Food Propaganda War

One week after this U.N. report established, on the basis of recent scientific literature, that ecologically-sound small-scale farms provide the “most efficient farming model to boost food production,” including in critical regions of the world, Big Ag pulled out its artillery to dispel the “misperceptions about modern large-scale food production and technology.” All in the name of its effort “to meet the world’s increasing food needs responsibly, efficiently and affordably.”

The new Alliance to Feed the Future, launched on National Ag Day, is the offspring of a consortium of 55 organizations and trade groups that represent the industrial food industry, from the American Meat Institute to the Biotechnology Industry Organization that includes Monsanto and DuPont. Its coordinator, David Schmidt, is the CEO of the International Food Information Council, a mouthpiece for the food industry.

The AFF’s mission is to “educate” “opinion leaders,” including academics, government officials and journalists, who may have been swayed by the increasing negative rap that has befallen Big Ag these past five years, according to David Schmidt. Of course, it’s all about “providing consumers a choice,” and so the “informed consumer” is definitely among the target demographics.

“The more consumers understand how their food is produced, the more they can appreciate the role modern agriculture plays in providing safe, affordable, and nutritious food,” Schmidt told Sustainable Food News. “The alliance will be a clearinghouse of resources to increase consumer understanding of this role.” Interesting statement coming from an industry who has built its success on the concerted absence of transparency of its processes and practices–and who doesn’t shy away from suing or criminalizing anyone who attempts to lift the curtain.

At any rate, I don’t believe that I’m being alarmist by telling you to watch out for the new propaganda blitz coming soon near you to flaunt the merits of Big Ag in terms of food safety, food security, food access, health, sustainable development, etc. By the same token, don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself being confused, questioning what to believe, and where reality actually lies.

You may suspect me by now of being utterly biased against Big Ag, and you would be absolutely right. It all boils down to one word: distrust. The modern, large-scale food industry as a whole (some exceptions can always be found that only prove the rule, as the saying goes) boasts appalling records with regard to the exploitation of resources, the destruction of the environment, cruelty to animals, the bullying of employees, the busting of local markets, and the disregard for consumers’ health and for farmers’ livelihoods. If that’s not enough to lose anyone’s trust, I don’t know what is.

As a matter of fact, Big Ag is seemingly worried that it’s losing the trust of consumers. And it should be. Hence its new spin venture. If anything, I hope that consumers will take the launch of AFF as the clear sign that Big Ag has taken stock of their power. And I pray that they will keep blowing fire down its neck until the industry takes the necessary steps to actually earn their trust.

Because, let’s face it: I’d love nothing more than living in a world where I could indulge, without a 5-minute preemptive examination of the label, on any packaged good that strikes my fancy, knowing in full confidence that 1/ it’s healthy and nutritious 2/ it does not include dodgy ingredients produced at God-knows-what human or environmental cost 3/ its sale provides a decent living to all the people who worked to provide it to me.

As for fresh produce, nothing will ever beat the farmers’ market–or any variation of it, provided it sources a local production grown with respect for the environment and for all those involved, from the farm to the kitchen. Utopia? Niche market? Tell that to the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the right to food who is currently responsible for the organization’s long-term vision for a better world.

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