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These days organic food is a major trend and a multi billion dollar business. We find organic food in supermarkets in all shapes and forms. Advertising would have us believe that this organic food comes from idyllic small farms where farmers work the land by hand using traditional methods. It is a wonderful concept, but is it true? Is this the same high quality food that comes from home gardens and local farmers’ markets?

The TV advertisement below is from Ja Natürlich (translated: Yes Naturally), the organic brand of the German Rewe Group, which owns several supermarket chains in Austria such as Billa (Billiger Laden, translated: Cheap Store). This is how they describe their organic products:

What a cute ad. It starts off with the piglet saying, "Dear happy chickens, the farmer wants to take your picture." It goes on like this and certainly gives the impression that a decision for Ja Natürlich eggs is a choice that is healthy for us and supports small farmers still using traditional hand tools. The peaceful countryside setting is complete with chickens, an adorable talking piglet running freely around in an old barn yard, and even the farmer’s old-timer Nikon rangefinder camera is used to take their picture. The ad makes quite a bold claim: "Eggs from overly happy chickens." It would be wonderful if it was true, but is this really from where our precious store-bought organic eggs come from?

Fortunately, we can check. Each egg is printed with a code and Ja Natürlich gives the address of each farm. So next time I’m near a Billa supermarket, I go take a look.

Lets look at the first one:

Each egg has the code of the farm*:

They don’t give us the exact street address of the farm, but a quick internet search finds it easily. Let’s check it out on Google Maps. Their address looks like their family home, but just a few meters away we find this industrial farm building:

The arial photo, showing a tiny strip of green running alongside the building has
been removed, as there is some concern that the supermarket will lash out
at the farmer in attempt to save face.

This is not exactly the image we have in mind when we buy organic free range eggs, is it? Researching a little more, we find this magazine article written about this farm in 2009:

The photo caption reads: "During the day, these chickens are allowed to be freely outside, but in this picture they prefer to stay in." Of course they do, this is where they are fed, given water and locked up for the night. That little strip of grass outside is for us, not for them.

Is Organic Supermarket Food a Lie? Ja Natürlich!

In today’s money-driven globalized world, organic only means “you’re food is not full of poison”. It says little about animal welfare and nothing about quality and environmental sustainability. It is a business, just like any other. In recent years it has become even worse since the European Union has diluted organic regulations under pressure from mega corporations hungry for “organic profits”. If you actually read what the EU calls organic, you’d be shocked.

Of course this doesn’t mean that all supermarket eggs come from industrial farms. There are still a few small farmers in the system, but surely more for public relations and advertising than for their eggs.

What can we do?

So what can we do about it? Protest, boycott, write letters? No, this doesn’t help. Supermarkets and the industrial food system won’t change, and certainly won’t admit they are doing something wrong (like deceiving consumers). They would probably find a clever way to spin the blame on poor farmers, who are very much victims of bad agriculture policy and impossible market conditions due to globalization.

We need to take responsibility and control into our own hands. The food choices that we make determine our health and shape landscapes, culture, economics and politics! After all, what we eat becomes part of us, our flesh and bones — 3 times a day!

Here is what we can do starting today

  • Stop supporting industrial food by buying it. Organic is better than conventional, but still not good.
  • Build relationships with small local farmers that believe in quality and practice sustainable agriculture.
  • Learn to grow our own food.

This gives us better, healthier, tastier, animal and environmentally friendly food! We pay less or nothing, support our local farmers to do a great job growing healthy food and no longer have to depend on greedy lying corporations and corrupt governments for basic survival.

It’s our choice.

By the way, this is what a truly happy chicken looks like:

*Note: The identity of the farmer has been removed. Ja! Natürlich has already put the blame on this organic farmer and threatened to cancel his contract. This author stands behind organic farmers and its intent is to inform people about misleading advertising practiced by companies such as Ja! Natürlich.

Further Reading/Watching:

10 Responses to “Is Organic Supermarket Food a Lie?”

  1. Barbara Schanel

    Amen! This is the direction my family is heading. We hope to conduct an experiment in a couple of years in which we produce 100% of our food for a year on our own place.

    Reply
  2. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    There are a lot of lies in the food industry, and they’ll only become more common as the economy continues to tank – not only because people feel they have to cut corners more and more to make a profit, but also because there’s no funding for regulatory monitoring.

