Monday, July 16, 2007

The internet and food policy advocacy

In yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bob Condor offered U.S. Food Policy's coverage of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) as an example of using the internet to organize communities in support of public interest food policy positions. Condor's jumping off point was a description of the Chicago-based public interest marketing organization Sustain, which supports family and organic farming in the Midwest:
There are many perspectives about whether the Internet is dividing us or uniting people and communities.

Food activists tend to fall on the side of communitybuilding.

"It used to take days or even weeks to get the word out about an issue or rally," one organic food activist told me several years ago. "Our new weapon is e-mail. We can mobilize people in hours now. It's powerful -- and, believe me, we need it."

That activist, Chicagobased Jim Slama, and his green public relations and marketing firm, Sustain (, were central figures in convincing U.S. consumers to send more than 275,000 e-mails and postings to the Department of Agriculture in 2000 to take exception to the proposed National Organic Standards.

Before then, organic certification was more in the hands of food activists who wanted to discourage the use of pesticides and other chemicals in plants. The private National Organic Standards Board was adamant that the proposed rules would allow irradiated and/or genetically engineered foods to qualify as organic, plus sewage sludge would be acceptable for watering any "organic"-label food.


But those 275,000 comments worked, thanks in large part to Slama and other activists spreading the word about an extended public comment period. The USDA couldn't neglect the number of comments (and prospective voters) no matter how many lobbyists might be knocking on their doors. By 2001, the final organic rule was passed after reinstating prohibitions on irradiation, genetically modified seed and that nasty sewage sludge.
Sustain's project on family farming,, was recently chosen at the NetSquared conference as one of 21 public interest projects for future funding and mentoring from leading social networking experts in Silicon Valley.

No comments: