

 R Monasterio described the TPPA as "an unprecedented expansion" of intellectual property rights that would "push up the cost of affordable and life-saving medicines, hitting hardest the already vulnerable households in New Zealand and other countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia".

He also feared governments could be sued for protecting health — but governments cannot sue back.

"This will stop important health initiatives on tobacco, alcohol, the obesity epidemic, climate change, antibiotic resistance, and other major future challenges," he said.

The “Monsanto Protection Act”  was a law in the USA until 2013. This act meant that Monsanto could mandate the USA government to allow planting of GE-crops even if courts rule they pose health risks.   

 The United States Representative is lawyer Michael Froman.

The chief agricultural negotiator for the US is the former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddique.  If ratified the TPPA would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented right to demand taxpayer compensation for policies that corporations deem a barrier to their profits.

. . . They are carefully crafting the TPPA to insure that citizens of the involved countries have no control over food safety, what they will be eating, where it is grown, the conditions under which food is grown and the use of herbicides and pesticides.

 If  you realise the  benefits of organics over food grown with synthetic chemicals and appreciate the local production of foods whilst protecting your own country’s sovereignty then you may also have realised that any change to the labyrinth of Governmental policy is unlikely to be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.   

Perhaps it might take the health crisis that Dr Stephanie Seneff warns of to bring about any action on this.  Ultimately the power lies with us as consumers. Get informed, you deserve to know more,  ask questions.  We need answers, we need more serious independent studies done. 

 We need to know: Is Glyphosate in our non certified milk?

What crops are routinely killed with Roundup before, during and after harvest? 

Why is business, the industry, the Government and everyone who claims to be working in the public’s best interest so negligent in addressing this issue?

 In the meantime :  Ditch the Roundup. Grown your own (not in Glyphoate treated soils). Buy certified organic. Buy local. Talk to your growers. Talk to your GP, Naturopath about this. Cut back on and work on ditching the  processed foods. Tell everyone what you know about Roundup.

If you find a food item containing Soy, Corn or Canola and its not certified organic and you can’t read GMO on the label, either return it to the supplier or post it to Monsanto.

 We need answers.

If in fact there is nothing to fear from Glyphosate or any of the other chemicals in Roundup then there is nothing to hide.  

 Until glyphosate is proven safe in long term peer reviewed trials it should  be withdrawn from the market.

 So it is encouraging that when we see the Waimakariri District Council considering taking a similar stance on the use of Glyphosate as the Christchurch City Council has done with its spraying regimes. The Kaiapoi Community Board have expressed concerns over the chemicals use and its impact on the life of Kaiapoi Rivers.  Watch this space.


Rose Thorn






Meat Eating


“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.” 
― George OrwellAnimal Farm

We humans eat a lot of animals, but three mainly; chicken, pig and cow.

We eat so many of the 'big three' that factory farms are the only way that so many animals can be grown and slaughtered. Factory farming is quick and cheap.

 The effects of so many of these factory farms, or intensive animal agriculture operations, are major contributors to the current Anthropocene era.   

The Anthropocene era started with the industrial revolution.  This is when we started to have a serious impact on the planet different from any era previously. This period in history encompasses the production of plastic metal, concrete and the use of nitrates and phosphates.  Animal agriculture since the 1950’s is the number one contributor to climate change.

My parents and grandparents were old enough to live through the 1950's and they would have experienced a period when industrialisation and population growth became governments' primary driving force.  It was all about feeding the world.  It was the birth of the factory farm.

Science has helped factory farming become the huge industry it is today. It worked with modern industrial agriculture. The factory farm was born. 

The chicken.

Like a Frankenstein the ‘chicken of tomorrow’ was born in the late '40’s; a Cornish New Hampshire cross specifically for meat and a Leghorn hybrid for mass laying of eggs.  Caged and raised under artificial lighting - the chicken industry we have today.  

Nearly 60 billion chickens are killed a year after living a hellish life of captivity, confinement and medication. 

 99% of all land animals slaughtered are farmed birds.

Americans eat 150 times as many chickens as they did only eighty years ago.   

Who eats the most chicken?  USA, Australia, Argentina then Brazil.

KFC buys nearly 1 billion chickens a year.

The biggest threat to mankind is currently thought to be a pandemic resulting from birds: factory farmed birds.


1 billion pigs are grown for meat.

They are artificially inseminated and piglets are fattened for meat as quickly as science has allowed, which involves confinement and hormones for approximately 8 months of life.  Disease is managed by regular use of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.   


The beef industry is purported to be the more ‘ethical’ of the food industries compared with pigs and chickens.  Cattle on pasture, as they are predominately farmed in NZ, gives the impression of happy exploitation as opposed to the alternative reality of industry owned beef feedlots overseas.

But even a grassy paddock cannot lessen the fact that less than 1% of animals killed for meat in America come from family farms. 

Who eats the most beef?  Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, USA and then Australia.

The cattle's diet, like the chickens and the pigs, consists of ingredients grown and genetically modified to enable the maximum amount of growth with the minimum amount of husbandry.

60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production.

5.5 million cattle beasts are slaughtered for McDonald’s beef burgers annually.

On a typical factory farm a cocktail of drugs are routinely fed to animals with their feed.  

On average an American eats the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime. That’s entire head to toe/tail.

As with the meat industry our demand for milk and dairy products adds to the increasing momentum of industrial scale food production.  

In the USA approximately 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to humans a year.  17.8 million are fed to livestock.   


Fish farms especially salmon farms are notorious for sea lice infestations, filthy water and all the problems that go with intensified farming from disease control with antibiotics, to genetically modified non-sea-dwelling feed, to pollution.    

Shit, Manure, Effluent.

Animal manure used to be the farmer's friend. Today it pollutes water ways. Runoffs include poisonous gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. 

What we do with all the pig and cow effluent as a result of intensive animal production continues to create huge environmental concerns.  Chances are the effluent contains a lot more than just poo from the factory farm floor. 

Conservative international estimates indicate that chicken, pig, and cattle excrement have polluted 35000 miles of rivers in 22 states in the USA.

Entire fish populations have been wiped out when pig effluent seeps into waterways. 

Faecal mists are common occurrences for people who live within close proximity to pig and chicken farms.  Sore throats, headaches, diarrhoea.

Studies have shown that animal waste emits airborne particles that cause inflammation in humans.

The Plastic and intensive animal agriculture.

Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

The Great Pacific Garbage patch is located in the North Pacific Ocean: 700,000 sq km of plastic is trapped in the ocean's currents.  4% of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.  Fish caught for consumption is also likely to contain plastic in its flesh, amongst other pollutants in the sea.

93% of Americans have tested positive for chemical BPA in their blood. BPA is Bisphenol A and has been used since 1957 in a lot of wrappings for food products to poly carbonate water drink bottles.

The animal feed.

Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined. It’ is a huge cause of global warming.   

Approximately 80% of total agricultural land is dedicated to the production of feed for animals.

Deforestation is necessary for growing crops and to farm some animals especially in what we call undeveloped countries. Check out the graph below and you can see the meat industries starting up business in these places. Corn and soy production is mainly GM crops, Palm oil plantations in Indonesia and the soy plantations in the Amazon jungle provide a basis of the animal feed we use here in New Zealand.

Transportation of foods, heating and air conditioning, plastic, metal, and concrete all depend heavily on the mining of fossil fuels. 

The fertiliser industry is a huge contributor to climate change. 

The use of pharmaceuticals is inseparable from factory farming.

The top three genetically modified crops most commonly used in animal feed  are  corn, soy and cottonseed.  88% of corn grown in the USA is genetically modified, soy 93% and cottonseed 94%. 

Herbicides like glyphosate are routinely used when growing these crops. It has never been proven to be safe to us. It’s clear from studies done that as a minimum it does kill frogs. In 2015 the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans and classified it as a 'Group 2A' carcinogen. In 2016 the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization said glyphosate is "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans" exposed to it through food. The chair of the meeting between the WHO and the IARC, Professor Alan Boobis, also works as vice-president of the International Life Science Institute (ISLI). In 2012, ILSI received a $500,000 (US) donation from Monsanto and a $528,500 (US) donation from Croplife International, a representative of Monsanto, Dow, and others.

