, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 221-232

The capitalist composition of organic: The potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of organic agriculture

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Abstract

Observers of agriculture and theenvironment have noted the recent remarkable growth ofthe organic products industry. Is it possible for thisgrowth in the organics market to contribute toprogressive environmental and social goals? From theperspective of green consumerism, the organics marketis a powerful engine for positive change because itpromotes greater environmental awareness andresponsibility among producers and consumers alike.Given its environmental benefits and its ability touse and alter capitalist markets, organic agricultureis currently a positive force for environmentalism.Still, there are contradictions between organic idealsand practice – e.g., the reductionism of organicstandards, the limitations of private organiccertification, and the widespread practice ofinput-substitution – that emerge through thedynamics of the capitalist market. As the marketmatures, these contradictions will increasinglyundermine the very environmental benefits that are thefoundation of organic agriculture. Fundamental change,therefore, is not likely to occur through the marketalone. There are ways, however, that the organicsmarket could contribute to a broader movement leadingto collective action. For instance, the organicsmarket tends to undermine commodity fetishism in theagrifood system, thereby strengthening civil society.In addition, the market provides space and resourcesfor social movement activity, such as in the struggleover the National Organic Standards.