By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
An activist group representing small farmers has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. incorrectly labeled several products as organic.
The retailer recently began expanding its assortment of organic foods as part of an effort to attract wealthier, more urban customers. In a statement yesterday, Wal-Mart defended its program and questioned the intentions of the group, called the Cornucopia Institute.
In an e-mail, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen A. Burk wrote "it's hard to take their claims seriously" and said one of the group's founders, Mark Kastel, had worked for a Wal-Mart rival. Kastel was a consultant for Organic Valley, a national farming cooperative that competes with several of Wal-Mart's suppliers. Kastel said he has severed professional ties with the co-op, though he declined to comment on whether it donated money to Cornucopia.
In its letter to the National Organic Program, an arm of the USDA, Cornucopia said that at several stores, Wal-Mart had incorrectly labeled Stonyfield Farm all-natural yogurt as organic. It also said several stores had included non-organic products such as tofu, egg-roll wrappers and juice in a cooler designated for organic produce.
"We were actually surprised to find these labeling errors and surprised to find them across the board," Kastel said.