NZ alone imported 193,000 tonnes of soy for animal feed, much of which was grown in Argentina where GM crops are grown. 


The production of one kilo of beef requires 15,414 litres of water on average.  Sheep require 8,763 litres and pig 5,988 litres, chicken 4,325 litres.  Vegetables on the other hand require 322 litres. 

Good farming practices and good animal husbandry has largely been lost by farming animals so intensively.

 The bottom line with all factory farming is that optimal health is not the aim, factory farming is all about optimal profitability. 

Our hunger for meat

Farming  has only became a problem since we decided to eat more meat than any other culture in history. 

The 1950’s saw industry and science combined to take animal husbandry from the farmers and instead gave the control to industries and corporations.  

Incidental to the geological Anthropocene story but intrinsically linked, are the health effects on the human population because of our cultural obsession with eating meat.  There has been a steady  increase in the incidences of food borne illnesses particularly with chicken and pork, common diet related diseases are also linked with meat and dairy consumption. For example heart disease, strokes, auto immune diseases and many forms of cancer.

Happy exploitation

One cannot talk about factory farming without talking about the many ways that animals are treated in order to feed us.  This can be an uncomfortable subject as it raises questions around what we consider acceptable torture. 

The protein myth

While the US Department of Agriculture continues to set the dietary guidelines adopted in the western world and supports the meat and dairy industries we can’t realistically expect any change in habits to come from this direction.  Until plants are rightly recognised as being more than an adequate source of protein the general public will continue to suffer the effects of not eating enough of them.   

Diet for change- Personal Choices

Until governments agree on the issues that negatively impact people and the planet then there is only a small chance of any change.

Perhaps climate change which includes many of these issues is the filter from which we can make amends.   

Change is at its most effective when it starts on a personal level. So an easy answer to the problem that is factory farming of animals, is to eat less meat, eat better quality meat.  Eat meat from small local farmers who advocate openly for good animal husbandry practices.  As Michael Pollen has said "Eat mostly plants". Or don’t eat animal at all. 

We are the only species on the planet that is capable of moral decision making.    

“Becoming vegan is the most important and direct change we can immediately make to save the planet and its species.”  ― Chris Hedges


One in eight British adults has now given up eating meat and fish, according to new research by analysts Mintel. Some 12% now follow vegetarian or vegan diets, rising to 20% of those aged between 16 and 24.

Millions more are “flexitarians” cutting back substantially on the amount of meat they eat, and cows milk they drink.

This has led to a booming (£625million-a-year in 2013) market for meat-free products.

Rose Thorn OFM

“The distinguishing mark of man is the hand, the instrument with which he does all his mischief.” 
― George OrwellAnimal Farm



How Organics sold out.

Discovering that Most Fruit Drink made from concentrate and  manufactured byCoca Cola Amatil has the stamp of BioGro approval led to a disappointing  revelation.

BioGro standards allow for industrial food producers like Coke to gain organic certification with what seems relative ease.  Even if the company has a historically atrocious track record in all things to do with fair food, the standards according to the BioGro Ltd board of directors have been upheld. Coke have spent millions to defeat compulsory GMO labelling!

What credibility does BioGro certified organic have now?  If Fonterra Organic wasn’t bad enough this surely gives us something to think about.

Having achieved the BioGro stamp of approval for our own business and wearing it proudly we felt duped.  To compound this disappointment was the fact that we stock many products with BioGro certification which we consider to be very good products from local and regional small artisan producers.  Is their credibility at stake also?

It so happens that BioGro and Soil and Health are proposing a merger for July 16th 2016

Soil and Health are a grass roots organisation dating back to 1941. Organic NZ Magazine is their very public face.  BioGro on the other hand are made up of a predominately male bunch with corporate interests in organics. Queen St farmers and venture capitalists.  You can listen to board member Brendan Hoare of BioGro talk on the Nine to Noon show podcast April 7. He does a good vacuous management speak for certified organics and getting BioGro  certified products into Walmart supermarkets in the USA.  The question is, do the members of Soil and Health approve of corporates like Coke getting on the organic certification bandwagon?

 Perhaps the horse has bolted on this one. Organics according to BioGro is all about branding and getting your product into the very food distribution system that got us into this toxic mess in the first place.  Will it make any difference if it is organic?       

Then, this long but loaded article turned up to answer all the unknown questions. 

It was written by none other than Michael Pollan, an acclaimed writer on the politics of food. In this article he has succinctly joined the dots on what is wrong with industrial organics.    

This article was written in 2001! It is often said that USA is ahead of NZ in some trends.  Certainly this has been the case with industrial food and its consequent diseases.  This article is so prophetic that perhaps it would not have been relevant to us 15  years ago. Pollan gives us the opportunity to look back into his crystal ball. It provides us with the advantage of hindsight because what happened in USA in the 1990s is happening in NZ now. The 'Twinkle' bar he refers to could actually be the 'Coke' in our story. 

What possible advantage could we gain from following the American industrial organic disaster. Consider when reading this article that ‘Beyond Organic’ is already here. It’s not in the board rooms or factory farms. It’s in the  new generation of growers  that have realised that the future of organics is not in its certification. Lets leapfrog the industrial organic model and go straight to beyond organic. Let BioGro pursue their certified organic 1980s style branding nonsense but leave Soil & Health alone. Shop local shop fresh. 

Read this article with this in mind, and you will feel a whole lot better at the end of it.

Postscript: The merger was successful.  



Behind the Organic-Industrial Complex


Published: May 13, 2001

. Supermarket Pastoral

lmost overnight, the amount and variety of organic food on offer in my local supermarket has mushroomed. Fresh produce, milk, eggs, cereal, frozen food, even junk food -- all of it now has its own organic doppelgänger, and more often than not these products wind up in my shopping cart. I like buying organic, for the usual salad of rational and sentimental reasons. At a time when the whole food system feels somewhat precarious, I assume that a product labeled organic is more healthful and safer, more "wholesome," though if I stop to think about it, I'm not exactly sure what that means. I also like the fact that by buying organic, I'm casting a vote for a more environmentally friendly kind of agriculture: "Better Food for a Better Planet," in the slogan of Cascadian Farm, one of the older organic brands. Compared with all the other food in the supermarket, which is happy to tell you everything about itself except how it was grown, organic food seems a lot more legible. "Organic" on the label conjures a whole story, even if it is the consumer who fills in most of the details, supplying the hero (American Family Farmer), the villain (Agribusinessman) and the literary genre, which I think of as "supermarket pastoral." Just look at the happy Vermont cow on that carton of milk, wreathed in wildflowers like a hippie at her wedding around 1973.

Look a little closer, though, and you begin to see cracks in the pastoral narrative. It took me more than a year to notice, but the label on that carton of Organic Cow has been rewritten recently. It doesn't talk about happy cows and Vermont family farmers quite so much anymore, probably because the Organic Cow has been bought out by Horizon, a Colorado company (referred to here, in proper pastoral style, as "the Horizon family of companies"). Horizon is a $127 million public corporation that has become the Microsoft of organic milk, controlling 70 percent of the retail market. Notice, too, that the milk is now "ultrapasteurized," a process the carton presents as a boon to the consumer (it pushes the freshness date into the next millennium), but which of course also allows the company to ferry its milk all over the country.


When I asked a local dairyman about this (we still have one or two in town) he said that the chief reason to ultrapasteurize -- a high-heat process that "kills the milk," destroying its enzymes and many of its vitamins -- is so you can sell milk over long distances. Arguably, ultrapasteurized organic milk is less nutritious than conventionally pasteurized conventional milk. This dairyman also bent my ear about Horizon's "factory farms" out West, where thousands of cows that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. So maybe Organic Cow milk isn't quite as legible a product as I thought.

I wasn't sure if the farmer had his facts straight (it would turn out he did), but he made me wonder whether I really knew what organic meant anymore. I understood organic to mean -- in addition to being produced without synthetic chemicals -- less processed, more local, easier on the animals. So I started looking more closely at some of the other organic items in the store. One of them in the frozen-food case caught my eye: an organic TV dinner (now there are three words I never expected to string together) from Cascadian Farm called Country Herb: "rice, vegetables and grilled chicken breast strips with a savory herb sauce."

