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Consumer Choice or Minority Choice?

March 4, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we think of consumer choice, we think of what most consumers want. Here at SlowMoneyFarm we remain a niche producer for niche customers and we’re ok with that because we like what we do. I don’t aim to be the largest in the southeast. The fact is of over 308million people in the USA most will not ever purchase a single thing from us.

And that’s ok! That leaves a great deal of demand for other farms to fill those choices. Everyone makes food choices. How much do others make food choices for you? Consider this comment, in an email this morning announcing a “campaign” to get Starbucks to use only organic milk from cows fed nonGMO ingredients:

GMO Inside’s campaign is launched on the heels of the consumer victory to get GMO ingredients out of original Cheerios. GMO Inside mobilized 50,000 people to post comments on Cheerios’ Facebook wall and mobilized over 35,000 consumers to write to and telephone the company.

Consumer victory? 50,000 people flooding their Facebook wall – hardly enough to be considered the majority of 308million consumers. The kick in the teeth here? Of those 50,000 people so concerned with food choices they wanted everyone to have Cheerios altered to suit them, not only had many said they wouldn’t buy Cheerios even if they changed but not one of those 50,000 took the time to come over and actually buy something from the nonGMO small farm style operation they claim to support.

Consumer choice or harassment campaign? Do you want food choices determined by the loudest, most vocal group harassing food processors to change something you buy but they don’t? Maybe it’s good but if you’re buying something that you like as is, shouldn’t that be enough?

“Starbucks already serves soy milk that is organic and non-GMO. Consumers also deserve dairy milk held to the same standard and level of quality,” stated Green America’s GMO Inside Campaign Director Nicole McCann. “Consumers will put pressure on Starbucks to serve only organic, non-GMO milk. And the reality is that the process Starbucks put in place to remove rBGH from its milk source can be used to source organic milk.” GMO Inside

Now, to be straight I don’t really care if Starbucks uses organic milk or not. It’d be good for my friends at Zweber Farms who produce organic milk, and are Starbuck’s customers. I don’t buy Starbuck’s…in my opinion too much money and I don’t drink coffee. But recently when I was waiting for others to get their Starbucks fix, I wondered how many of the people walking up really cared enough to give any thought to everything on Starbuck’s ingredient list. Most at airports, malls,etc are grabbing coffee on the run and, from the appearance of some of the drinks, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcalories and health aren’t as high on the list of concerns as a treat.

Does it mean throwing out all we don’t like? Of course not. But less than 85,000 people harassing companies for change that affects all can be a bad precedent. Many things there’s not enough production to fill the requirement set – that’s why we’re niche markets! The majority in action don’t care, and don’t want to buy what we have. The corporations of the world just aren’t going to buy from small farms being ‘represented’ by 85,000 people who can’t spend $1 let alone $5-10 or $100 in funds to help those small farms get a better market share (no matter what corporations do).

How is demand met if there’s not enough farms that can afford to expand for the market? Well we either adapt or don’t – we sink into debt (for lack of up front consumer support) or don’t. I think of some points I read yesterday.

Swift, for example, had taken advantage of North Carolina’s relatively cheap land and labor and built a packing plant there but had trouble buying enough hogs to keep it running at capacity. To encourage local farmers, the plant’s managers leased sows to farmers who agreed to take at least fifty of them and to sell the offspring to Swift. “Inherent in all this are the principles of the industrial production line,” explained a reporter in 1959. “The businessman at one end of the line ships out standardized pigs to farmers who’ll feed them according to a set pattern.” Regular production schedules would stabilize supplies and prices,and consumers would get “cheaper, better pork.” Maureen Ogle – In Meat We Trust.

Note – 1959. Now in 2014 the very same kind of situation – supply/demand,consumers wanting plenty but at cheap prices – is being worked for organic production. Should everyone have healthy food? Sure – but should a minority dictate what healthy is? Should a minority of people harass companies to comply with something that there may not be enough supply to cover?

It’s done with every restaurant and food processing company, it seems. There’s more questions than answers. I hope that you, dear reader, will give thoughts to these questions. Choose your food, including how it’s produced, and give thought to what’s behind the scenes. Does it matter?

Should a minority dictate to the majority through company harassment? There’s many facets to the question. Thoughts?

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