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Food labeling debate drives political policy

As one who makes his living using words, it’s easy for me to become frustrated with catch-phrases, buzzwords and food labels.

That’s why a Food Tank article titled 10 certification agencies creating a more sustainable food system caught my eye.

As phrases like “organic” and “GMO” are freely tossed about, at least “organic” is legitimized by a federal certification process. GMO, the acronym for “genetically modified organism,” is nothing more than a boogeyman for critics to use.

We see these phrases every day. Burger joints promote “all natural” burgers, which makes me wonder what an unnatural burger is and if it too could be successfully marketed by just the right public relations firm during the Superbowl.

I personally think the word “sustainable” has been so over-used and misused that nobody really knows what the term truly means anymore. Surely the California Legislature doesn’t as it peppered the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act with the word several hundred times without offering so much as a cursory definition of the phrase.

The word “sustainable” is nothing more than a warm and fuzzy phrase that conjures up thoughts of kittens and baby ducks, yet it is being used to drive important food policy, which could prove to be dangerous.

Before you dismiss Food Tank as a source, realize that the non-profit organization is formed by a woman who is said to hold a graduate degree in agriculture, food and environment. Moreover, Food Tank co-founder Danielle Nierenberg has successfully built a worldwide social media and web following of more than 500,000, including 124,000 newsletter subscribers from 190 countries.

I’m not defending Food Tank’s mission. I’m simply saying there are voices out there driving policy and it is foolish for farmers to think they can simply continue producing food in a climate where agencies and programs are dictating new agricultural standards based on feel-good terms.

Sadly, returning the food labeling genie to her bottle is not going to happen. Farmers and their trusted organizations need to be aware of the various certification agencies and how they can impact their ability to sell fruits, vegetables, nuts and meat.

Simply educating consumers, as the mantra goes, does not appear to be working. That’s certainly the case with policy issues where certain groups simply do not care about logic, common sense and what’s in the best interest of human beings. So, rather than try to educate these folks, agriculture simply needs to change the narrative.

For agriculture to hang its hat on the narrative “feed more people,” then the obvious and logical next step is to answer the question “how.”

These are just thoughts meant to spark debate and discussion. Rather than cede food certification standards to groups that have no concept about food production – whether growing vegetables or raising livestock for human consumption – notions like those being promoted by the 10 groups listed by Food Tank, plus the others not mentioned, need to be aggressively challenged in the media and in the board room.


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