I recently watched an infomercial featuring Wal-Mart and the contributions that it is making to society. This was obviously a corporate produced marketing film, but it did point out many good things about Wal-Mart that were true. I do have an issue with one aspect dealing with sustainability.
Apparently in some stores Wal-Mart is introducing lines of clothing produced from Organic Cotton. From the corporate web site:
“So, we expanded our organic practice to include select bath, bed and baby products. From just these few orders in a limited number of stores, the Organic Exchange has informed us we will have saved 50,000 – 60,000 lbs of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals from being used, and have become the largest single purchaser of 100% organic cotton products in the world.”
Unfortunately, Wal-Mart does not have all the facts about agricultural sustainability. They may have saved 50,000-60,00 pounds of synthetic pesticides, but what about the toxic biological controls used in organic production such as pyrethrum, neem, sabadilla, and rotenone that government regulators don’t even track data for. In citing this data, is Wal-Mart comparing only conventional cotton to organic? What about the environmentally superior biotech varieties of Bt and Roundup Ready cotton?
All of the advantages that Wal-Mart is seeking to exploit from organic food are available via biotech cotton. As noted in previous biotech entries there are many advantages to these technologies in relation to environmental sustainability that organic production cannot provide. ( See 7 reasons why you should support GM food, May1, 2007, Bt Cotton & Environmental Health, or click on biotech label at the end of this entry). While organic product promotion is most likely just a marketing and PR ploy by Wal-Mart, and involves just a limited array of the products they have to offer, they are now the single largest purchaser of 100% organic cotton products.
As a result, because Wal-Mart deals in such large volume, Wal-Mart may be doing more harm than good when it comes to the environment in their decision to buy and sell organic.