Organic farming watchdog the Cornucopia Institute has filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture, accusing Wal-Mart of illegally selling non-organic food products as organic. The Institute claims to have documented cases of non-organic products being sold as organic by the world’s largest retailer.

“We first noticed that Wal-Mart was using in-store signage to misidentify conventional, nonorganic food as organic in their upscale-market test store in Plano, Texas,” said Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute. Subsequently, Cornucopia staff visited various Wal-Mart stores in the Midwest and documented similar improprieties in both produce and dairy sections.

Cornucopia said that its next step was to notify Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott of the issue, in a letter dated 13 September. However, the watchdog said that when it returned to stores some weeks later the same product misrepresentation was notable.

“This is disturbing and a serious problem,” Kastel said. “Organic farmers adopt and follow a rigorous range of management practices, with audit trails, to ensure that the food they sell to processors and retailers is organic and produced in accordance with federal organic regulations. Consumers, who are paying premium prices in the marketplace for organic food, deserve to get what they are paying for.”

According to federal organic regulations, fines of up to US$10,000 per violation for proven incidents of organic food misrepresentation are provided for in federal organic regulations.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced its intention to greatly increase the number of organic offerings for sale in stores across the US/ Organic products would be available at considerably lower prices than the competition. As a consequence, the move by the retail giant has come under close scrutiny from members of the organic community.
A number of US organic food retailers, including Whole Foods Markets, have been certified organic in terms of the handling of their products and have invested heavily in staff training, the organic watchdog said, contrasting this with Wal-Mart’s quick-fix attitude. 

“One can question whether Wal-Mart has the management and staff expertise necessary to fully understand organics and the marketing requirements essential to selling organic food. Given their size, market power, and market clout, this is very troubling,” Kastel concluded.