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From the Poultry Editor: December 2013

Even Scrooge Would Approve


November 11, 2013
By Lianne Appleby


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December just wouldn’t be the same without A Christmas Carol played ad infinitum on television. Even at 170 years old, the story remains popular because it continues to reflect society’s values.

So, when Ebenezer Scrooge has undergone his transformation from curmudgeon to benefactor and sends a random young lad to buy a goose for the Cratchits from the poulterers around the corner, it’s understandable that the boy is told to buy the prize one. Don’t we all want the biggest bird possible on our dinner table, even today – a point of pride, a symbol of a prosperous yet benevolent household?

Rather than pondering just how a goose got to be the size of a little boy, I imagine that readers in 1843 were preoccupied by the fact that Scrooge had done a miraculous one-eighty. But what if that same novel were actually released, for the first time, in 2013?  Would today’s readers feel equally warm and fuzzy over Scrooge’s sudden change of heart? Or, when his random lad incredulously asks, “What? The one as big as me?!” would they cynically assume that the goose in question was a Frankenfood?

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With commercials, pop-up ads and the like, consumers are exposed to misinformation without even knowing it – and unfortunately, they absorb that inaccurate information, whether they realize it or not. Having been constantly bombarded with inaccuracies about antibiotics and hormones, today’s readers likely wouldn’t get past said paragraph without raising an eyebrow.

The most recent example of such absorption comes courtesy of A&W in the form of a commercial regarding the added-hormone-and-steroid-free meat it uses for its burgers (sure, this time it’s beef, but it could very well be poultry or eggs in Round 2). This fear-mongering approach has disgusted many in the agricultural community; in fact, Andrew Campbell, a dairy farmer and agvocate from Glencoe, Ont., has had enough. Andrew’s blog “I’m done with fearing food and done with A&W” (read it at www.realagriculture.com) unleashes a number of facts about hormones that many consumers may be surprised to learn.  

It is a valiant rebuttal, but whether or not his target readers actually find their way to it online is another question.

Unfortunately, reaching a captive audience while they’re sitting ducks and watching their favourite prime time show seems like a pipe dream to agricultural communicators, simply because it costs a LOT of money to do it. Canada’s agriculture sector is doing an OK job of in-your-face advertising, but it’s usually through short-lived grants and funding, not long-term, sustainable investment. With few exceptions, agricultural organizations say that marketing dollars are always among the first to be chopped in favour of government relations and trade-related endeavours. And that’s a shame.

In 1843, it was of no concern to readers how Ebenezer’s super-goose was raised, albeit mostly because added hormones weren’t conceivable yet. But now they are. If agriculture fails to invest in telling consumers what’s what, we know from experience that someone will certainly get in there and tell them what’s not.

Dollars released to consumer marketing are a wise investment given today’s climate. And I’d wager that even our Ebenezer wouldn’t say “Bah! Humbug!” to that.


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