By: Violet Batcha
The other day, the Des Moines Register’s opinion page published a piece titled “Organic marketing: Not truthful, often misleading” by John R. Block. Before we even get into how his “op-ed” is itself not truthful and often misleading, let’s recall who Block is.
He’s the former U.S. secretary of agriculture who came up with the famous “ketchup is a vegetable” proposal back in the Reagan era. That was after Congress slashed $1 billion from the Dept. of Agriculture’s child nutrition funding in 1981, leaving it up to the department to figure out how to accommodate the cut while still satisfying the nutritional requirements for foods served in public schools.
Block’s solution? Reclassify ketchup from a condiment to a vegetable. To his surprise, there was an immediate public outcry (Come on, who doesn’t want high fructose corn syrup in their veggies?). He didn’t help his case when he explained that “ketchup in combination with other things was classified as a vegetable.” What other things? Adding fuel to the fire, he replied, “French fries or hamburgers.” After meeting with President Reagan, Block withdrew the proposal, citing “adverse public reaction.”
Not discouraged by this brouhaha, Block has continued to fight to classify other food products as vegetables. In 2011 he was finally successful when Congress decided that pizza (yes, pizza the greasy, cheesey, junk food staple) was a vegetable. How’d that happen? The National Frozen Pizza Institute had lobbied Congress, of course. And who lobbies for the National Frozen Pizza Institute? You guessed it – the lobbying firm where Block works – Olsson, Frank & Weeda Terma Matz PC.
It looks to me like Block has spent his career trying to brand food with misleading labels.
Now onto his piece in the Des Moines newspaper.
Block discusses several “red flags” he says were raised by the findings of an organization called Academics Review in the “Organic Marketing Report” it published recently. That document claims that the organic food industry has been engaging in a deceptive marketing campaign to increase its profits by pointing out that conventionally grown foods are laden with GMOs, toxic and persistent pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.
The problem with Academics Review report is that these claims aren’t deceptive, they’re true. No wonder people are buying more and more organic food!
It’s also worth noting that although Block calls Academics Review a “scientific-integrity watchdog,” Friends of the Earth’s Kari Hamershlag points out in her piece on Civil Eats that, “The groups’ co-founder Bruce Massey is on the advisory board of the American Council on Science and Health, a pro-industry science advocacy group that takes significant funding from corporations such as Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta, which can be seen as having a financial stake in these debates. Links to this and other pro-biotechnology organizations, such as International Food Biotechnology Committee, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment, and GMO Pundit, are listed prominently on their website.”
If you want to find truly deceptive marketing claims, look no further than the industry that Block represents. Many conventional food products have been caught up in lawsuits over misleading claims that they’re “natural” or “all-natural.” The suits are commonly over products labeled “natural” that contain genetically engineered ingredients that were created in a lab – seems pretty untruthful and deceptive to me.
So whom do you trust – the organic industry that’s providing truthful information about how its food is produced or the guy who called ketchup a vegetable?