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This article originally appeared on The Sovereign Investor on October 13th.
As it turns out, people want to know that what they’re eating is healthy. Big Food — think General Mills, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, etc. — has caught on to this reality and begun swallowing natural and organic food companies, knowing they can turn a profit on one of the food industry’s biggest trends … even if it means sacrificing the integrity of what “organic” is all about.
The top 10 U.S. food companies — several of which are multinational corporations — have been feeling some pressure from regulations and the consumer market for failing to provide people with healthy, quality food. They can sense control slipping through their fingers bit by bit.
They are, however, the world’s largest for a reason: These corporations have the financial backing and marketing resources to fight back … and win. And that’s exactly what they’re doing by buying up natural and organic food companies that will improve their image.
While it is a daunting battle for consumers, this corporate acquisition of smaller, organic producers shouldn’t cause us to throw up our hands in surrender. Taking a stand is the only way to force a change. This means eating responsible food produced by companies that haven’t sold out to the giants in the food and agriculture industry.
It also means figuring out the companies to steer clear of …
Seriously, they scored 30 percent?!
There is a website called Behind the Brands that rates the major food companies that control the brands you come across every day.
The organization investigates seven facets of a company’s supply-chain practices, including sustainability, environmental impacts and workers’ rights.
Surprise! Six out of the world’s top 10 largest food and beverage companies scored “poor” overall.
General Mills, known mostly for cereals as well as its Betty Crocker and Green Giant brands, comes out on bottom having earned only 30 percent of the total possible points. It scored “poor” in land sustainability, worker rights, transparency — pretty much everything except climate and water sustainability, where it is noted to be “making progress” (aka feigning climate advocacy and transparency about water usage).
But that hasn’t stopped the company from trying to save its public image. Recently, the food giant has been on a mission to manage consumer and investor perceptions. In the last 15 years, General Mills has gobbled up natural- and organic-minded companies, including Food Should Taste Good, Larabar and Cascadian Farms. It’s General Mills’ preferred diet to get a healthier image.
And last month they announced their purchase of Annie’s Homegrown, a socially responsible company that uses natural and organic ingredients.
Shortly after that announcement, I sat in on a discussion at the Natural Health Expo in Baltimore where an Annie’s representative was speaking on natural food and sustainability. It was a thorough presentation that revealed why Annie’s is an excellent company that offers quality food.
General Mills saw that, and General Mills decided to take that. What better way to improve its dismal social-consciousness rating?
The problem here is that Annie’s doesn’t quite follow the General Mills philosophy. Annie’s actually advocated for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food (GMO). That’s at odds with General Mills, which unleashed $2 million to fight against the very same state-based labeling initiatives Annie’s supports. General Mills says it’s because it prefers a national standard on labeling, instead of individual states enforcing labels (more on that charade in a minute).
This begs the question: With General Mill’s as the parent company, will Annie’s be forced to assimilate? Will we lose another socially-responsible company to a food giant with deep pockets?
The answer is simple: Yes.
Their cunning hypocrisy is scary
The food-company giants are established on cheap and abundant food that is irresponsible, unhealthy — or both. They cannot abandon that model. If they do, they abandon their profits and global influence.
The best they can do for their image is to eat up smaller food companies that are doing things right, including the companies that conscious consumers have sought out for years.
Now, there are some people who think there is nothing wrong with patronizing responsible brands that have been gobbled up by the big boys … so long as they are eating healthy foods.
The quality of sell-out brands will falter, like when General Mills tripled the sugar content in Cascadian Farms cereals, a company that once claimed “no added sugars.” Or when Dean purchased WhiteWave Foods, which then stopped using organic soybeans in its Silk soy-milk products.
Beyond its direct acquisitions, the food giants will also eliminate any remaining responsible brands through regulatory proposals, marketing blitzes or backroom lobbying deals. The result will be some combination of fewer, costlier and less responsible choices.
For example, consider the face-off over labeling GMOs.
Big companies, including Pepsi, General Mills and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), have battled hard against state-based initiatives that would mandate labeling GMOs.
While I’m not one for government mandates, that still makes me raise an eyebrow.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The president and CEO of the GMA, Pamela Bailey, teamed up with the U.S. government and the World Bank to develop the world’s first Global Food Safety Fund. Their mission is to force the world to have “international model standards and practices in food safety management from production to consumption.”
I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous. Actually, if I’m honest, that terrifies me. As I’ve written before: Regulations mean quality takes a swift nose-dive.
Bailey also spearheaded the creation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CSAF). The group is made up of 37 industry heavy weights that want to rob states of the ability to pass GMO labeling legislation.
It claims it wants to: “Affirm the FDA as the nation’s authority for the use and labeling of genetically modified food ingredients.” In other words: They want to put GMO oversight squarely in the hands of the FDA. Sure, because the government always makes such great decisions.
The CSAF has also decided the definition of “natural” needs federal approval. They want the FDA to define the term “so that food and beverage companies and consumers have a consistent legal framework that will guide food labels and inform consumer choice.”
In other words: They want a bureaucracy to define the term “natural” legally rather than with common sense. What could possibly go wrong?
And that’s not even the most upsetting one.
The group has also stated that it wants the FDA to “establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their product for the absence-of or presence-of GMO food ingredients …”
In other words: They want a regulatory penalty for companies that voluntarily use GMO labels. That tells me all I need to know about the CSAF’s intentions. They would create a disincentive for food companies to keep their customers informed. Somehow, discouraging GMO labeling will help “consumers clearly understand their choices.”
What a load of you-know-what.
Basically, industry heavyweights recognize their own vulnerability in the natural, organic, non-GMO space and they don’t like it. So they are eliminating the competition by either swallowing smaller companies or increasing the price smaller companies must pay just to stay in the game.
But there’s a simple solution to this.
We just have to find and support alternatives to these food giants before there aren’t any left.
Avoid These 22 Brands
Eat real food. Eat quality food. Eat food that hasn’t sold out to the food, agriculture and chemical industries.
While it’s easy to avoid the top 10 food company brands, it’s harder to avoid sell-outs.
So I created a list that can help you.
In the picture you can see the 22 common brands that have sold out, and have ceded market share back to the power players. If you’d like to see a larger image, just click here.
It includes brands like Naked Juice, Quaker, Horizon Organic dairy products, Kashi and Nature Valley.
Take a look and make the choice to find the alternatives before that choice is taken away.
To quality living, JR Crooks Editor, Sovereign Living