Saturday, March 25, 2017

What Happened at Cargill?

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about an EconTalk podcast with Cargill's former Greg Page:

Here is a quote from the interview:

"I think if our water is precious, if our topsoil is precious, if we really care about the hydrocarbon footprint that we have in terms of the amount of cultivation that we need to carry out, that we should think very carefully about eliminating or demonizing genetic engineering."

But this past week I ran across an unfortunate tweet via  @VanceCrowe that caught a lot of attention. This relates to a collaboration with the Non-GMO Project. Many people have pointed out that the Non-GMO project is involved in more than just verification of the sourcing of ingredients. There is an underlying agenda that is inherently anti-GMO and anti-agriculture across a number of dimensions.
How did this happen? There is surely a garden of forking paths we could go down if we give Cargill the benefit of the doubt or try to offer criticisms about how this should have been handled (assuming they were hell bent on making this deal to start with). Maybe I understand how there is definitely money to be made with a niche market carved out by snake oil fear based marketing by shady food companies that has helped drive demand for non-GMO products. But surely someone that knows the industry like Cargill knew that if they were going to sign a deal with the devil (surely they knew that is how it would be viewed industry wide) that they should have a well thought out PR strategy first to keep it as low key as possible and 2nd an immediate response at hand in case things got out of control. I'm not advocating they be sneaky and shady but definitely should have had a well calibrated communication strategy ready for this kind of deal. Right?

So assuming this is understood from the top down that means not every tweet that goes out is super-scrutinized because if it were I doubt anyone at Cargill would have thought tweeting about this was a good idea. So maybe some of the people in social media have the leeway to tweet about new deals and ventures and collaborations as if it is something to be proud of. Maybe not everyone in a large organization like this has the solid 360 degree view of the industry you would expect. But that is OK to have different talent with different backgrounds and ideas across a large organization. If this is what happened I think they need to look internally at onboarding and education about the industry as a whole.

But if this is not what happened, if leadership was full force in favor of making this deal in your face public via social media outlets in this way what were they thinking? Surely someone in the company knew better and warned against it but they went forward anyway?

Maybe its just easy for me to be a monday morning quarterback or back seat driver on this but this whole thing is surprising given the lessons learned already from companies like Yellow Tail and Chipotle.
With more thought what alarms me is perhaps the public ignorance and level of anti-science fear mongering has crossed a critical threshold and emboldened a great company like Cargill to take the calculated risk in this kind of partnership...even to the point of tweeting about it.

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