From the Editor: July 2009
Perception Versus Reality
By Kristy Nudds
It’s been a rough ride for the food industry in the past year or so. As
any savvy marketer will tell you, “perception is everything,” and
numerous bumps in the road have eroded the perception by consumers that
the food they buy at the grocery store is good for them.
It’s been a rough ride for the food industry in the past year or so. As any savvy marketer will tell you, “perception is everything,” and numerous bumps in the road have eroded the perception by consumers that the food they buy at the grocery store is good for them.
E.coli in spinach, listeria-laden deli meat, melamine in Chinese products, salmonella-contaminated tomatoes and peanuts, a lack of food inspectors – all of these food safety “scares,” in addition to the ever-present apprehension over genetically modified plants, are making consumers increasingly wary.
Unfortunately, these incidents are giving anti-“big bad agriculture” proponents great fodder and are fuelling the local food movement in many urban areas.
While I believe the local food movement is beneficial for Canadian agriculture because it is making Canadians choose more Canadian-grown products, it’s creating the illusion that tens of millions of people can be fed using agricultural practices that existed 100 years ago.
This simply is not possible. To be blunt, consumers in urban centres need to take a good look around them – plants and animals can’t grow out of concrete.
With arable land at a premium and in constant competition with urban sprawl (and let’s not forget the consumers’ disdain over paying what they consider “too much” for food), agriculture was forced to intensify production.
But this intensification is causing quite the conundrum for “industrial” agriculture. Intensive practices are under scrutiny, yet those scrutinizing these practices are short on viable solutions and quick to blame.
According to a new documentary, “industrialized” agriculture produces toxic food and is to blame for America’s obesity epidemic, cancer, diabetes, and child hunger. The trailer for Food, Inc., which was released in North America in mid-June, sets the tone of the movie, which unfortunately I was unable to view before meeting the deadline for this magazine.
On its website, the introduction for the U.S.-produced movie opens with the statement “filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.”
After viewing the trailer (available online) and reading material on the movie’s website, it’s clear that the movie depicts the “dark” side of industrial agriculture and aims to empower the consumer and tell them that they can change how the system works.
There is a lot of truth behind the last statement – consumers, like any customer of any business, ultimately call the shots. Movies such as this, although often vehicles for conveying the agendas of their creator(s), can have a powerful impact on the purchasers of food products and shouldn’t be ignored or discounted.
The timing of this movie’s release is unfortunate, given what the food industry has had to deal with as of late. I’m curious to see this movie and I encourage you to do the same if you’re able (it is being released in Canada), because it’s a good lesson on what those of us working in agriculture are up against.
It’s also a good opportunity to see what “mistruths” are being fed to the public, and what practices we should perhaps be revisiting and changing in order to maintain consumer confidence.