Fellow farmers and ranchers, foodies, scientists, agriculturalists and regular people who enjoy food but hate the shaming, marketing and random food labels clogging dinner conversations and newsfeeds . . . here’s a resolution for 2016. Stop boycotts and start conversations with food companies. Here’s why:
Hershey’s move from beet sugar to cane sugar was greeted with cheers from one sector of the food consumer industry and groans from the farm families who have spent generations growing beets for this essential s’more ingredient. By their own admission, Hershey’s has stated this has nothing to do with concerns about safety of GMO food crops. In fact their website reinforces what is repeated every day. GMOs and the ingredients derived from them are safe.
Hershey’s says they are listening to their consumers, and consumers want a non-gmo label.
In January 2014, General Mills announced they had reformulated the original Cheerios swapping out the tiny amount of corn starch and corn sugar (grown by U.S. farmers) for non-gmo versions of both – non-gmo corn starch and cane sugar, which is not grown by U.S. farmers. The company claimed the change was the result of listening to their ‘fans’. However, they themselves had no concerns over gm-derived ingredients. They said so on their website.
A commentor on my open letter to General Mills stated what should be obvious to anyone studying food trends and marketing: “I personally haven’t eaten a bowl of Cheerios in about 6 years now and likely never will again.” Her food choices didn’t involve Cheerios anyway. Changing an ingredient wasn’t going to put a yellow box in her cupboard. Continued depressed sales of Cheerios and cereals in general confirmed her point. Cheerios’ fans hadn’t begged for the change.
This past fall, I found this (see below) on the grocery store shelf and after checking that Del Monte had a legitimate reason to put a non-gmo label on a can of peas (because there are no GMO peas to begin with), I called them out via Twitter and learned the company was just listening to its consumers.
Of course, buried in its website under frequently asked questions I found a statement on GMO safety: “The FDA, USDA, World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association have concluded that products containing genetically engineered ingredients are safe. Even though there are no health risks (allergens or negative nutrients) associated with GMOs, we decided to provide information about GMOs in our products to consumers so that they can make informed choices.”
McCormick spices are getting the non-gmo label also. Are spices genetically modified? No. However, the party line delivered in this article sounds very familiar, “Our effort to increase our organic and non-GMO offerings proves that we are listening to our consumers and are committed to continuing to evolve.”
What we must first understand and appreciate, is the “consumers” these companies are hearing from are not every day buyers. These campaigns are well-funded, orchestrated movements coming from Green America, US Right to Know, the Organic Consumers Association, PETA, HSUS and other anti-agriculture groups like them.
When they claim success, our newsfeeds fill with calls from ‘ag’vocates and angry farmers for boycotts or comments to the company’s social media platforms. Unfortunately, by this time the ship has already sailed. Folks, here is the blunt truth . . . boycotts by our tiny two percent probably won’t register on a corporate sales report. However, a positive public show of support to agriculture-friendly companies and organizations does make a difference. As does a basic conversation about farming and ranching, as I discovered at a food conference two years ago.
Just this week the story of Domino’s saying no to PETA’s push for vegan cheese and meat options circulated. Back in 2012, I remember a similar situation which resulted in a mid-week Domino’s pizza party for my family. The nationally promoted party was agriculture’s way of saying thanks to the company for saying no to the animal rights group.
Too bad, we couldn’t stave off Subway’s ‘antibiotic’ free meat decision. As Emily from Confessions of a Farm Wife pointed out Subway restaurants are the only option many rural, agricultural dependent areas have for a quick bite to eat. Instead of plowing under sub sandwiches in protest to the company’s move (which by the way, was my favorite response to the whole situation. AND sparked a great discussion about antibiotic use in livestock), we should have been loudly ‘chewing’ our support for them . . . Ironically, Subway’s most recent promotion was for 50 percent more meat.
The Farmer’s Daughter USA wrote about how the Girl Scouts of America stood up to anti-agriculture groups who petitioned the group right at the time of cookie sales, to go GMO-free. I bought a few more packages and I SHOULD have tweeted about that, but didn’t.
During AgChat’s 2015 Cultivate and Connect conference, a panel of agriculture advocates coached the audience in engagement. They counseled us to show our appreciation of agriculture support NOW instead of waiting for another Del Monte to cave to labeling pressures.
Daren Williams, senior executive director of communications for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, pointed out the perfect opportunity – Arby’s promotion of “The Meats”! Why aren’t we celebrating this and thanking them publicly? he asked.
And that is the crux of the matter. As if we farmers and ranchers, scientists, agriculturalists, foodies and regular folks need one more thing to do, we must remember this – to routinely recognize the companies and organizations who are just doing what they do, and in those actions, are supporting agriculture in its entirety. No labels. No fear-mongering.
Culvers’ is the poster-child for this. Aside from their antibiotic-free meat claim, which sticks a bit, the restaurant chain goes out of its way to recognize and showcase its farmers. Agriculture has responded in kind.
The food war is only just beginning. There are many restaurant chains, grocers and food companies to target with a positive message of thanks and support. There are also thousands of opportunities for every farmer and rancher to invite food companies to the farm. Regardless if your family grows a specialty crop, produces for a specific market or raises the raw commodity, each plays an important role in the food chain. Claim that spot loudly. As a corn and soy farmer, I should be talking to any food company that uses starches, sugars or oils.
So in effort to trump the next campaign by anti-agriculture groups, I pledge to recognize the brands, companies and organizations doing right by agriculture. It won’t be easy, wading through the marketing muck. Which company will you target first? Share and I’ll start our list.
Happy New Year!