This past winter I was at a meeting where the speaker boldly announced: “If you eat you are involved in ag.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. I eat food, and I decide what foods I buy. I am involved.

Whether you are buying pork chops or cars, you are involved. And you have a say in what products the companies bring to and keep on the market.

Let me put it another way.  The consumer influences manufacturers by deciding to buy – or to not buy –their products. The manufacturer chooses what they will produce based on sales. If the manufacturer is not aligned with what their customers want, it doesn’t matter how cheaply it’s produced, or even how good it is or how well it’s engineered, it will not sell.

If you ride in a car you are involved in the auto industry.The Lesson of the Big 3

Up to the 1970’s, US car manufacturers resisted changing their cars. GM controlled 50% of the market.  It didn’t fear competition.  During the ‘70’s, Toyota increased their market share by providing quality economy cars. In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s they began marketing luxury cars. Toyota over took Ford, GM and Chrysler to become the largest automaker in North America in 2007.

The people spoke with their money, they choose better vehicles. GM and Ford learned their lesson and now make better cars. As a result, they’ve regained first and second place in US auto sales.

While quality is important to people who ride in cars, so is safety. We can thank Ralph Nader for his work on this.

Nader didn’t work on cars; he didn’t design them or build them; to this day he has never even owned one. Why should anyone listen to him on Auto Safety?

Nader was just a law student and stated writing about car safety. Due to his work Unsafe at Any Speed, Congress unanimously passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This legislation reduced the number of injuries and deaths from road accidents by establishing federal safety standards for every American-made vehicle, including requiring safety belts for all passengers.

For his efforts, GM tried to destroy Nader’s image and silence him. Eventually, the president of GM had to appear before a Senate subcommittee and apologize to Nader for his company’s harassment and intimidation.

His contemporaries argued that Nader was ignorant of the trade-off between safety and affordability and that the vehicle death rates per 100 million passenger miles fell over the years from 17.9 in 1925 to 5.5 in 1965.

Nader (I assume) did ride in cars and he probably has family and friends that he wanted to protect. He was involved in the auto industry. Today, death rate per 100 million passenger miles is 1.08. Cars today are five times safer than they were in 1965. And we will continue to make them safer, since people very much would like their cars to not kill them.

So what do cars have to do with agriculture and food?

Most people don’t process or grow food. They don’t even garden. But they all eat. They are involved.  And the same problems that once affected the Big 3 automakers are now affecting food producers: quality and safety.

Yes, our food supply is the safest in the world, and yes, we raise some of the highest quality food in the world. Damn the science and statistics. But just like Nader and his supporters, there are consumers who still want more: more safety (whatever that means to them) and higher quality (whatever that means to them).

Just like the auto manufacturers, ultimately neither the food producer nor the food processor get to decide what will sell.  They can produce whatever they want and put it on the shelf in the grocery store.

But it is the consumer who decides what they want, and their purchase is their vote.

This is why 3 big food giants (General Mills, Campbell Soup Company, and Mars Incorporated) are voluntarily labeling GMO’s.  Here are some quotes:

Campbell’s and General Mills are saying, ‘It’s hopeless to fight this. Let’s get ahead of the curve.’”

“You can win the legal battle, but you’re going to lose the war because consumers have made up their minds.”

These 3 big food giants have learned the lesson of the Big 3 automakers: resist what the market wants and bankruptcy and liquidation may be your future.

 

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