    Here’s a recent case in point:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21375594

    Reply
  3. Dolph Cooke

    Hey what is sad is only a few of us care and us few would never support this system anyway. 95% of consumers are zombies as long as they don’t die from the food they eat they will never care where it comes from.

    My prediction is the current trend will crash and people will have a lot of problems once they awake and see the planet is polluted.

    Great article : )

    Reply
  4. knighter

    we are lucky in australia
    if the food has one of the 7ish certified organic stamps then munch away
    if there is no stamp dont buy it.
    be happy

    Reply
  5. Jenny

    This is a good read. Glad I haven’t wasted my money buying “organic”. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of it. I started buying from local producers some time ago, which has been much better.

    I hope to have my own permaculture designed place, one day soon.

    Reply
  6. Damien

    Thank you for this informative article. I have been angry at the prices of organic produce for some time. I am growing commercially this year and plan to make sure the food is cheaper than non organic produce. I will not budge from this goal. whatever it takes to achieve this, i will fight it all the way, or give it away for free, like nature intended as i do not want to be a part of money system anymore. My Grandfather used to call organic produce “Food”.

    Reply
  7. Fraser Bliss

    Although virtually all supermarkets are false advertising, I decided to shine some light on this particular one as their ads are especially deceptive. Ja! Natürlich has been running TV ads like this for years. I doubt there is an Austrian not familiar with the brand. Kids especially love the little talking piglet. But as Dolph said, most consumers are clueless zombies. On the bright side, maybe this will motivate some into positive action.

    It was shocking facts like these that finally woke me up years ago and impelled me to go travel the world, do aid work and start-up Bliss Permaculture.

    FYI, this article is also available in German:

    Ist Bio aus dem Supermarkt eine Lüge?
    http://BlissPermaculture.com/de/blog/ist-bio-aus-dem-supermarkt-eine-luege-ja-naturlich/

    Reply
  8. Bonnie Helmar

    Amanda, of the 63rd Street Farm in Boulder, has an organic farm and website to check out for yourself if you like.

    Reply
  9. Ute

    On the positive side, the article shows that many people *want* better food. Big Ag and Big Business are serving a need, albeit in a deceiving manner. This debate has been around for some time and it has been highlighted time and again that folks should know their labels. Many of the European continental organic certifiers’ standards (such as Bioland, Demeter etc.) go way beyond the very flawed EU Organic Regulation. Secondly, it is a case of “know you supplier”. Short of growing/raising your own, the best place to buy is from a farm you know and trust. That’s where the farm shop and CSA models come in, which also cut out the middleman retailers.
    In the early 1980s I had the great fortune to intern for a year at such a farm in northern Germany. My boss, Sigrid, was an amazing woman in her late 50s who had farming organically (bio-dynamically in fact) since the late 1930s! She had overcome many horrendous obstacles in her life including trying to farm, following WWII, under the East German centralized regime which did not allow her to establish closed nutrient-cycles (she had to give up her straw, so she could not make compost, which led to reduced fertility in her grassland and vegetable land and so on.). With her family she fled to Austria, lost her husband while pregnant with their third child, later moved to Northern Germany, spending many years running an organic farm for an orphanage in Hamburg. She ran the farm I interned on with her second husband whom she had met at an organic farm walk I believe. We had 2 ha (5 acres) of vegetables incl. 2 large hoophouses, and enough grassland for 9 (hand-milked!) dairy cows and a few pigs. The output included milk, soft cheese, beef, pork, and tons of vegetables, all of which was sold directly to the consumers through the farm shop (open twice weekly). At times we also included surplus produce from other organic farms, such as apples, walnuts etc. or made jam and chutneys from surplus fruit and veg. Milk not sold directly was sold to the normal creamery and in 1984 when the milk quota came in, I heard my boss also turned to making butter, feeding the whey buttermilk back to the pigs. Only a few miles out of the city of Bremen our customers included both urbanites and rural folk. Thirty years on, I think of these wonderful people with nothing but admiration. They were the pioneers and their model is still one of the best I can think of. Our customers could see the animals and the crops right outside the shop. No deception there. Here’s to Sigrid and Dirk Lohmann!

    Reply

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