Canadian PR program seeks to educate consumers on US greens

When all else fails, resort to posture: the rock-star pose with Townsend-inspired exaggerated guitar, sexual imagery in TV sitcoms, public relations rather than public information.

I can’t wait to be plied by the PR types at Argyle Communications about the safety of California leafy greens.

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Association, rather than address a rapidly accumulating number of outbreaks associated with their lettuce and spinach and leafy product that have never been made public – has chosen to boost consumption by educating Canadians on the safety of U.S. greens; with that focus, they’ve already lost.

Data, transparency and creativity are what count. Mad Men is an entertaining television show set in the 1960s and they figured out these basics. So did Aristotle about 2,350 years ago, when he wrote any successful rhetoric includes an appeal to logic, an appeal to authority and an appeal to emotion.

“With funding from a California Specialty Crop Block Grant, the LGMA is launching a comprehensive public relations program designed to directly reach Canadian consumers through magazines, newspapers, television and the Internet to make sure they know all California leafy greens sold in Canadian must be certified by the LGMA.

"Consumer media outlets are the primary target of the campaign which seeks to raise awareness among Canadian consumers about the safety of leafy greens from California. Shortly after the LGMA was established, the Canadian government issued a mandate that all California leafy greens imported into the country must be certified by the LGMA.

"To make Canadian consumers aware of the measures being taken to ensure the safety of California leafy greens, Argyle Communications, a Canadian-based public relations firm has been retained to conduct a year-long communications campaign. The planned program includes two separate outreach efforts targeted at food and health reporters from Canadian media outlets and blog sites. The first of these will be mailed in the next few weeks and includes a presentation packet with basic facts and information about the LGMA along with featured recipes developed specifically for this effort. For a select target list, the packets will be hand delivered and will include product in the form of one of the featured recipes. For the first delivery, the featured recipe is Kale Chips. Later in the summer this same type of activity will be repeated with a different theme. A food safety spokesperson will also be pitched to Canadian television and radio outlets in an additional effort to communicate with consumers about the safety of California leafy greens.

"In early June, a tour of California leafy greens operations is scheduled to give Canadian media representatives a first-hand look at the comprehensive food safety program for leafy greens from California. In addition, the LGMA micro-site at is being revised to serve a consumer audience with recipes and important handling information being added."

Draw back the curtain on all mystery meat

Politicians eating burgers does not, historically, inspire confidence.

Watching Midwest governors chow down on hamburgers containing pink slime, er, lean finely textured beef (LFTB yo) from Beef Products Inc. during a press junket last week immediately brought to mind former U.K. Agriculture Secretary John Gummer feeding a hamburger to his four-year-old daughter, Cordelia, as concerns about the safety of British beef in 1990, the early days of the mad cow disease debacle.

Things didn’t turn out so well.

It’s become routine for politicians to chow down on foodstuffs that been slighted, real or imaginary:

• in 1996, the Japanese prime minister scarfed down radish spouts after an outbreak that killed 11 and sickened almost 10,000 with E. coli;

• Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien indulged in a burger after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada in May 2003;

• French President Jacques Chirac and future French president Nicolas Sarkozy consumed cooked chicken during the International Agriculture show in Paris in March 2006 to bolster confidence after an outbreak of avian influenza;

• Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in 2006 he often fed salmon to his own children after Russia banned imports of fresh Norwegian salmon because of worries about toxic metals;

• Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell lunched at a Philadelphia Taco Bell in Dec. 2006 after an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to lettuce sickened 71;

• in 2008, Italy’s Agriculture Minister, Paolo De Castro, dug into some buffalo mozzarella for the cameras after assuring the European Commission that no mozzarella cheese contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin had been exported;

• during a 2008 salmonella-in-cantaloupe outbreak, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras downed some homegrown melon for a CNN news crew, proclaiming, "I eat this fruit without any fear. It’s a delicious fruit. Nothing happens to me!” and,

• last year, Spanish politicians rushed to consume cucumbers incorrectly fingered in the E. coli O104 outbreak eventually linked to raw, organic sprouts.

Forget the theatrics. Show me the data. And let me choose.

I’ll choose safe food.

But pink slime isn’t really about safety.

How could such a technologically-savvy company such as Beef Products Inc. – the makers of pink slime – resort to such an ole timey public relations strategy that may have created some converts but overall fueled concern about the technology?

As noted science-and-society type, Dorothy Nelkin, er, noted in 1995, efforts to convince the public about the safety and benefits of new or existing technologies — or in this case the safety of the food supply — rather than enhancing public confidence, may actually amplify anxieties and mistrust by denying the legitimacy of fundamental social concerns. The public expresses a much broader notion of risk, one concerned with, among other characteristics, accountability, economics, values and trust.

Nelkin’s Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology, while flawed, was instrumental in my approach to these issues, food-related or not.

And now that the slimy dirty work’s been largely done, arm-chair quarterbacks are surfacing with declarations of originality that reek of recycling. In an Internet era, that’s easy. Chapman calls them tracers.

Everyone is probably relieved to know Andrew Revkin of the New York Times is OK with pink slime, even though his family rarely eats beef and he’d love to see the day when all beef comes from free-range herds like the one up the road (move to Australia).