The text-heavy box it came in told the predictable organic stories -- about the chicken (raised without chemicals and allowed "to roam freely in an outdoor yard"); about the rice and vegetables (grown without synthetic chemicals); even about the carton (recycled) -- but when I got to the ingredients list, I felt a small jolt of cognitive dissonance. For one thing, the list of ingredients went on forever (31 ingredients in all) and included such enigmas of modern food technology as natural chicken flavor, high-oleic safflower oil, guar and xanthan gum, soy lecithin, carrageenan and natural grill flavor, this last culinary breakthrough achieved with something called "tapioca maltodextrin." The label assured me that most of these additives are organic, which they no doubt are, and yet they seem about as jarring to my conception of organic food as, say, a cigarette boat on Walden Pond. But then, so too is the fact (mentioned nowhere on the label) that Cascadian Farm has recently become a subsidiary of General Mills, the third biggest food conglomerate in North America.

Clearly, my notion of supermarket pastoralism has fallen hopelessly out of date. The organic movement has become a $7.7 billion business: call it Industrial Organic. Although that represents but a fraction of the $400 billion business of selling Americans food, organic is now the fastest-growing category in the supermarket. Perhaps inevitably, this sort of growth -- sustained at a steady 20 percent a year for more than a decade -- has attracted the attention of the very agribusiness corporations to which the organic movement once presented a radical alternative and an often scalding critique. Even today, the rapid growth of organic closely tracks consumers' rising worries about the conventional food supply -- about chemicals, about additives and, most recently, about genetically modified ingredients and mad cow disease; every food scare is followed by a spike in organic sales. And now that organic food has established itself as a viable alternative food chain, agribusiness has decided that the best way to deal with that alternative is simply to own it. The question now is, What will they do with it? Is the word "organic" being emptied of its meaning?

II. The Road to Cascadian Farm™

don't know about you, but I never expect the bucolic scenes and slogans on my packaged food to correspond to reality (where exactly is Nature's Valley, anyway?), but it turns out the Cascadian Farm pictured on my TV dinner is a real farm that grows real food -- though not quite the same food contained in my TV dinner.

Cascadian Farm occupies a narrow, breathtaking shelf of land wedged between the Skagit River and the North Cascades in the town of Rockport, Wash., 75 miles northeast of Seattle. Originally called the New Cascadian Survival and Reclamation Project, the farm was started in 1971 by Gene Kahn with the idea of growing food for the collective of environmentally minded hippies he had hooked up with in nearby Bellingham. At the time, Kahn was a 24-year-old grad-school dropout from the South Side of Chicago who, after reading "Silent Spring" and "Diet for a Small Planet," determined to go back to the land, there to change "the food system." That particular dream was not so outrageous in 1971 -- this was the moment, after all, when the whole counterculture was taking a rural turn -- but Kahn's success in actually achieving it surely is: he went on to become a pioneer of the organic movement and did much to move organic food into the mainstream. Today, Cascadian Farm's farm is a General Mills showcase -- a P.R. farm," as its founder freely acknowledges -- and Kahn, erstwhile hippie farmer, is a General Mills vice president and a millionaire. He has become one of the most successful figures in the organic community and also perhaps one of the most polarizing; for to many organic farmers and activists, he has come to symbolize the takeover of the movement by agribusiness.

"Organic is becoming what we hoped it would be an alternative to," says Roger Blobaum, who played a key role as a consumer advocate in pushing Congress to establish the U.S.D.A.'s fledgling organic program. "Gene Kahn's approach is slowly but surely taking us in that direction. He's one of the real pioneers, but there are people now who are suspicious of him." Kahn is apt to call such people "purists," "Luddites," "romantics" and "ideologues" who have failed to outgrow the "antibusiness prejudices" of the 60's. He'll tell you he's still committed to changing the food system -- but now from "inside." Few in the movement doubt his sincerity or commitment, but many will tell you the food system will much sooner change Kahn, along with the whole meaning of organic.

On an overcast morning not long ago, Kahn drove me out to Rockport from his company's offices in Sedro-Woolley, following the twists of the Skagit River east in a new forest green Lexus with vanity plates that say "ORGANIC." Kahn is a strikingly boyish-looking 54, and after you factor in a shave and 20 pounds, it's not hard to pick his face out from the beards-beads-and-tractor photos on display in his office. Back in the farm's early days, when Kahn supervised and mentored the rotating band of itinerant hippies who would show up to work a day or a week or a year on the farm, he drove a red VW Beetle and an ancient, temperamental John Deere. Kahn lived in a modest clapboard farmhouse on Cascadian Farm until 1993. Now he lives in a McMansion high in the hills overlooking Puget Sound.

Like a lot of the early organic farmers, Kahn had no idea what he was doing at first and suffered his share of crop failures. In 1971, organic agriculture was in its infancy -- a few hundred scattered amateurs learning by trial and error how to grow food without chemicals, an ad hoc grass-roots R. & D. effort for which there was precisely no institutional support. Though it did draw on various peasant-farming models, modern-day organic agriculture is a relatively novel and remarkably sophisticated system with deep roots in the counterculture. The theoretical roots of organic agriculture go back a bit further, principally to the work of a British scientist by the name of Sir Albert Howard. Based on his experiments in India and observations of peasant farms in Asia, Howard's 1940 treatise "An Agricultural Testament" demonstrated the connection between the health of the soil and the ability of plants to withstand diseases and pests. Howard's agricultural heresies were praised in the pages of "The Whole Earth Catalog" (by Wendell Berry) and popularized by J.I. Rodale in Organic Gardening and Farming magazine -- which claimed 700,000 readers in 1971, one of whom was Gene Kahn.

But the word "organic" around 1970 connoted a great deal more than a technique for growing vegetables. The movement's pioneers set out to create not just an alternative mode of production (the farms) but of distribution (the co-ops and health-food stores) and even consumption. A "countercuisine" based on whole grains and unprocessed ingredients rose up to challenge conventional industrial "white bread" food. ("Plastic food" was an epithet you heard a lot.) For a host of reasons that seem risible in retrospect, brown food of all kinds (rice, bread, wheat, sugar) was deemed morally superior to white. Much more than just lunch, organic food was "an edible dynamic" that promised to raise consciousness about the economic order, draw critical lines of connection between the personal and the political. It was also, not incidentally, precisely what your parents didn't eat.

Such was dinner and the dinner-table conversation at Cascadian Farm and countless other counterculture tables in the early 1970's. As for an alternative mode of distributing food, Kahn recruited a hippie capitalist named Roger Weschler to help him figure out how to sell his strawberries before they rotted in the field. Weschler had helped found something called the Cooperating Community, a network of Seattle businesses committed to ecological principles and worker self-management. A new offshoot, Community Produce, began distributing the food grown at Cascadian Farm, and Weschler and Kahn set out, in the unembarrassed words of Cascadian Farm's official corporate history, "to change the world's food system." Twenty-nine years later, Weschler is still at it, operating a produce brokerage devoted to supporting family farmers. And Kahn? Weschler, who has lost neither his scraggly black beard nor his jittery intensity, told me that by going corporate, his old friend "has made a very different choice."

If Kahn were the least bit embarrassed by the compromises he has made in his organic principles since those long-ago days, he would surely have rewritten his company's official history by now -- and never sent me to interview Weschler. But as we walked around the farm talking about "how everything eventually morphs into the way the world is," it seemed clear that Kahn has made his peace with that fact of life, decided that the gains outweighed the losses.

In time, Kahn became quite a good farmer and, to his surprise, an even better businessman. By the late 70's, he had discovered the virtues of adding value to his produce by processing it (freezing blueberries and strawberries, making jams), and once Cascadian Farm had begun processing, Kahn discovered he could make more money buying produce from other farmers than by growing it himself. During the 80's, Cascadian Farm became an increasingly virtual sort of farm, processing and marketing a range of packaged foods well beyond the Seattle area.

