Thursday, May 27, 2010


Playing around with words can be a good business as is being realized and practiced by many leading food companies across the world ignoring the impact of such "devious" promotion of products on the consumer. It is not for nothing that labeling regulations are increasingly being tightened to reduce consumer misunderstanding and confusion. Ethically and morally industry should not resort to exploitation of loopholes in the law to make a fast buck at the expense of the consumer. But expecting voluntary restraint from the business enterprises with over focus on profit can be frustrating leading many observers to conclude that stringent mandatory regulations only can save the consumer from gross exploitation and misery.

"In precision farming, satellite imagery is used to identify various levels of soil nutrients of a given field to determine fertilizer requirements for different areas of that field. Also known as "variable rate technology" (VRT), this allows the farmer to pinpoint which areas of the field need more or less fertilizer, instead of blanketing the entire field with one big dose. "Consumers aren't necessarily aware that (precision agriculture) is not new," said Charlotte Vallaeys, food and farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog. "It's more of a cost-saving practice for farmers, not an environmentally friendly or sustainable method of production, but that's how (Sara Lee) is marketing it," she added". Another point of confusion for consumers is in the term 'natural' which splays across the label in bold print: "Eco-Grain 100 % Natural." "The term 'natural' on products like bread is not regulated by state or federal government," said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University. "Companies that use the term 'all natural' essentially come up with their own definition." "'Natural' can mean anything," Vallaeys said. "Because there's no legal definition, there's no third-party verification or legal protection."

Taking the example of VRT, using these words in the label has no meaning as far as a layman is concerned and such a tactic may be just to impress the buyers about sophisticated technology deployed by the producers who supply the raw materials to the processing industry. Similarly use of the word "natural" is widely abused by the industry as it is a terminology having lost its meaning long ago. How a "natural" food is different from those labeled "organic" is a matter of conjecture and probably this practice is resorted to overcome the stringent requirements for declaring any food organic on the label. One can only wonder as to when the food industry is going to respect the rights of the consumers to be transparent vis-a-vis label declaration.

1 comment:

TH said...

Ms. Vallaeys is likely not an expert in crop production, which explains why she would say that precision agriculture is more of a cost-cutting effort than it is an environmentally friendly effort. Precision agriculture is both, it puts nutrients where they need to be, which in turn reduces the amount of fertilizer used. She can try to spin it however she wishes, but precision agriculture is good for the environment.