Never mind the government regulators. When it comes to influencing the way farmers grow their crops, the real power someday may be Walmart, the nation's largest food retailer.
Walmart pledges to double sales of locally grown food by 2015 and also is taking steps to ensure that all the food it sells is produced in sustainable ways. Walmart wants to measure and set farm-to-fork standards for the energy and natural resource impacts of food production.
Farm groups are watching Walmart's plans cautiously, given that the company has the market power to force them to change practices without compensating them for the higher production costs that could result.
"I'm not under any illusion that farmers are going to get premiums for these practices," said Russell Williams, who is following the Walmart initiative for the American Farm Bureau Federation. "It's going to be a cost of doing business. If that's the case, we're going to have to focus on how not to destroy farm income."
On the other side, there is skepticism of whether Walmart will go far enough.
Walmart's environmental standards are being developed through a consortium that includes several agribusiness companies, such as Monsanto and Syngenta, both biotech seed companies, as well as meatpacker Tyson Foods and organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm.
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