"The whole notion of a 'cooperative community' we started with gradually began to mimic the system," Kahn recalled. "We were shipping food across the country, using diesel fuel -- we were industrial organic farmers. I was bit by bit becoming more of this world, and there was a lot of pressure on the business to become more privatized."

That pressure became irresistible in 1990, when in the aftermath of the Alar scare, Kahn nearly lost everything -- and control of Cascadian Farm wound up in corporate hands. In the history of the organic movement, the Alar episode is a watershed, marking the birth pangs of the modern organic industry. After a somewhat overheated "60 Minutes" expos 1/8 on apple growers' use of Alar, a growth-regulator that the Environmental Protection Agency declared a carcinogen, middle America suddenly discovered organic. "Panic for Organic" was the cover line of one newsweekly, and, overnight, demand from the supermarket chains soared. The ragtag industry wasn't quite ready for prime time, however. Kahn borrowed heavily to finance an ambitious expansion, contracted with farmers to grow an awful lot of organic produce -- and then watched in horror as the bubble of demand subsided along with the headlines about Alar. Kahn was forced to sell a majority stake in the company -- to Welch's -- and set out on what he calls his "corporate adventure."

"We were part of the food industry now," he told me. "But I wanted to leverage that position to redefine the way we grow food -- not what people want to eat or how we distribute it. That sure as hell isn't going to change." Kahn sees himself as very much the grown-up, a sober realist in a community of unreconstructed idealists. He speaks of selling out to Welch's as "the time when I lost the company" but doesn't trouble himself with second thoughts or regrets; in fact, it was all for the best. "Welch's was my business school," he said. Kahn seems to have no doubt that his path is the right path, not only for him but for the organic movement as a whole: "You have a choice of getting sad about all that or moving on. We tried hard to build a cooperative community and a local food system, but at the end of the day it wasn't successful. This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but it's just lunch."

n the years after the Alar bubble burst in 1990, the organic industry recovered, embarking on a period of double-digit annual growth and rapid consolidation, as mainstream food companies began to take organic -- or at least, the organic market -- seriously. Gerber's, Heinz, Dole, ConAgra and A.D.M. all created or acquired organic brands. Cascadian Farm itself became a miniconglomerate, acquiring Muir Glen, the California organic tomato processors, and the combined company changed its name to Small Planet Foods. Nineteen-ninety also marked the beginning of federal recognition for organic agriculture: that year, Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act. The legislation instructed the Department of Agriculture -- which historically had treated organic farming with undisguised contempt -- to establish uniform national standards for organic food and farming, fixing the definition of a word that had always meant different things to different people.

Settling on that definition turned out to be a grueling decadelong process, as various forces both within and outside the movement battled for control of a word that had developed a certain magic in the marketplace. Agribusiness fought to define the word as broadly as possible, in part to make it easier for mainstream companies to get into organic but also out of fear that anything deemed not organic would henceforth carry an official stigma. At first, the U.S.D.A., acting out of longstanding habit, obliged its agribusiness clients, issuing a watery set of standards in 1997 that, incredibly, allowed for the use of genetic modification, irradiation and sewage sludge in organic food production. But an unprecedented flood of public comment from outraged organic farmers and consumers forced the U.S.D.A. back to the drawing board, in what was widely viewed as a victory for the movement's principles.

Yet while the struggle with agribusiness over the meaning of the word "organic" was making headlines, another, equally important struggle was under way at the U.S.D.A. between Big and Little Organic, and this time the outcome was decidedly more ambiguous. Could a factory farm be organic? Was an organic cow entitled to dine on pasture? Did food additives and synthetic chemicals have a place in organic processed food? If the answers to these seem like no-brainers, then you, too, are stuck in an outdated pastoral view of organic. Big Organic won all three arguments. The final standards, which will take effect next year, are widely seen as favoring the industry's big players. The standards do an admirable job of setting the bar for a more environmentally responsible kind of farming, but as perhaps was inevitable, many of the philosophical values embedded in the word "organic" did not survive the federal rule-making process.

Gene Kahn served on the U.S.D.A.'s National Organic Standards Board from 1992 to 1997, playing a key role in making the standards safe for the organic TV dinner and a great many other processed organic foods. This was no small feat, for Kahn and his allies had to work around the 1990 legislation establishing organic standards, which prohibited synthetic food additives. Kahn argued that you couldn't have organic processed foods without synthetics. Several of the consumer representatives on the standards board contended that this was precisely the point, and if no synthetics meant no organic TV dinners, then TV dinners were something organic simply shouldn't do.

Joan Dye Gussow, a nutritionist and an outspoken standards-board member, made the case against synthetics in a 1996 article that was much debated, "Can an Organic Twinkie Be Certified?" She questioned whether organic should simply mirror the existing food supply, with its highly processed, salted and sugary junk food, or whether it should aspire to something better -- a countercuisine. Kahn responded with market populism: if the consumer wants an organic Twinkie, then we should give it to him. As he put it to me on the drive back from Cascadian Farm, "Organic is not your mother." In the end, it came down to an argument between the old movement and the new industry, and the new industry won: the final standards simply ignored the 1990 law, drawing up a "national list" of permissible additives and synthetics, from ascorbic acid to xanthan gum.

"If we had lost on synthetics," Kahn told me, "we'd be out of business."

Kahn's victory cleared the way for the development of a parallel organic food supply: organic Heinz ketchup (already on the shelves in England), organic Hamburger Helper, organic Miracle Whip and, sooner or later, organic Twinkies. This is not a prospect everyone relishes. Even Kahn says: "I'm not looking forward to the organic Twinkie. But I will defend to the death anyone's right to create one!" Eliot Coleman, a Maine farmer and writer whose organic techniques have influenced two generations of farmers, is repulsed by the whole idea: "I don't care if the Wheaties are organic -- I wouldn't use them for compost. Processed organic food is as bad as any other processed food."

III. The Soul of a New TV Dinner

mall Planet Foods's headquarters in Sedro-Woolley occupies a downtown block of 19th-century brick storefronts in this faded and decidedly funky logging town. The storefronts have been converted into loftlike offices designed in the alternative-capitalist style: brick walls, air ducts and I-beams all in plain sight -- no facades here. Since every day is dress-down day at Small Planet Foods, Friday is the day everybody takes his or her dog to work. I spent a Friday in Woolley, learning the ins and outs of formulating, manufacturing and selling an organic TV dinner.

Steve Harper, Small Planet's chief food scientist, described the challenge of keeping a frozen herb sauce from separating unappetizingly (instead of modified food starch, organic food scientists rely on things like carrageenan, a seaweed derivative, to enhance "freeze-thaw stability") and explained the algorithm governing the relative size and population of chicken chunks (fewer bigger chunks give a better "quality perception" than a larger number of dice-size cubes). He also explained how they get that salty processed-food taste right inside a chicken chunk: marinade-injecting hypodermic needles.

If Harper is responsible for the "recipe" of a Cascadian Farm TV dinner, it falls to Marv Shelby, the company's vice president for operations, to get the meal "cooked." Shelby, who came to Small Planet after a career in operations at Birds Eye, handles the considerable logistics involved in moving three dozen ingredients on time to the co-packing plant in Alberta, Canada, where they are combined in a microwaveable bowl. He described an elaborate (and energy-intensive) choreography of ingredients, packaging and processes that takes place over a half-dozen states and two countries. Fresh broccoli, for instance, travels from a farm in the Central Valley to a plant in Sanger, Calif., where it is cut into florets, blanched and frozen. From California, the broccoli is trucked to Edmonton, Alberta, there to meet up with pieces of organic chicken that have traveled from a farm in Petaluma, Calif., with a stop at a processing plant in Salem, Ore., where they were defrosted, injected with marinade, cubed, cooked and refrozen. They don't call it processed food for nothing.

