I’ve always been a fan of context.
Sports radio can be vexing to me for that reason — often the commentary is heavy on sizzle, light on steak.
The Environmental Working Group delivers its annual “Dirty Dozen” list in a similar fashion, with lots of spicy sound bites and minimal context.
I wouldn’t mind a legitimate discussion of pesticides in the produce industry. Until there is a comprehensive effort at education on the topic, the average consumer will continue to have no idea about the challenges of growing fruits and vegetables on a commercial scale.
Using pesticides is necessary for most growers. It’s expensive. It’s closely regulated. Most importantly, it regularly saves crops from the ravages of all kinds of insects.
But until the people who live these realities go out on a limb and explain them to consumers, the industry will continue to be vulnerable to messaging like what comes from the EWG each year.
The industry is vulnerable because what the EWG stirs up is not a legitimate discussion of pesticides in produce. It’s data cherry-picked for drama, perilously free of context.
The use of pesticides is an area in which consumers are susceptible to being misled because, in general, people are more likely to fear what they don’t understand.
The produce industry has countered EWG’s messaging mainly by reminding people that the government says produce is indeed safe and that the benefits of eating produce outweigh any possible ill effects from pesticides.
Both great points, and both very much true — and yet maybe now is an opportunity for more.
During United Fresh’s BrandStorm event in February, marketers were asked whether they wanted their company image to be “polished” or “transparent.”
Pesticides were mentioned as a reason for opting for “polished.”
I can understand reluctance to talk about complex business realities with people who aren’t familiar with agriculture — especially when those people are your end consumers. The stakes are high.
Even so, in the age of people wanting to know more about where their food comes from, I believe it makes sense for companies to identify ways to educate consumers on all the work that goes into providing fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, foul weather and pests be damned.
Video could be a great medium for this kind of education. Find someone who loves what he does and who knows it so well he can talk about it easily — no script needed. Film that person discussing lots of different aspects of the business, and by the time you get to a segment about pesticides, the audience already knows this person. There’s a relationship established.
Who do you want consumers to trust when it comes to food safety? Being proactive about your processes — and the reasons behind them — can pay dividends now and later.
All that, plus a bonus: When shoppers feel like they get all the information they need from you, they’ll have no need for EWG and its list.
Ashley Nickle is editor of Produce Retailer. E-mail her at [email protected].