CP editorial: Confusion about labels hurts farmers and consumers

Imagine you are standing in the produce section of your favorite grocery store. You are looking at two varieties of crisp, tart and vibrant Granny Smith apples.

The two you are debating about are the organic Granny Smiths and the non-organic Granny Smiths. One is $2.23 per pound, and the other is only a $1.43 per pound. No matter the price, you want to distinguish a difference between non-organic and organic.

In your mind, organic apples are more expensive, but seem more nutritious and safer for your family. To others, they are just an overpriced apple.

This paralysis of decision-making is a common sight in supermarkets today. We are overwhelmed by the labels, but don’t understand what they mean.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic foods can still use non-natural materials such as citric acid, fish oil, and celery salt. This use of non-natural materials helps with the production of produce, but is it worth an $0.80 difference. For some, the feeling that the produce is “natural” and safe is worth it. For others that $0.80 can be spent elsewhere feeding their family.

According to the USDA, conventional farming is defined as, “the use of seeds that have been genetically altered using a variety of traditional breeding methods, excluding biotechnology, and are not certified as organic.” To some consumers, this seems scary because they don’t understand the science.

The use of biotechnology in agriculture is expanding faster than ever. We see more research about Genetically Modified (GM) and Bio-engineered (BE) crops being published in journals and articles.  For every scientific study published, we see as many blog posts ridiculing, tearing down or “proving” them to be false. These inflammatory posts are everywhere, and they are creating a larger chasm between agriculturists and the consumer.

The reason we are engaging in this division of the agriculture industry and popular consumerism is that 98 percent of U.S. consumers are three or more generations removed from agriculture.

We don’t understand the magnitude of the issue, how it creates divide and how it impacts the farmer. This misguided perception that creates a negative agriculture industry is caused by the labels such as organic, non-GM, natural and many more.

All this marketing makes consumers question the choices that our farmers make. They believe that they know best, and that they know how to feed the world. However, they don’t understand the hours, days and years of labor put into producing their food. They just see what ends up on the grocery store shelf and choose the product with the label that makes them feel better.

Is this a way to live? Should we be spending more money and more time just to get less food and less choice? I don’t think so.

Consumers have a responsibility to be aware, informed, and educated about the factors that go into their food.

Now, take yourself back to the grocery store, set everything aside: blogs, articles, journals, friends, family, anything telling you about the good and bad of each product, and focus solely on price. Which one do you pick?

Ryan Siegel

About the Author Ryan Siegel

I grew up on a small dairy farm in central Missouri, and that is where I found my passion for agriculture. My passion continued to grow for the industry once I joined my school’s FFA Chapter. It was the informative and persuasive speeches that led me to pursue communications and education as a Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE). When I was in high school I served as an educator for the Ag Ed on the Move Program. With this program I taught over 75 third grade students in central Missouri about the importance of the agriculture industry in their daily lives. I also managed multiple agriculture Facebook pages and found a passion and spark for mass media communications. I still have a passion for communications and education.