Most everyone I met at Small Planet Foods expressed a fervently held belief in the value of organic farming. There was a politics to their work, and if they had had to compromise certain ideals in order to adapt their products to the mainstream food system, all this was in service to a greater good they seemed never to lose sight of: converting the greatest number of acres of American farmland to organic agriculture. The solitary exception to this outlook was a vice president for marketing, the man most responsible for developing Cascadian's new slogan, "Taste You Can Believe In." R. Brooks Gekler is a marketing star at General Mills who was installed at Small Planet Foods immediately after the acquisition. A year later, Gekler, a handsome, well-spoken New York University M.B.A., was still something of an outsider at Small Planet Foods. "There are people here who regard me as the Antichrist," he joked. I think it was around the time he explained to me, apropos of his colleagues, that "some principles can be an obstacle to success" that I understood why this might be so.

"I came here to help the company identify its consumer target," Gekler explained crisply, "which is different from what they believed." In marketing parlance, Small Planet (like the rest of the organic industry) had traditionally directed its products toward someone called "the true natural" -- a committed, activist consumer. True naturals are the people on whom the organic food industry has been built, the outwardly directed, socially conscious consumers devoted to the proposition of "better food for a better planet." But while their numbers are growing -- true naturals now represent about 10 percent of the U.S. food market, as a large proportion of Gen X'ers join their ranks -- the future of organic, General Mills says, lies with a considerably larger group of even more affluent consumers called the "health seekers." It is to this group that Cascadian Farm is targeting its new TV dinners.

Health seekers, who today represent about a quarter of the market, are less "extrinsic" -- that is, more interested in their own health than that of the planet. They buy supplements, work out, drink wine, drive imported cars. They aren't interested in a countercuisine, which is why Cascadian's new line of frozen entrees eschews whole grains and embraces a decidedly middle-of-the road "flavor profile."

The chief reason the health seeker will buy organic is for the perceived health benefits. This poses a certain marketing challenge, however, since it has always been easier to make the environmental case for organic food than the health case. Although General Mills has put its new organic division under the umbrella of its "health initiatives" group, "organic" is not, at least officially, a health, nutrition or food-safety claim, a point that Dan Glickman, then secretary of agriculture, took pains to emphasize when he unveiled the U.S.D.A.'s new label in December: organic, he stressed, is simply "a production standard."

"At first, I thought the inability to make hard-hitting health claims" -- for organic -- was a hurdle," Gekler said when I asked him about this glitch. "But the reality is, all you have to say is 'organic' -- you don't need to provide any more information." These particular consumers -- who pay attention to the media, to food scares and to articles like this one -- take their own health claims to the word.

Suddenly the genius of Cascadian Farm's new slogan dawned on me. "Taste You Can Believe In": meaningless in and of itself, the slogan "allows the consumer to bring his or her personal beliefs to it," Gekler explained. While the true natural hears social values in the phrase "Believe In," the health seeker hears a promise of health and flavor. The slogan is an empty signifier, as the literary theorists would say, and what a good thing that is for a company like General Mills. How much better to let the consumers fill in the marketing message -- healthier, more nutritious, no pesticides, more wholesome, sustainable, safer, purer -- because these are controversial comparative claims that, as Gekler acknowledged, "make the conventional food industry very uncomfortable."

Before I left his office, I asked Gekler about his own beliefs -- whether or not he believed that organic food was better food. He paused for a long time, no doubt assessing the cost of either answer, and deftly punted.

"I don't know yet."

IV. Down on the Industrial Organic Farm

o farm I have ever visited before prepared me for the industrial organic farms I saw in California. When I think about organic farming, I think family farm, I think small scale, I think hedgerows and compost piles and battered pickup trucks. I don't think migrant laborers, combines, thousands of acres of broccoli reaching clear to the horizon. To the eye, these farms look exactly like any other industrial farm in California -- and in fact the biggest organic operations in the state today are owned and operated by conventional mega-farms. The same farmer who is applying toxic fumigants to sterilize the soil in one field is in the next field applying compost to nurture the soil's natural fertility.

Is there something wrong with this picture? It all depends on where you stand. Gene Kahn makes the case that the scale of a farm has no bearing on its fidelity to organic principles and that unless organic "scales up" it will "never be anything more than yuppie food." To prove his point, Kahn sent me to visit large-scale farms whose organic practices were in many ways quite impressive, including the Central Valley operation that grows vegetables for his frozen dinners and tomatoes for Muir Glen.

Greenways Organic is a successful 2,000-acre organic-produce operation tucked into a 24,000-acre conventional farm outside Fresno; the crops, the machines, the crews, the rotations and the fields were indistinguishable, and yet two very different kinds of industrial agriculture are being practiced here side by side.

In place of petrochemical fertilizers, Greenways's organic fields are nourished by compost made by the ton at a horse farm nearby. Insects are controlled with biological agents and beneficial insects like lacewings. Frequent and carefully timed tilling, as well as propane torches, keeps down the weeds, perhaps the industrial organic farmer's single stiffest challenge. This approach is at best a compromise: running tillers through the soil so frequently is destructive to its tilth, yet weeding a 160-acre block of broccoli by hand is unrealistic.

Since Greenways grows the same crops conventionally and organically, I was interested to hear John Diener, one of the farm's three partners, say he knew for a fact that his organic crops were "better," and not only because they hadn't been doused with pesticide. When Diener takes his tomatoes to the cannery, the organic crop reliably receives higher Brix scores -- a measure of the sugars in fruits and vegetables. It seems that crops grown on nitrogen fertilizer take up considerably more water, thereby diluting their nutrients, sugars and flavors. The same biochemical process could explain why many people -- including the many chefs who swear by organic ingredients -- believe organic produce simply tastes better. With less water in it, the flavor and the nutrients of a floret of organic broccoli will be more concentrated than one grown with chemical fertilizers.

It's too simple to say that smaller organic farms are automatically truer to the organic ideal than big ones. In fact, the organic ideal is so exacting -- a sustainable system that requires not only no synthetic chemicals but also few purchased inputs of any kind and that returns as much to the soil as it removes -- that it is most often honored in the breach. Yet the farmers who come closest to achieving this ideal do tend to be smaller in scale. These are the farmers who plant dozens of different crops in fields that resemble quilts and practice long and elaborate rotations, thereby achieving the rich biodiversity in space and time that is the key to making a farm sustainable.

For better or worse, these are not the kinds of farms Small Planet Foods does business with today. It's simply more efficient to buy from one 1,000-acre farm than 10 100-acre farms. Indeed, Cascadian Farm the corporation can't even afford to use produce from Cascadian Farm the farm: it's too small. So the berries grown there are sold at a roadside stand, while the company buys berries for freezing from as far away as Chile.

he big question is whether the logic of an industrial food chain can be reconciled to the logic of the natural systems on which organic agriculture has tried to model itself. Put another way, Is "industrial organic" a contradiction in terms?

Kahn is convinced it is not, but others both inside and outside his company see a tension. Sarah Huntington is one of Cascadian's oldest employees. She worked alongside Kahn on the farm and at one time or another has held just about every job in the company. "The maw of that processing plant beast eats 10 acres of cornfield an hour," she told me. "And you're locked into planting a particular variety like Jubilee that ripens all at once and holds up in processing. So you see how the system is constantly pushing you back toward monoculture, which is anathema in organic. But that's the challenge -- to change the system more than it changes you."

One of the most striking ways Small Planet Foods is changing the system is by helping conventional farms convert a portion of their acreage to organic. Several thousand acres of American farmland are now organic as a result of the company's efforts, which go well beyond offering contracts to providing instruction and even management. Kahn has helped to prove to the skeptical that organic -- dismissed as "hippie farming" not very long ago -- can work on a large scale. The environmental benefits of this educational process shouldn't be underestimated. And yet the industrialization of organic comes at a price. The most obvious is consolidation: today five giant farms control fully one-half of the $400 million organic produce market in California. Partly as a result, the price premium for organic crops is shrinking. This is all to the good for expanding organic's market beyond yuppies, but it is crushing many of the small farmers for whom organic has represented a profitable niche, a way out of the cheap-food economics that has ravaged American farming over the last few decades. Indeed, many of the small farmers present at the creation of organic agriculture today find themselves struggling to compete against the larger players, as the familiar, dismal history of American agriculture begins to repeat itself in the organic sector.

