By: Darrin Duber-Smith
When a brand is marketed as Certified Organic it must adhere to the tenants of the National Organic Program, a set of stringent requirements that affirm a product's "organic-ness". This program is regulated by the USDA and each organic producer is affirmed by ongoing third-party certification. But sometimes that certification is a bit lax, and some producers have been known to take certain liberties with regard to a business model that, quite frankly, involves very high costs. Luckily, these producers can charge a premium that trickles all the way down the supply chain to the consumer, who is willing to pay a premium for an organic product.
Aurora Organic Dairy has been criticized since its inception for the crime of being "too big" to be truly organic, and a Washington Post story published last year asserted that it had uncovered some potential violations. As a result, the USDA dutifully performed an investigation and found the "mega-dairy" to be in compliance after all. Smaller producers cried foul, some even alleging that large producers like Aurora Organic are somehow colluding with the Organic Trade Association, a non-profit trade group that represents the industry. Smaller producers don't like the fact that a dairy that is large enough to supply the likes of Wal-Mart, Costco and Target can adhere to standards that many believe were really intended for smaller operations. And so many of them have become a bit unhinged. I watched it happen.
But the National Organic Program has been a huge success over its 25 year history, with revenues through the roof, increasing supply, widening distribution channels, and prices falling to what many consider to be reasonable levels. In other words, most Americans now have access to organic products, and it is the larger players throughout the supply chain that have made this happen. Small companies, however well-intentioned, are notoriously unable to keep up with the myriad demands of being a major member of a supply chain. That's the problem with being small.
It's the large brands that meet most of America's demand for organic products. But don't expect this simple truth to stop various industry activists, most of whom own for-profit companies, from protesting against those that are larger and more powerful than they. They have been doing it for years. Larger companies, especially those who come from mainstream sectors, in the natural and organic products industry have always been bullied by organized smaller industry insiders, a phenomenon I have personally witnessed over a 25 year career in the industry. In fact, the vindication of Aurora Organic might anger the "little guy", but it nevertheless is a good thing for the industry and Americans as a whole. It would be refreshing if more organic industry leaders, instead of being threatened by the success of competitors, recall the mantra that the whole point of the organic movement is to eventually overtake conventional agriculture because it's supposed to be better for people and the environment. And this just isn't possible without big organic companies making big organic things happen.
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