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Why isn’t there a veggie cartel?

Posted by tinako on October 17, 2010

I am reading Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, and on p. 131 I have found the best explanation I’ve read so far of why meat, dairy, and eggs are promoted so much more than fruits and vegetables.  Those animal-based industries are rather homogenous.  I mean, how many different kinds of those products are there?  The dairy board is just milk  producers.  Then you have the beef board, which is all people with cows, a pork board, I guess a poultry board, and an egg board.  So just a few boards and all of them cover everyone making basically one product.

Compare this with a veggie board.  In her words, “fruit and vegetable growers view each other as competitors, a contest of peaches vs. apples or carrots vs. broccoli.  Although grain producers might be expected to join alliances to promote plant-based diets, they do not; most grain is fed to animals.”  So ironically, fruit and vegetable growers are politically weakened by the bounteous variety of the plant world.

In the next chapter she covers “check-offs,” where those boards lobby government to force producers to contribute to group generic advertising.  This is successful for promoting those homogenous products (think the Milk Moustache campaign, Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner, or Pork: The Other White Meat).  But plum growers, for instance, don’t want to contribute to a fruit promotion fund that they believe will mostly promote more popular fruits such as apples and bananas.  So they sued to be released from check-offs, nobody contributes much, and very little fruit and vegetable promotion happens.  More is spent to advertise Altoid Mints than fruits and vegetables combined.

Although she didn’t specifically make this connection, she does mention that while check-off money is not supposed to be used for lobbying but for “education” and “research,” the groups that do the two different functions are essentially or actually one organization.  It follows that if fruits and vegetable growers are not well-organized for check-off activities, they are also not well-organized for lobbying, which does seem to be the case.  And which explains a lot about the USDA.


2 Responses to “Why isn’t there a veggie cartel?”

  1. Alan said

    This sounds like the folks who blame “speculators” for currency crashes.

    If you’d been paying attention to the real agriculture news, you’d know that the large amounts of money spent on the “milk mustache” advertising campaign…. have failed to stop the decline in milk consumption.

    • tinako said

      Is your point that these check-off campaigns sometimes don’t work? It says right on the entertainment blog you link to (I’m confused, is that the real agriculture news you’re referring to?) that “Of course, this doesn’t mean the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on milk advertising have gone to waste. The decline could have been much greater without those pictures of celebs with white creamy ’staches.”

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