This has opened up a gulf in the movement between Big and Little Organic and convinced many of the movement's founders that the time has come to move "beyond organic" -- to raise the bar on American agriculture yet again. Some of these innovating farmers want to stress fair labor standards, others quality or growing exclusively for local markets. In Maine, Eliot Coleman has pioneered a sophisticated market garden entirely under plastic, to supply his "food shed" with local produce all winter long; even in January his solar-heated farm beats California on freshness and quality, if not price. In Virginia, Joel Salatin has developed an ingenious self-sufficient rotation of grass-fed livestock: cattle, chickens and rabbits that take turns eating, and feeding, the same small pasture. There are hundreds of these "beyond organic" farmers springing up now around the country. The fact is, however, that the word "organic" -- having entered the vocabulary of both agribusiness and government -- is no longer these farmers' to redefine. Coleman and Salatin, both of whom reject the U.S.D.A. organic label, are searching for new words to describe what it is they're doing. Michael Ableman, a "beyond organic" farmer near Santa Barbara, Calif., says: "We may have to give up on the word 'organic,' leave it to the Gene Kahns of the world. To be honest, I'm not sure I want the association, because what I'm doing on my farm is not just substituting materials."

Not long ago at a conference on organic agriculture, a corporate organic farmer suggested to a family farmer struggling to survive in the competitive world of industrial organic agriculture that he "should really try to develop a niche to distinguish yourself in the market." The small farmer replied: "I believe I developed that niche 20 years ago. It's called 'organic.' And now you're sitting on it."

V. Gene Kahn Visits the Mothership

n March, I accompanied Gene Kahn on one of his monthly visits to the General Mills headquarters, a grassy corporate campus strewn with modern sculptures in the suburbs outside Minneapolis. In deference to Fortune 500 etiquette, I put on a suit and tie but quickly realized I was overdressed: Kahn had on his usual khakis and a denim work shirt embroidered with a bright red Muir Glen tomato. When I said something, Kahn told me he makes a point of not changing his clothes when he goes to Minneapolis. I get it: an organic farmer in an embroidered work shirt is part of what General Mills was acquiring when it acquired Small Planet Foods. Yet this particular organic farmer is presumably a far sight wealthier than most of his new corporate colleagues: when General Mills bought Small Planet Foods for an estimated $70 million, Kahn still owned 10 percent of the company.

Together, Kahn and I toured General Mills's Bell Technical Center, a sprawling research-and-development facility where some 900 food scientists, chemists, industrial designers and nutritionists dream up and design both the near- and long-term future of American food. This was Kahn's first visit to the facility, and as we moved from lab to lab, I could see his boyish enthusiasm mounting as he collected new ideas and business cards.

In the packaging-design lab, even before Arne Brauner could finish explaining how he engineered the boxes, bowls and cups in which General Mills sells its products, Kahn asked him, "Has there ever been a completely edible packaging for food?" Brauner rubbed his chin for a moment.

"The sausage. That was probably the first."

Kahn now told him about the bowl in which Cascadian Farm sold its frozen entrees. Plastic would have turned off the organic consumer, he explained, so they were using coated paperboard, which isn't readily recyclable. Would it be possible, Kahn wondered, to make a microwaveable bowl out of biodegradable food starch? Brauner said he had heard about a cornstarch clamshell for fast-food burgers and offered to look into it. Kahn took his card.

Kahn had another, more off-the-wall request for Perry May, the man in charge of General Mills's machine shop. This is where engineers and machinists make the machines that make the food. Kahn asked Perry if his shop could help develop a prototype for a new weeding machine he had dreamed up for organic farmers. "It would be an optical weeder with a steam generator on board," Kahn explained. "The scanner would distinguish between a weed and a corn plant, say, and then zap the weed with a jet of hot steam." May thought it might be doable; they exchanged cards.

"I feel like a kid in a candy store," Kahn told me afterward. "Organic has never had these kinds of resources at its disposal."

On the drive back from Bell, Kahn grew positively effervescent about the "organic synergies" that could come from General Mills's acquisition of Pillsbury, a $10.5 billion deal now awaiting F.T.C. approval. Pillsbury owns Green Giant, and the prospect of being able to draw on that company's scientists (and patents) has planted agronomic fantasies in the fevered brain of the former farmer: broccoli specifically bred for organic production ("We've never had anything like that!"); an organic version of Niblets, Green Giant's popular proprietary corn; carrots bred for extra vitamin content. In fact, Kahn got so worked up spinning his vision of the industrial organic future that he got us lost.

o this was how Kahn proposed to change the American food system from within: by leveraging its capital and know-how on behalf of his dream. Which prompts the question, Just how does the American food system feel about all this? As Kahn and I made the rounds of General Mills's senior management, he in his work shirt, I in my suit, I tried to find out how these tribunes of agribusiness regarded their new vice president's organic dream, exactly how it fit into their vision of the future of food.

The future of food, I learned, is toward ever more health and convenience -- the two most important food trends today -- at no sacrifice of taste. "Our corporate philosophy," as one senior vice president, Danny Strickland, put it, "is to give consumers what they want with no trade-offs." Organic fits into this philosophy in so far as the company's market research shows that consumers increasingly want it and believe it's healthier.

The acquisition of a leading organic food company is part of a company-wide "health initiative" -- along with adding calcium to various product lines and developing "functional foods" like Harmony, a soy-and-calcium-fortified cereal aimed at menopausal women. When I asked Ian Friendly, the sharp, young executive in charge of the company's health-initiative group, if this meant that General Mills believed organic was more healthful than conventional food, he deftly shifted vocabulary, suggesting that "wellness' is perhaps a better word." Wellness is more of a whole gestalt or lifestyle, which includes things like yoga, massage and working out. It quickly became clear that in the eyes of General Mills, organic is not a revolution so much as a market niche, like menopausal women or "ethnics," and that health is really a matter of consumer perception. You did not have to buy into the organic "belief system" to sell it. When I asked Strickland if he believed that organic food was in any way better, he said: "Better? It depends. Food is subjective. Perceptions depend on circumstances."

I got much the same response from other General Mills executives. The words "better food," uttered so unself-consciously in Sedro-Woolley, rang in their offices like a phrase from a dead language. Steve Sanger, the company's chairman, said: "I'm certain it's better for some people. It depends on their particular beliefs." Sheri Schellhaas, vice president for research and development, said, "The question is, Do consumers believe organic is healthier?" Marc Belton, a senior vice president for cereals and the executive most responsible for the Small Planet acquisition, put it this way: "Is it better food? . . . You know, so much of life is what you make of it. If it's right for you, it's better -- if you feel it's better, it is."

At General Mills, it would seem, the whole notion of objective truth has been replaced by a kind of value-neutral consumer constructivism, in which each sovereign shopper constructs his own reality: "Taste You Can Believe In." Kahn understands that there is no percentage in signing onto the organic belief system, not when you also have Trix and Go-Gurt and Cinnamon Toast Milk and Cereal Bars to sell, yet, as he acknowledged later, contemporary corporate relativism drives him a little nuts.

Old-fashioned objective truth did make a brief reappearance when Kahn and I visited the quality-assurance lab deep in the bowels of the Bell center. This is where technicians grind up Trix and Cheerios and run them through a mass spectrometer to make sure pesticide residues don't exceed F.D.A. "tolerances." Pesticide residues are omnipresent in the American food supply: the F.D.A. finds them in 30 to 40 percent of the food it samples. Many of them are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters -- dangerous at some level of exposure. The government has established acceptable levels for these residues in crops, though whether that means they're safe to consume is debatable: in setting these tolerances the government has historically weighed the risk to our health against the benefit -- to agriculture, that is. The tolerances also haven't taken into account that children's narrow diets make them especially susceptible or that the complex mixtures of chemicals to which we're exposed heighten the dangers.

Harry Leichtweis, a senior research analytical chemist at General Mills, tests for hundreds of different chemical compounds, not only the 400 pesticides currently approved by the E.P.A. but also the dozens of others that have been banned over the years as their dangers became known. Decades later, many of these toxins remain in the soil and continue to show up in our food. "We still find background levels of DDT and chlordane," he explained. Now the lab tests Small Planet Foods's products too. So I asked Leichtweis, who is a pale, rail-thin scientist with Coke-bottle specs and no discernible affect, if organic foods, as seen from the perspective of a mass spectrometer, are any different.

