The organic versus conventional debate has been fueled by attacks from organizations and companies in both fields of farming. The most recent marketing move claiming superiority comes from the Clif Bar Family Foundation. The organization's initiative called Seed Matters includes an animated video condemning genetically-modified seed -- the predominant production method used by today's U.S grain farmers.
Reminiscent of past attempts to demonize modern farming methods, the video stars an organic seed taking a dim view of his genetically-modified counterparts. Farmers and others in food and agriculture are justifiably angry about such unflattering and openly hostile representations. As with other assaults on today's agriculture, it might be tempting for farmers and other food system stakeholders who support conventional practices to attack companies like Clif Bar for their inaccurate and inflammatory approach. Even when opinions are outlandish and inaccurate, as is the case with Mr. Seed, attacking the attackers may not be the best strategy. Reacting with anger and indignation could reinforce a perception that modern agriculture is heavy-handed and wants to quash dissenting opinion, while also drawing additional attention and viewers.
With the understanding that both conventional and organic farming have a place in the market, a key question is: what's the best way to engage with consumers to encourage a more balanced public discussion?
At The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), our research shows that a better approach is to engage those who are taking part in the conversation by introducing them to real farmers -- the boots on the ground who can demonstrate the approach of today's agriculture, using technology to farm responsibly and sustainably. Connecting with consumers on the things that matter most to them, like safe food, responsible animal care and environmental stewardship, builds trust and helps farmers better align with the values of the vast majority of Americans -- and show that they are nothing like the unsavory characters portrayed by Clif Bar.
Engaging in the conversation, much of which may be online, allows the food system to connect with those who are interested without inadvertently promoting the agenda of the videos.
Agriculture today is diverse and there is room for everyone at the table, from Clif Bar's organic farmers to the conventional farmers planting genetically-modified crops. Instead of fueling the fire, those in agriculture have the opportunity to embrace the differences that allow consumers to have a choice in their food decisions. Adopting this approach encourages a more informed dialogue and limits additional attention to those who hope to spark an inflamed diatribe to promote their agenda.