Photo: The Falafel, Flickr
Wal-Mart practically had us at hello with their sustainability announcement yesterday, and we weren't alone. News that the retailing behemoth was launching a new global commitment to sustainable agriculture, with a focus on small and medium-sized farmers had blogs and Twitter feeds ablaze.
The announcement wasn't vague. It outlined specific goals that Wal-Mart is committed to reach by 2015. Among them:
* Selling $1 billion in food sourced from 1 million small and medium farmers.
* Asking suppliers about the water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide used per unit of food produced.
* Implementing a requirement for sustainably sourced palm oil for all Wal-Mart private-brand products.
* Sourcing only beef that does not contribute to the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.
"Grocery is more than half of Wal-Mart's business," Michael T. Duke, president and chief executive was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Yet only four of our 39 public sustainability goals address food.
Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture told Slashfood he met with Mike Duke in Iowa last month while the executive was visiting a farm committed to sustainable practices.
"I'm convinced Mike was serious about this and wanted to make it happen. I hope what they'll do is assist small and mid-sized farms in developing marketing networks to pool their product and bring it into Wal-Mart at the scale they'll need. The mid-sized farmers, the ones between $50,000-$500,000, are the ones we're losing at the highest rate," said Kirschenmann.
But not everyone is smitten. Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU and author of Food Politics, told the Huffington Post, "With these new initiatives, Wal-Mart suppliers will have to figure out ways to produce foods sustainably-without increasing the cost to Wal-Mart. So this move costs Wal-Mart nothing. It gains plenty. This move should recruit supporters of sustainable and locally grown food and induce them to overlook the company's retrogressive labor practices. Will these initiatives help farmers? Maybe, but only if Wal-Mart pays them decently for what they produce."