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Opinion: United voice needed for industry challenges

Gord Gilmour’s recent editorial (‘Butt out,’ Jan. 12, 2017) about the reaction of farmers and others in the industry — me included — to the recent Bothwell Cheese decision to apply the Non-GMO Project Verified label on some of its product lines encouraged me to reflect more deeply on my views.

There are nuggets I agree with in his commentary. For example, I acknowledge Bothwell Cheese can do whatever it wants with its brands. I agree marketing is inherently irrational. And I know consumer-facing companies need to differentiate themselves to be successful, often doing so by making consumers feel better about their choices.

My first lesson in economics was given to me by my dad: “A product is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.” It doesn’t matter that I see little value in the goods or services being offered. Someone will. Having made my decision to remove myself from the transaction I should possibly heed the advice of the headline and butt out.

I also recall my dad’s witty response when I vehemently declared someone or something “was stupid” – an athlete, a TV personality, or even a company. “Well, Trish,” he quipped, “they have always spoken very highly of you!” A reminder I should not be so quick to judge others or their actions. Maybe I still need to work on this tendency!

Bothwell Cheese is purportedly giving customers what they want — another choice in the marketplace. Members of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba are willing to change their practices to make this choice possible. Neither bothers me. My own employer, Monsanto, takes the same approach in selling its products. We provide our customers with products they ask for – products that offer a solution to real challenges they face in producing our food.

So, what’s the rub then? Why did I take to Twitter to voice my displeasure with the decision?

I believe their approach is intellectually dishonest and essentially says “we are better than the rest of you.”

Non-GMO feed is not better or healthier or safer than GMO feed and I rage against anyone who simplistically defines different production methods as good or bad. I also think the decision divides the agriculture community.

Bothwell actively promotes itself as a proud Canadian company, sourcing local ingredients produced right here in Manitoba by family farms.

Unfortunately it appears the company doesn’t support the desperate need to share accurate, balanced and current information about food and farming with the public. I cannot condone an approach that is not inclusive of all agriculture offers.

Some argue it is not the responsibility of Bothwell Cheese or the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba to help consumers better understand what is happening on the farm or help a confused public separate fact from fiction. I argue it is.

I believe a collective approach to telling agriculture’s story is required to build trust with consumers and maintain access to all the tools that help Canadian farmers produce abundant, quality food while reducing agriculture’s impact on our planet.

Slapping a non-GMO label on food products doesn’t help save the plant or contribute to a more welcoming, transparent, and constructive discussion with consumers about how food gets from the farm to their table.

Trish Jordan is the director of public and industry affairs for Monsanto Canada. The views expressed here are her own.

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