Friday, January 25, 2013

Wal-Mart's local-produce claims are questioned

Wal-Mart is making a push into the local-food market, claiming that 11 percent of its produce in stores nationwide comes from local farms. That's a 4 percent increase from two years ago, when the company first announced it was stepping-up local food sourcing efforts. There was hope that this shake-up in the food-supply chain would help small family farms, but Abbie Swanson of mid-Missouri's public radio station KBIA-FM reports that such farmers in her region aren't necessarily reaping benefits from the change.

Few Missouri farmers have actually worked with Wal-Mart, Swanson reports. Small-scale organic farmer Jim Thomas told Swanson it's hard for small producers to successfully work with the company because it tries to force small producers to sell their products so cheaply they aren't able to make a profit. Wal-Mart claims its push to sell local food lives up to its "Save Money. Live Better" slogan by helping customers save money on local produce while helping farmers live better. During testimony to Congress last March, Wal-Mart's sustainable-agriculture director said the local-foods push has saved customers $1 billion.

The Center for Rural Affairs' Wyatt Fraas told Swanson that farms have to be big to satisfy Wal-Mart's supply needs. Five of the eight farms the company highlights on its web page for local produce are very large farms as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with annual sales in the millions of dollars, Fraas said. "Unfortunately, there's so little definition and transparency [from Wal-Mart] that we don't really know if that happens or how it happens," he said. "It's their own numbers, their own record keeping, their own definition." (Read more)

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