Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Misinformed & Disingenuous.

I once heard the winning strategy of debate competition explained as quickly taking the other side's argument to an outrageous extreme that shows how flawed it is; usually by tying the viewpoint to nuclear war or the Nazis. Of course, this is a horrible method for making an argument in the real world, and often leads to a much more polarized debate, because both sides quickly drift further away from reason.

This is exactly what Chipotle has achieved in their latest marketing vehicle entitled, 'Farmed & Dangerous'. In this Chipotle sponsored video series, a marketing firm is hired to help clean up the image of a Big Ag company.  The company has a new form of feed called a 'PetroPellet', which is somehow a petroleum based feed. One of the cows eating the pellets is caught on security video exploding, and a massive effort to cover up the deleterious effects of PetroPellet is put into place.

A few things...

What Chipotle is attempting to get away with is constructing an allegory to show how evil Big Food and Ag corporations are, but since the truth is fairly benign, they have to resort to wild hyperbole. The Petroleum tie in is meant to associate agriculture and big oil, obviously.  More subtly, the series aims to tie Big Ag to Big Tobacco - an inaccurate comparison that many activists have already tried to make. The problem with this comparison is that Big Tobacco tried covering up science that showed the ill effects of tobacco, while the vast consensus of all available research regarding food & ag supports the technologies and processes that are currently on the market.

Tobacco was the tobacco industry's only commodity, and there was an irresistible urge to protect that commodity.  The Food Industry and the Ag Industry as a whole has many more commodities and thousands more products made by individual food and ag companies. My point is that they can make money from anything, therefore there's no incentive to fool anyone about the safety of any one product or commodity. Also, food and ag scientists eat the end products and many have their own farms, so their incentive is towards safety. Food and ag scientists are also incentivized to conduct research that will stand up to peer review, since it's the scientist's name on the research and scientists typically work for more than one company or university in their life. A scientist proven to be dishonest will see their career cut very short.  Lastly, the individual food and ag companies have a major incentive to produce safe food and ingredients. If one of these companies fails or is dishonest about it's products, their very existence may be at stake.

This all may sound incredibly naive to someone who isn't involved in food and ag, and that cynicism is owed to tactics from groups like the CSPI and companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle. If Chipotle is right and all of us in food and ag are evil co-conspirators out to poison humanity,then why all the hyperbole? Wouldn't the truth be more than enough?  Of course, that's assuming that the truth is on the activists side. It isn't, and that's why you see Chipotle's Chief Marketing and Development Officer, Mark Crumpacker, Executive Producing non-sense, non-science, fact free propaganda.

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