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Food: Let’s Call it What it is



While on vacation recently in Boston, I started looking for a local seafood restaurant to try some fresh East Coast fish. I came across a place called Legal Seafood. The name intrigued me because I had never thought of there being illegal seafood. When I visited their web site, I was disappointed to find their name had nothing to do with their food being legal or illegal. It seems that when they started in the 1950s, they distributed things called “legal stamps,” a predecessor to S&H Green Stamps. (Those of you under 50 may need to check Wikipedia for an explanation.) But it got me to wondering how many people were eating at this place under the assumption that their seafood had been caught legally?

Now let me state at the outset, I have no idea of the fish served at Legal Seafood was caught and processed legally or illegally. In fact, being a born and bred Midwesterner, I have no idea what the rule are for catching and processing commercial fish. But branding your products with what they are or how they are raised or processed may be a good idea in these times of false and misleading attacks on modern agriculture. If restaurants like Chipotle and Panera can make negative claims about the food most farmers produce, why can’t we make positive claims?

For example, a large part — dare I say a majority — of the pork produced in the nation comes from farms that participate in the Pork Quality Assurance program (PQA). This is a producer-directed, voluntary program that sets strict, science-based standards for the treatment of hogs and the production of pork. So why not put a label on those nameless Styrofoam trays in the meat case that read, “Humanely-raised, safely-produced, certified PQA product.” Why wait for HSUS and their minions to call our products into question? Let’s reassure consumers that what they are buying is safe and produced to industry standards.

We had put our trust in that USDA stamp as a way of assuring the consumer, but I feel that is no longer enough. As producers, we need to exert a greater influence on how our products are marketed in the retail and food service sectors. This means putting pressure on processors and retails to present our products in the best way. Producers, processors, and retailers all have a vested interest in selling more product, so let’s work together to do that.

What if we started putting stickers on gallons of milk that said something like “This product has undergone rigorous testing at the farm and at the dairy to assure it contains no harmful bacteria or other unsafe chemicals.” Notice this statement sidesteps the whole BST issue, which should remain a producer and consumer choice. Milk is one of the most tested products in the grocery store; yet, thanks to unfounded accusations, consumers are weary of what is in their milk. Let’s start telling them right on the carton what we know to be true: milk is safe.

Special interest activist groups are working hard to get negative labels placed on a variety of food products. These labels cause consumers to question the safety and wholesomeness of the product. Some positive messages — touting the safe, humane, and science-based methods used to produce and process their food — would go a long way to helping shoppers feel better about the food they buy and dull the impact of the scare tactics being used by those have a radical agenda.

By Gary Truitt