Food wars. I’ve suggested that anyone in agriculture, food production and distribution including those who regulate them should gird up their loins for a protracted battle over food safety. I’ll be following this for some time. Those who have been reading Crisisblogger know of my personal connection to this issue through the film Food, Inc.–now almost certain to garner an Academy nomination and one of the top grossing feature documentaries of all time.
My observation to those engaged in this (and I have some current clients so engaged) is to understand the new rules of transparency. Food production has been hidden by a cloud and even the production of Food Inc showed that the way Monsanto and the major chicken producers hid and intimidated those who were planning on participating in the production. This will not help their cause. The values of consumers are changing and food producers need to understand that they either need to produce food in concert with those values or change how they do it. If they are producing in a way that is acceptable, then be open and honest. If not, change and then be open and honest.
Dole seems to be learning this lesson the hard way. They just dropped a lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker over the film “Bananas” which Dole said contained all kinds of inaccuracies. So they sued for defamation. Wrong. Defamation is incredibly hard to prove and any attempt to sue on this basis, unless the accusations are so egregious as to win over the saveables, will be seen as nothing more than bullying in order to protect the silence.
What are food companies to do? 1) Evaluate your practices against the rapidly changing consumer values. 2) If they can’t withstand criticism in the open light of day, change them. 3) Communicate or be prepared to communicate what you are doing and why.
Personally, I think the world is incredibly blessed by the enormous productivity of our farmers and food producers. To steal a line from Churchill, at no time in the history of eating have so many owed so much to so few. If these organizations were to change to meet the extreme views of a very vocal minority, millions would starve to death and food would consume a much higher percentage of all our budgets. But for goodness sake food people, defend yourselves. Tell the wonderful story of the good work you do to feed the world. Stop hiding.
Andy Bailey (who I just had the pleasure of meeting at a conference I was speaking at, provided a quotation I hadn’t heard before but is very appropriate for this discussion:
“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
I hope for the sake of the hungry masses and my children’s food budgets that the food industry will wake up and start learning.