Healthy vs Unhealthy

Why do supermarkets segregate organic products and thereby, make them near-invisible? CARRIE STEELE has her theories.


There’s a little something that annoys, intrigues and amuses me all at the same time. I’m talking about wholegrain organic oats, and where you find them in the supermarket. That’s if you can find them at all. One of my local supermarkets (one that likes stick figures…) has decided not to stock the organic variety at all, as apparently not enough people buy them. Let’s be clear here, we’re talking about the organic type, rather than the conventional type – the bags are clearly labelled, and the price tag certainly differs.

So, in supermarkets where they do see the point of giving people a choice of which type of oats they can purchase, where would you expect to find them on the shelves? My first guess would be in the cereal and grain aisles, wouldn’t you think? Well, it seems the merchandisers don’t agree. The appropriate location for organic oats it seems is in the very small section of the supermarket under the ‘Health Foods’ sign. In fact, anything labelled as organic is in the health foods section.

Now, here’s my conundrum. What does that actually say about the conventional oats? That they aren’t healthy? I don’t see how else you could read the message that separating them out sends. And if the organic variety are so far superior, why are they tucked away on a shelf off to the side somewhere where people just browsing for cereal might never see them?

I simply can’t imagine that I’m in the minority in that when faced with two bags of oats – one conventional and one organic – I’m happy to pay less than the price of a cup of coffee to purchase the ones that haven’t been blasted with chemicals. I’m also puzzled that while the supermarkets clearly deem one variety to have superior health benefits to the other, they hide them away in a different location so that you have to search them out or stumble upon them, rather than stand in front of both types and make a decision.

There’s a reason I’m a bit picky about my oats. While I acknowledge that the brand widely available in NZ is grown here, I’m imagining that the practises used in production of the conventional variety wouldn’t differ too much from oats grown in other countries. From some of the reading I’ve done in the past, I’ve learned that it’s quite the norm for farmers to use glyphosate on crops such as wheat and oats just before harvest, in order to speed up the process and make it easier. Desiccation as it’s called, is used mostly in areas and conditions that are cold and wet and where crops take longer to dry out. Blasting them with glyphosate shortly before harvest helps by killing off and drying out the outer parts of the plants. It’s not a practise that farmers talk a lot about, and it seems it’s just an ‘accepted’ practise that farmers prefer not to talk about. I think it would be hard to argue that we don’t have a cold, wet climate, particularly in the South Island where the locally grown oats tend to originate from.

Perhaps producers – and following on from that, supermarkets – would find that there was actually a much higher demand for organic grains if the shelf labelling was somewhat clearer, to reflect the differing price tags? Something along the lines of ‘Sprayed With Chemicals Up To A Fortnight Prior To Harvest’, and ‘Not Sprayed With Chemicals At All’? I’m a big fan of wholegrain oats as part of a healthy diet, but I’d rather add my own toppings thanks, and one won’t be glyphosate. CARRIE STEELE



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