"Well, they don't contain pesticide."

Leichtweis had struck a blow for old-fashioned empiricism. Whatever else you might say about an organic TV dinner, it almost certainly contains less pesticide than a conventional one. Gene Kahn was beaming.

VI. Local Farm

y journey through the changing world of organic food has cured me of my naive supermarket pastoralism, but it hasn't put me off my organic feed. I still fill my cart with the stuff. The science might still be sketchy, but common sense tells me organic is better food -- better, anyway, than the kind grown with organophosphates, with antibiotics and growth hormones, with cadmium and lead and arsenic (the E.P.A. permits the use of toxic waste in fertilizers), with sewage sludge and animal feed made from ground-up bits of other animals as well as their own manure. Very likely it's better for me and my family, and unquestionably it is better for the environment. For even if only 1 percent of the chemical pesticides sprayed by American farmers end up as residue in our food, the other 99 percent are going into the environment -- which is to say, into our drinking water, into our rivers, into the air that farmers and their neighbors breathe. By now it makes little sense to distinguish the health of the individual from that of the environment.

Still, while it surely represents real progress for agribusiness to be selling organic food rather than fighting it, I'm not sure I want to see industrialized organic become the only kind in the market. Organic is nothing if not a set of values (this is better than that), and to the extent that the future of those values is in the hands of companies that are finally indifferent to them, that future will be precarious.

Also, there are values that the new corporate -- and government -- construction of "organic" leaves out, values that once were part and parcel of the word but that have since been abandoned as impractical or unprofitable. I'm thinking of things like locally grown, like the humane treatment of animals, like the value of a shorter and more legible food chain, the preservation of family farms, even the promise of a countercuisine. To believe that the U.S.D.A. label on a product ensures any of these things is, as I discovered, naive.

Yet if the word "organic" means anything, it means that all these things are ultimately connected: that the way we grow food is inseparable from the way we distribute food, which is inseparable from the way we eat food. The original premise, remember, the idea that got Kahn started in 1971, was that the whole industrial food system -- and not just chemical agriculture -- was in some fundamental way unsustainable. It's impossible to read the papers these days without beginning to wonder if this insight wasn't prophetic. I'm thinking, of course, of mad cow disease, of the 76 million cases of food poisoning every year (a rate higher than in 1948), of StarLink corn contamination, of the 20-year-old farm crisis, of hoof-and-mouth disease and groundwater pollution, not to mention industrial food's dubious "solutions" to these problems: genetic engineering and antibiotics and irradiation. Buying food labeled organic protects me from some of these things, but not all; industrial organic may well be necessary to fix this system, but it won't be sufficient.

Many of the values that industrial organic has jettisoned in recent years I find compelling, so I've started to shop with them in mind. I happen to believe, for example, that farms produce more than food; they also produce a kind of landscape, and if I buy my organic milk from halfway across the country, the farms I like to drive by every day will eventually grow nothing but raised ranch houses. So instead of long-haul ultrapasteurized milk from Horizon, I've started buying my milk, unpasteurized, from a dairy right here in town, Local Farm. Debra Tyler is organic, but she doesn't bother mentioning the fact on her label. Why? "My customers can see for themselves what I'm doing here," she says. What she's doing is milking nine pastured Jersey cows whose milk changes taste and hue with the seasons.

"Eat Your View!" is a save-the-farms bumper sticker you see in Europe now. I guess that's part of what I'm trying to do. But I'm also trying to get away from the transcontinental strawberry (5 calories of food energy, I've read, that it takes 435 calories of fossil-fuel energy to deliver to my door) and the organic "home meal replacement" sold in a package that will take 500 years to decompose. (Does that make me a True Natural?) So I've tracked down a local source for grass-fed beef (Chris Hopkins), eggs (Debra Tyler again) and maple syrup (Phil Hart), and on Saturday mornings I buy produce at a farmer's market in a neighboring town. I also have a line on a C.S.A. ("community supported agriculture"), or "subscription farm," a new marketing scheme from Europe that seems to be catching on here. You put up a couple of hundred dollars every spring and then receive a weekly box of produce through the summer. Not all of the farmers I'm buying from are certified organic. But I talk to them, see what they're up to, learn how they define the term. Sure, it's more trouble than buying organic food at the supermarket, but I'm resolved to do it anyway. Because organic is not the last word, and it's not just lunch.

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the author of "The Botany of Desire," to be published this week.

SAD DEATH by Supermarket

S.A.D Death by Supermarket?

SAD: Standard American Diet

Result: Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, Auto Immune Disease


We have shopped at supermarkets since the 1970’s.  Who hasn’t shopped in one?

Over the last 40 odd years the ‘one stop shop’ supermarket has become part of our social fabric.  Most towns throughout NZ are now defined by their presence.

Depending on your view of these symbols of the food industry, they are either welcomed with red ribbon openings as a sign of progression or regarded as a purveyor of disease as they spread like a cancer throughout our communities.  As the last corner grocers and independent food retailers buckle under the weight of supermarket price manipulations we rejoice in the cheaper food options available. Supermarket shelves are filled with products sourced from all over the world.  The diverse range of foods on offer is indeed impressive, and compared with the days when olive oil and avocados were things one only found when travelling overseas, we are now wellserved with a humongous range of food from every corner of the world all year round.

It is a world wide western phenomenon. One that surely makes us feel part of the progressive world.  Supermarkets have become part of our social psyche. They bear a resemblance to other ubiquitous gathering places like airports, hotels and fast food chain outlets; uniform in their appearance and familiar in their purpose and function, devoid of intentionally obvious social differentiation. We find their sameness comforting as they allow us to maintain our habitual ways of using them, we feel comforted in the fog of nutritional propaganda that they pump out in the more conservative channels of the media.  We feel satiated by the barbiturate effects of the SAD foods we purchase and we are hooked, returning again and again. We have become dependent upon them. Addicted.

SAD foods make up the bulk of what lines the supermarket shelves. Around 84% are of the highly processed nutrient deficient kind laced with addictive ingredients like refined sugar. We can get our fix 24/7.  Local culture, once defined by its food in  some places in the world, is being replaced by this SAD diet.  The supermarket tendrils  are long as they cater for any demographic and ethnicity. Middle Eastern foods to organics, booze to barista coffee, baked breads and sausages.  Like junkies, we find it hard to imagine life without them. They push the products upon us and create the illusion of choice.  Our national pride is fuelled in the knowledge that they can provide us with the best of what are NZ’s best foods. We are  the biggest exporter of dairy, and NZ lamb and beef is world class.

If the supermarkets are the street corner pushers then the meat, dairy, wheat and sugar industries which supply them with the goods are the dealers.  These industries have grown and flourished in an unregulated environment since we began to adopt the characteristics of the American diet in the mid 50’s. Supermarkets, like the size of their trolleys, keep getting bigger, they can afford prime positions within our towns where once the corner grocer may have stood. The industry is so large and the supplying companies so profitable that the representatives of these companies influence and create government policy from food regulations, export and import legislation to Recommended Daily Allowances of food. Their proxies stand on boards that influence what we eat, they fund health advisory groups and provide funding and sponsorship of medical research. Revenue from the profits in food production are such that these industries and corporates are a force to reckon with.

It’s what the people want they say. Free trade, free choice. It is true. Choice is good.  People too are free to choose what they eat, where they shop.  Supermarkets provide us with cheap food.  They are shrewd in marketing using words like locally owned and market fresh to keep their sceptical customers. They provide jobs,  they buy from local businesses, we don’t gohungry.  They feed the world by creating food industries.  The owners are capable of philanthropy.  Free trade is good we are told.


But, not everyone is convinced. There is a shifting culture of conscience afoot and many of us won’t have noticed it.  It has been triggered by the epidemic of illness thatis being fuelled by the SAD diet whichsupermarkets base their existence and profits on.  It grows from a discontent at the realisation that perhaps all is not well in the food industry we have come to rely on. Some of us are awakening to the realisation that contrary to the propaganda which pretends to offer choice, there is in fact very little.

