There’s an obscure Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition called Michelle’s Song that begins “Cast a pebble on the water. Watch the ripples gently spreading.”
That’s how it is with Organic. Whether it’s buying local produce or choosing skincare for your family that’s personally safer and globally more responsible, individual choices matter, and together with other individual choices, they affect the world beyond individual lives. Organic is at the center of a change in the conversation between consumers and producers, especially with large-scale food and skincare manufacturers.
Some Things Have Clearly Changed
Consumers no longer simply trust producers to be honest about product ingredients and manufacturing processes. They’re expecting the government agencies responsible for regulating industry to do their jobs. Coincidentally, at the heart of Organic are commitments to both transparency and accountability to third-party inspection. It’s these commitments that provide a basis for consumer trust, the kind of trust that large manufacturers no longer enjoy.
Campbell’s and GMOs
Back on January 7, partially in an effort to win back some of that trust, Campbell’s Soup announced they will be supporting a federal policy requiring food ingredient labels to include the identification of genetically modified ingredients. They further announced they will no longer support food industry efforts to defeat federal and state-based labeling initiatives. What’s more, if the federal government doesn’t act in a timely manner, Campbell’s has said it will start including GMO listings voluntarily.
This was an incredible, if completely undramatic, victory for consumers, especially in the war of perceptions. Most independent studies have reported that over 90% of consumers want genetically modified ingredients identified on product labels. Still, the producers of GMOs were winning the marketing and the propaganda battle.
How Concerned Consumers Have Been Characterized
Pro-labeling advocates were characterized by the GMO industry as anti-science, anti-progress, and anti-capitalism. Not surprisingly, given today’s political climate, industry marketers resorted to name calling. Monsanto even had – and might still have – an entire department devoted to discrediting researchers who disagreed with the company’s version of science. And in the most cynical of marketing efforts, the president of Monsanto said publicly that labeling advocates weren’t concerned about the starving third world. As if simply adding text to an ingredients label would keep big industrial food companies from feeding the hungry.
Even the Small Industry Alarms Weren’t True
When they weren’t trying to win the argument by personally attacking opponents (the fancy expression is ad hominem), Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association were claiming that making additions to ingredient labels would create a cost companies would have to pass on to their customers. They’d simply have no choice. Campbell’s confirmed what companies in Brazil and the European Union had already known. Costs of labeling were negligible, and there was no legitimate reason to increase prices to consumers.
Organic in the Middle
In the middle of all this were organic producers, whose certification disallows the use of genetically modified materials. Plus, there have always been producers – us included – who rely on science every day to succeed, and because we do, are familiar with the difference between actual science and industry marketing disguised as science. The heart of the issue has two chambers: transparency and accountability – being honest about what’s in your products and being willing to prove what you say.