I have a fantastic mix of friends. All walks of life, all religions, all education levels, from cities across the US and definitely working in a vast array of professions. A dear friend from the Great Northwest posted a picture on Facebook, of what she described as Frankenfood, expressing her concerns that they may be GMO and longing for the “the deliciously imperfect, knobby, gnarly, fun shaped strawberries I grew up with that smelled so, so good?” My friend, Laurel, went on to say that she had purchased the berries from a “high brow organic co-op” and I gleaned from her comments that she had far higher expectations for her produce from such an esteemed establishment.
This post and our ensuing exchange made me think long and hard about food labeling in general. For the last few years, we as an Ag Community have been working to educate the consumers of our products loudly stating that one of the major problems facing Ag is the uneducated consumer. As a member of CWA, we spend time educating children and adults as part of our three armed approach to outreach. It now seems contradictory to me when I hear an outcry from producers that don’t want to be forced (albeit by regulation) to label our products.
A US Appellate Court just handed down a ruling stating that packaged meat should include source information including the country of origin. What if consumers knew that the relatively cheap package of preformed, frozen hamburger patties weren’t American Beef but that they could find American Beef in the fresh meat section instead? What if consumers knew that there are only eight Genetically Modified Organisms currently in agriculture production? Would our transparency build a trust with our consumers? Would preference win over price? Would the Ag community get paid a higher premium for American made products? Could transparency be a win-win??
The rising popularity of Farmers Markets is one indication that the consumer we label as uneducated really does care about where their food comes from.
If we printed on Laurel’s package of Frankenberries, NON GMO, CALIFORNIA GROWN, PICKED ON APRIL 4TH, 2014, I believe she would have felt more comfortable rather than resorting to Facebook with concerns about what she was consuming.
My friend Laurel is smart. She’s originally a California girl but moved to the Seattle area where she is now a renowned wedding photographer. She’s educated. She has a valid opinion about what she consumes as part of her diet and I believe she should! As members of the Ag community, we have the privilege of daily chatter involving different farming methods, regulations governing those methods, products and production practices for those different methods. Do we have the right to deny the same information to the consumers we claim are uneducated?
Sometimes the first step toward common ground is the hardest. Sometimes that step is the most fruitful.