Is Organic Supermarket Food a Lie?

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: