By Oster & Associates president Bev Oster
Politics and how they affect our food supply are not a new topic. My grandfather, a Minnesota dairy farmer, spent time in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900’s, working on behalf of the dairy industry across the U.S. Farmers are hardworking, productive members of our society who provide what the world eats, whether it is in subsistence agriculture in third world countries or large corporate growers who raise tomatoes, berries, corn and bananas to feed their own nations and others on the opposite side of the planet. Today, the produce industry is a global experience, which people who work in the world of fruits and vegetables understand. Sometimes we wish everyone could reach the same understanding of the need for global harmony as it relates to satisfying the hunger of the world.
Politics in produce are here for a reason. Consumers need protection from foodborne illnesses, and workers need to be treated fairly. Trade between countries becomes complicated and consumers want transparency in the sourcing of their food. The goal of politics should be for policy on these sorts of issues. When politics goes beyond policy that has to do with the production and consumption of food, then it is the responsibility of the industry to remind all interested parties of the original intention and the long- term consequences of moving away from those intentions.
Government relations can be an important component of the outreach of large corporations. It is a distinct subset of a public relations program that gives a voice to producers, distributors, processors and retailers. That voice can be a game changer, but it is also a long, arduous and sometimes costly process. It is a different discipline from brand development, but without exercising this voice, we have not set the stage for a free market economy that allows the development of brand.
The produce industry is fortunate to have very effective and influential trade associations who can work on our behalf to advocate on a political front. This doesn’t mean that each individual company shouldn’t be involved in keeping politics and our food supply going in the same direction. As individual organizations, speaking out and advocating for open trade policies to preserve and promote our global impact is your right and your responsibility. But joining with others in the industry makes your voice stronger and more powerful. And in the long run, it will help you sell more of that wonderful produce that is your life’s mission.