Editor’s note: This opinion piece was originally posted July 18, 2016, by the Alliance for Food and Farming.
At the inaugural Organic Produce Summit in Monterey on July 14, we witnessed a messaging evolution happening among the strongest organic advocates. This messaging moves away from disparaging non-organic products and mirrors the main message of the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF): “Eat more organic and conventionally grown fruits and veggies every day for better health and a longer life — both are safe and can be consumed with confidence.”
Some evolution examples from the summit’s keynote presentations included:
“We need to distinguish organics in a way that is not disparaging so that we can promote the produce category overall,” Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) “We know consumers react better to positive messaging to differentiate organic. Negative messaging appeals to just a small percentage (of consumers).”
“For consumers, the first line shouldn’t be organic versus non-organic, it should be a discussion about real food versus non-foods (processed foods). And the lesson kids need to learn is that there is real food. We should be pushing consumption of plants — that’s No. 1,” Mark Bittman, author and former New York Times reporter. “I see consumers who want organic because they are afraid. I see signs of confusion among consumers. But what’s good for your family is real food. People should be eating more plants — there is no argument. … Both organic and conventional strawberries would get a five on my food scale.”
Bittman’s “foodiness” scale rates foods on a scale of one to five with five being the best for consumers.
We applaud this evolution of messaging and it is noteworthy since only a few months ago OTA was still engaging in tactics designed to scare consumers away from conventionally grown foods. An example of this marketing against tactic was a social media post that warned consumers if they served a popular and healthy produce item for dinner they would consume seven probable carcinogens, 12 suspected hormone disrupters, seven neurotoxins and six developmental or reproductive toxins.
This infographic was scary, confusing and untrue, but something we have seen too often. But in another noteworthy turn, OTA has since removed these types of posts from their social properties and are promoting the more positive messaging about organics that Batcha referenced in her speech.
Interestingly, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which is one of the main culprits of promoting negative and disparaging messaging about conventionally-grown produce, was in attendance at the Organic Produce Summit and heard both Batcha’s and Bittman’s presentations. For decades, EWG has released a “dirty dozen” list which makes inaccurate and unscientific claims about pesticide residues on the most popular fruits and veggies.
Since 2010, the AFF has worked to counter erroneous claims from groups like EWG and provide science-based information to consumers about the safety of all produce. Over those years, AFF has also repeatedly asked Cook and EWG to stop calling healthy and safe fruits and veggies “dirty,” “toxic laden” and “contaminated” because of potential negative impact on consumers and produce consumption.
But, EWG has remained steadfast in promoting its traditional messaging, which dates back to the mid-1990s. Maybe hearing firsthand that his colleagues at OTA as well as Bittman have evolved their messaging for the benefit of consumers will make Cook think more about his organization’s dated statements. We have some hope.
For now, the AFF welcomes the end of disparaging messaging and OTA joining with the produce industry in promoting positive messaging that can help increase consumption of produce overall. This message evolution is good for consumers and it’s the right thing to do.
Finally, we applaud the organizers of the Organic Produce Summit for bringing these influential speakers together for a meaningful and thought-provoking discussion.
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