I saw an advertisement last week that would make any organic farmer’s blood boil. In the Dec. 6 edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was a half-page ad showing a young boy’s face and the American flag, with the red and white stripes flowing into rows of crops being harvested. Bold words heralded, “Every Star Spangled Banner Begins With A Farmer.”
It was an effective marketing trifecta using images of a child, the American flag and farming to promote the website AmericasFarmers.com. Successfully, this created a message that appeared as wholesome as grandma’s apple pie. You may ask why there would be anything disturbing about this, but be assured, there is more to say.
The American Farmers website is owned by Monsanto, which is considered worldwide to be the big bad wolf to many. Yes, it is the same Goliath that has filed and continues to file numerous lawsuits against American farmers. Yes, it’s the same global chemical company that has become the czar of seed-controlling maneuvers that have globally impacted environmental and societal health. To top it off further, this historical Agent Orange creator is now trying to go back to Vietnam and spread its “round-up ready” seeds. I think this makes my case for why this homespun advertisement about farming is such a gross contradiction.
My story here is not only about Monsanto, though; it is about all those big-business Darth Vaders that cook up good will by skulking around like mild-mannered sheep. This advertisement and website provide a prime example of being nothing more than uncontrolled greenwashing, all proving how easy it is for big budgets to create a false sense of good will and effectively divert the public’s attention from the truth.
Much less publicized is the Center for Food Safety report, which stated that, to date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers in 25 states that involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.
Or, if satire (versus dry facts) is preferred, a recent segment of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” at www.thedaily show.com, provides a deeper explanation on how Monsanto is trying to place exclusive patent rights on Mother Nature herself.
Whether Monsanto or another company, it is important to look beyond the marketing hype. This is especially true if we are attempting to make good food choices. Today, marketing campaigns that allude to receiving benefits to health have proven to be profitable. Whether it is pictures of happy cows to promote milk products or packages called Grandma’s Best, advertising has become a competitive jungle of displaced realities.
Buyers beware of the thousands of green impostors on store shelves or in advertising. Reading and discerning labels is important, but making this difficult for the consumer benefits the greenwasher. The tiny word size of the ingredients list is a consumer’s nightmare to read and requires a scientist to understand. According to Consumerist.com, there are 30 different words used for sugar alone. Here is another heaping serving of greenwashing while mentioning sugar. We all know it is hard to beat those sodas for having a huge amount of sweeteners. Recently Coca-Cola expressed its concern about children’s health and the climbing rate of diabetes; as a result, it created a special campaign to fight obesity. Coke offering dietary advice? Really?
Big business is leading the food conversations, and we follow like a herd of sheep. The government and its Food and Drug Administration have their hands tightly tied by the food industry and chemical lobbyists. The bottom line is that the food industry does not want the public to be informed about food labels, and the less disclosure, the better for them.
The United States allows more pesticides, growth hormones and genetically modified organisms in our food than the European Union. It is time for everyone to participate in the food conversation and make decisions for what is allowed in the marketplace. By becoming aware of greenwashing, you will see who is attempting to pull the wool over your eyes for their profit. How food dollars are chosen to be spent makes the greatest change. Cast a “fool me no more” vote every time while shopping at the grocery store.
Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is Farmsfinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.