Not true. Supermarkets only offer the illusion of increased choice.
Thanks to industrial food, there is finally a much greater choice, or so agro companies claim. These days, tomatoes are always in season and kiwis are available all over the world. Pushing a trolley down the aisles of your local supermarket, you might be forgiven for believing in this fairytale. But brand-diversity is not the same as bio-diversity. In fact, only nine crops are responsible for three-quarters of the plants people consume worldwide. Every year, thousands of new food products are launched on the market, but the actual ingredients we eat remain largely unchanged.
Industrial agriculture has a preference for a handful of crops that have proven their efficiency in terms of treatment, harvesting and packaging. Take the apple. Thanks to the industrial process we can enjoy ‘fresh’ Red Delicious apples year round. Of course, we could have enjoyed thousands of different types of apples if that same process had not led to their disappearance. Two types of apples now account for over 50% of the selection available on supermarket shelves. In the United States, hundreds of sorts of lettuce have disappeared to make room for the iceberg variety that now accounts for 73% of the commercially available lettuce..
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) cautiously estimates that agricultural diversity has declined by 75% in the past 100 years. Research indicates that between 1903 and 1983, nearly 93% of the known lettuce varieties, 95% of the tomatoes, 96% of the corn and 98% of the asparagus disappeared.
Choice has been further limited by inadequate information on product labels. It is very difficult for consumers to find out how and where food is produced. There are a number of countries that use quality marks to indicate which products are organic, but labels never tell you which pesticides and other chemicals were used, and whether the food contains remnants of these substances. The European Union has taken steps to require labels to state whether genetically modified crops have been used, but the US continues to pressure the EU to drop such measures. The answer to the question of who stands to profit most from shoddy label information is obvious.
When local organic farmers are supported, consumers get real choice. These farmers have generations of know-how about the unique local crop varieties, each with its own unique flavour.