Sunday, June 12, 2016

Snake Oil Sustainability-Marketing Agenda Driving People Away from Sustainable Farming Practices

 In the old west, 'snake oil' salesmen would sell these elixars claiming that they universally will 'cure what ails you.' In today's world of modern science and medicine, for the most part, these tactics no longer work. Except maybe in the world of sustainable food. Its becoming more and more common for food companies to slap some label on their food like 'natural', 'organic', 'GMO-free', 'no antibiotics', 'hormone free' etc. and claim either explicitly or implicitly that these foods universally will cure what's ailing the planet or are healthier and safer with little or no scientific evidence to support the claims. Because, just like the snake oil salesmen of the old west, its about perception and fear and emotion vs. science and truth. You would think that truth in advertising laws and such would squelch this kind of unethical marketing practice, but in fact Vermont's recent GMO food labeling initiative is helping to almost institutionalize and catalyze this even more, making it more confusing for consumers and difficult to really know and understand what is in their food and the technology and production practices that are behind it.

Chipotle has its own history of these 'sustainability snake oil' marketing tactics with their past video releases. Now apparently Cliff Bar is playing the same game.


“Food companies are using junk science driving people away from sustainable practices like GMOs to manipulate consumers for the sole purpose of market gain.”

I think the above is a telling statement, and broadly reflects a number of marketing and legislative campaigns many of us are familiar with....think Chipotle and Vermont's GMO labeling laws. I watched the video mentioned in the AgWeb story above (produced or funded by Clif Bar Family Foundation), and even if it weren't junk sci-fi, its pretty vulgar and offensive in its own right.

It is a shame, similar to the Chipotle burritos, at $5+ per box even, Cliff Bars are really good. And actually healthy. What I can't understand, when you have a really good product like this, why resort to such unethical and misleading marketing practices?

In a sense, when it comes to marketing tactics, this makes Chipotle and Cliff Bar among others truly the snake oil salesmen of the sustainable food movement. And tragically unnecessarily so. Even more tragically, like in the old west, instead of having consumers seek out science based solutions and treatments to their ailments, they buy the fake product. Similarly, these snake oil sustainable food marketing practices are driving consumers away from modern science based green technologies that truly offer remedies to the many environmental challenges we face in feeding a future growing population.

(image:Carol M. Highsmith - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID highsm.28650.)

"Professor Thaddeus Schmidlap" (historical intrepreter Ross Nelson), the resident snake-oil salesman at the Enchanted Springs Ranch and Old West theme park, special-events venue, and frequent movie and television commercial set in Boerne, Texas, northwest of San Antonio
See also: Consumers have a right to know!

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