In Taiwan, hundreds of people dressed in black protested yesterday in front of Liberty Square at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei against a proposed policy to lift the ban on meat that contains lean-meat additives.

Holding electric candles, the crowd of about 600 participants set out on a silent march toward Ketagalan Boulevard at sunset, which organizers said symbolized the coming of a dark food-safety era in Taiwan.

Wendy’s Co says it never has used pink slime in its hamburgers and ran ads in eight major daily newspapers around the United States on Friday to let diners know that. "We have never used lean finely textured beef (pink slime) because it doesn’t meet our high quality standards," Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini told Reuters.

Quality and safety are two different things. I’ll choose safety.

Today’s USA Today has competing opinion pieces about the safety of pink slime but they say nothing that couldn’t have been said three weeks ago, three months ago, three years ago, or three decades ago.
What will happen when the next mystery ingredient is unveiled, like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard in Oz.

Any farm, processor, retailer or restaurant can be held accountable for food production – and increasingly so with smartphones, facebook and new toys down the road. Whether it’s real or just an accusation, consumers will rightly react based on the information available.

Rather than adopt a defensive tone, any food provider should proudly proclaim – brag – about everything they do to enhance food safety. Explanations after the discovery of some mystery ingredient sorta suck.

That’s why microbial food safety should be marketed at retail so consumers actually have a choice and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of honesty. Be honest with consumers and disclose what’s in any food; if restaurant inspection results can be displayed on a placard via a QR code read by smartphones when someone goes out for a meal, why not at the grocery store? Or the school lunch? For any food, link to web sites detailing how the food was produced, processed and safely handled, or whatever becomes the next theatrical production – or be held hostage.

What Wendy’s is doing is nothing but exploitation marketing, telling people what isn’t in food instead of what is. (which is what the vast majority of food marketing is).

Maybe the next mystery ingredient to go viral will be something in Wendy’s burgers.

Provide all information up front (we have experience with this having sold genetically engineered corn at a farm market for 3 years a long, long time ago), get the science right, don’t BS.

Choice is a fundamental value. What’s the best way to enable choice, for those who don’t want to eat pink slime, or for those who care more about whether a food will make their kids barf?

Going public Italian style: I tell you but you tell I sue

As Americans grapple with the public health implications about going public either too early or too late, the Italians have added an unique variation: a company issued a public warning, then prohibited people from speaking or writing about it.

A food safety friend based in Italy who has followed the machinations of Taco-Restaurant-A-Bell and a recent salmonella outbreak, noted that going public with a food safety recall is an exception in Italy. Companies have plans for disseminating information to the public in their recall procedures, but are reluctant to put them into practice. National authorities don’t insist on much. A recall for foreign bodies is also exceptional as officials don’t mind foreign bodies much. What is typically Italian is the threatening message at the end: we tell the public because we have to, but we will sue you if you talk about it to anyone, or you link to our page.

The press release, translated from Italian, says, “Leaf Italia informs its consumers of the possible presence of foreign bodies inside some boxes of chocolate pralines "Sperlari Granperle plain chocolate with crushed nougat" gr. 160 which belong only to production lots L11284 – L11285 – L11287 – L11294 – L11296 – L11300 as indicated on the package.

“As a precautionary measure, it is therefore recommended not to consume the product in the image and to call the toll free number 800829008 for more information.

“This information is owned by LEAF. The information is intended for exclusive use for the purposes covered by this statement and any different use must be authorized in writing by LEAF: in the absence of such authorization, any dissemination and reproduction is forbidden."

Canadian MDs want junk food in same category as E. coli

From the I’m-not-sure-they’ve-thought-this-through category, a cardiologist and two public-health professors from Alberta argue in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology that junk food and its ingredients are such major health hazards that products with excessive amounts of sugar, salt and saturated fats should be labelled as “pathogens” — a word normally applied to viruses and other disease-causing bugs.

The National Post reports that authorities and the media grab public attention now when they report the spread of traditional pathogens — like listeria or E. coli — in contaminated food or water, and should similarly highlight food ingredients that are responsible for killing vastly more Canadians, says the article.

“It’s really just a nomenclature to attract attention to the fact we have a problem here and something needs to be done about it,” said Dr. Norm Campbell, a University of Calgary cardiologist and co-author of the paper. “It will hopefully … result in an evolution of our food so it’s again a source of health, not a source of disease.”

A combination of two Greek words, pathogen literally means producer of illness, though most often refers specifically to a bacteria, virus or other infectious agent.

Dr. Campbell, a specialist in hypertension and the effects of sodium on it, denied that his idea amounts to nanny-state interference in the marketplace, arguing there is as much or more reason to regulate food as to control highway speed limits or air traffic, government interventions that Canadians tolerate. Some evidence suggests that salt in food alone contributes to 14,000 deaths and 40,000 hospitalizations yearly, he said.’

“Why regulate crime? ‘Oh, it’s a murder, they shouldn’t be allowed a second chance.’ Well, the food industry kills many thousands more than that murderer ever had a hope of doing.”