Countdown has around 2,400 private labels and Foodstuffs around 3,000and many of these arebranded in ways to make customers think they are buying independent ‘home made’ ‘artisan’ ‘wholesome’ products when in fact it is simply a deception.

People have become fat and lazy as a consequence of their shopping choices. There is suddenlynowhere else to shop.

What has been lost?  A butcher, a baker, a fish shop, a couple of specialist grocers, maybe a florist, pet shop, hardware shop, fruit and vege shop?   Once these buildings become vacant soon tofollow  willbe theclosureof other businesses in the immediate area which previouslyrelied on the foot traffic. Have you noticed thishappen before? It’s a common occurrence and has been the subject of university theses and urban development studies.

Most small owner operated food businesses simply cannot compete with predatory pricing from supermarkets.  Supermarkets like their cousins the big box stores kill small towns by killing smallbusiness.  This phenomenon has a name – the‘Dead Zone’ or ‘Food Deserts’. These dead zones are characterised firstly by the closure of long standing small owner operator businesses.  Then there is usually a proliferation of fast food and chain junk food outlets. Small towns  are robbed of any individuality they may have had, their character resembles that of other small towns suffering the same disease. They have none of their own individuality.


Smallbusinesses which offer unique character are snuffed out.  They become ubiquitous like the supermarkets that define them. They change what we need and want by restricting what we can want and what we might need. In the end we have no choice other than to buy from them, we need food after all.  The effect on the community is profound.  The only food available is processed and junk. Those most impacted by this usually live in the immediate area and are those whose social circumstances are such that they are unable or unlikely to search further afield for other food sources.

Customers are realising sometimes too late that while they have been busy enjoying the convenience of the supermarket the small businesses they may have once supported are either in their death throes or are now vacant buildings.

By killing off those small local businesses which may have provided uswithlocalfreshmeats and small goods, freshly made authentic baked goods, fresh fish and fresh fruit and vegetables means fewer local farmers providing food, fewer farmers growing grains for localflours, fewer horticulturists growing fruit and vegetables, fewer local fishing boats in our harbours.


Small independently ownedfarms struggle to  compete to supply eggs, and chicken and pork when it can be grown more cheaply and efficiently fromfactory farms both in NZ and overseas.  Small independently owned horticulturists struggle to compete with cheap imports from overseas. Small goods producers struggle to compete with imported lines.  Smallproducers cannot compete with large industrial sized production.  You will have heard about the buying power of supermarkets before. Nothing has changed.

They have the power to undercut any competition on price. Here’s an example of what they do. They find out what are the top selling products of their competitors no matter how small that business may be.   Then with the buying might they have they buy cheap from suppliers thereby undercutting the opposition. Then, once they have beaten the opposition they can either refuse to buy from the supplierunless the price is again lowered or they can just put the price back up. Either way the supermarket dictates to the small producer.

It is also common practice in the industry to replicate a popular product at the expense of theoriginal one. The Lewis Road Creamery saga is an example of this.  Fair competition?  Most consumers are easily led and even fewer may realise the inferior product they end up with.

The insidious  nature of the business cannot be understated.  Buying out the small operator is common practice to ensure maximum profits.  You can’t blame the original owners for wanting to cash in their hard work but what usually transpires in these deals is the end of anything  ‘ethical’. Big food industries have seldom  got where they are by being ethical or sustainable. They are, however, very good at disguising their greed and avarice by ‘giving back’.

Supermarkets are not independently owned.  In the case of Foodstuffs they may have local operators but the operators are tied to the larger conglomerate like the operators of McDonalds outlets.

New Zealand’s supermarket trade is the most concentrated in the world having only two corporates; Foodstuffs with New World, Pak n Save, 4 Square, Henrys, Liquorland, Raeward Fresh and Trents, Progressive Enterprises with Countdown, SuperValue and Fresh Choice. Progressive Enterprises is owned by Australian giant Woolworths.  The supermarket industry  is remarkably unregulated, until you realise how much political power they weild. The mercenary head of the Food and Grocery council is ex cabinet minister Katherine Rich.

The reality is that when two corporates dominate, the likelihood of unfair and unjust business practice is high.

There are calls for some form of regulation in NZ to rope in these ruthless corporations. The supermarkets currently have the ability to exploit the current hole in legislation and regulation  and do whatever they like.  Theduopoly that these giants wield over us is unrestrained. But economics aside, the biggest problem with this industry is what it is pushing.  They call it food.


There is an increasing awareness oflocal andmore wholesome, organic foods and a desire to eat them. Supermarkets are shrewd in their marketing by reflecting  the current trend in their promotion, labelling and packaging to try and capture this latest audience. But those of us who don’t rely on the mainstream media for information are not so easily taken in.

Fancy packaging and using the right words like local,  market andfresh are not enough to calm the increasing awareness and alarm regarding the fact that there is strong correlation between processed food and disease. Processed foods make up a large percentage of the food stocked in supermarkets and dietary related chronic disease afflicts a large percentage of the people who eat that kind of food.  Diabetes, cancer, heart disease, strokes and auto immune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, are being linked to poor diet. A Standard American Diet is one that the majority of westerners suffer today.  Refined products, processed foods, sugar, meat, dairy and alcohol.  You know where you shop for them.

These are historic times of mega food production. The tendrils of the industrial era have reached every corner of the world.  Today even third world countries are reportedly producing corn, wheat, soy and palm oil all in the name of free trade and economic development schemes. Depending where you look, you can find stories of success and stories of disaster. But the fact is that the industrial model of farming has enveloped the world. It is USA driven. Yet still people starve. This is the long arm of the industrial food system with the supermarket at one end and environmental destruction at the other.

So what does the future of food look like?  Statistics and general common sense tell us that it looks grim for most people who consume the SAD diet readily available from a supermarket near you.  If there are no alternatives where do we get our food?


Fortunately there is hope.  Fortunately that culture shift is having an impact on lives near you. You can see it in the small producers and growers at Farmers Markets.  You can find it at small food farms and those keen to reinstate the orchards and berry fields that have been lost over the years. People are discovering the benefits of eating well and avoiding the SAD foods. They are seeking out certified organic foods and growers. They are choosing to shop elsewhere. They are realising what they had nearly lost.

But sadly there are many who have not realised the link between their supermarket SAD diet and their health. While health boards are funded by the meat and dairy industry and words like saturated fat are used instead of words like meat many people will continue to experience extremely poor health.  This cultural shift is also evident in other countries who also suffer the blight of supermarket dominance. Take for example the supermarket tax system which was enforced in Northern Ireland and Scotland until governments buckled under pressure. More recently the discussions in local council chambers in the UK indicate some individuals are concerned enough to give tax consideration.  Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good.  Whereas just 50% is likely to leave the area from local independent retailers.  How can we reinstate quality food distribution?

I am incidentally, all for less government involvement in our lives. However when elected councillors and government representatives cower to lobbyists representing  greedy and ruthless food industries and when greedy unethical individuals push for trade deals and food safety legislation whilst we humble consumers get fatter and sicker then who is accountable?  When we are well most of us would want a healthy community and healthy land  and also want to see a fair distribution of money which contributes to local jobs and local trades.  We would also want a local counciland a government who understood the link between food production and self reliance.

Are the benefits of a healthypopulation sought after?  Shouldn’t small business educational programmes that encourage sustainable methods of food production be the norm? Where could we relearn about real food in schools free from the insidious industry sponsorship which corrupts our youth now?    We need small business incentives and big business regulations.  Tax the bastards. It is working with tobacco and needs to be extended to the (frankly) poisonous food peddled in the supermarket.

If the  long term political social mandate was to ensure that there was a culturalunderstanding of the link between our health and ourdependency on real food we could steer ourselves away from the immediate future whichconsists of a grossly unhealthy population defined by trade agreements, corporate greed and the processed food industry.  Stand in the street and look at the people.

So where do you choose to buy your food?

‘No future, your future dream is a shopping scheme’. Johnny Rotten‘No future’.

Supermarket Tax: Ref:

Dead Zones:

The Life and Death of the Super market. Thesis by Mathew Lee