Young mothers prove powerful force in food safety debate

In our battle to mitigate misinformation about agriculture and food production, we need to pay attention to an important new demographic: the “mommy bloggers” and their readers.

More than four million young, educated, chatty, technology savvy American mothers are actively blogging about parenting or turn to blogs and other social media platforms for advice.

This group is also 64 percent more likely to donate to an environmental organization and 88 percent more likely to pay more for products and services that are perceived to be eco-friendly, according to Scarborough Research.

Moms who blog have a great deal of power and influence. They have become important marketing partners, spreading the word about ideas, products and services to the millions of other moms who are online.

Moms who blog are also more likely to make other moms feel guilty about their food and parenting choices.

Mommy blogger campaigns can be damaging in the world of agriculture and food production if they incite unnecessary fear in parents by leading them to believe they are harming their families by feeding them genetically modified foods, beef treated with hormones and antibiotics and other conventionally produced food.

There is significant market pressure for parents to fit their buying and consumption decisions neatly under the halo of all that is “natural” and “organic.” It is a shame, though, because there is no evidence to suggest that organically produced food is any safer or healthier than food produced through other production methods.

Mommy bloggers, and parents in general, need to be our target audience.

Too often, agricultural and food production practices are demonized in parenting circles, and there is a great need for education and agricultural advocacy on these topics.

Rural mommy bloggers can be our greatest allies in this. They can ensure that information about agriculture, production methods and food safety is being accurately presented by using a positive voice, being open to respectful dialogue and sharing their stories.

Agricultural organizations and advocacy groups can also benefit from the unique role that mommy bloggers play. They can develop brand ambassadorship programs for rural and, perhaps even more importantly, urban mommy bloggers, providing support and tools so that these individuals can spread awareness about the industry through their blogs.

However, the goal for these ambassadorship programs should not be to get your story in front of a mom who blogs. Rather, the goal should be to have your story become part of hers.

Ambassadorship programs are important pieces in the “agvocacy” puzzle as we work to address some of the image problems that the agricultural industry faces.

We are fortunate to be able to raise our children in a part of the world where food — all food, no matter how it is produced — is plentiful, diverse and safe. Those of us who farm and work in agriculture need to reach out and connect across the plate, using available tools as well our own unique voices to counter some of the misinformation.

Cami Ryan is a research consultant and a professional affiliate in the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan. Sarah Schultz is author of the blog nurselovesfarmer.

  • Dayton

    Ask any rural mommy if they appreciate their husband dropping his smelly chemically soaked clothes on the floor while the kids step over them to get to the school bus? As they ride the bus they inhale the fresh fumes of chemicals being applied all the way to town. I lived the life growing up and vowed my children would never be exposed. Thank goodness I held my vow.

    • Roberta Galbraith

      Thank you to Dr. Cami Ryan and Sarah Schultz for identifying that we need have a conversation between Agriculture producers and our customers about the real world of food production. An Ambassadorial program would be one way to share the food conversation in a productive way. After all we all have to eat and we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of choice here in North America.

    • http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com Sarah Schultz

      I am a rural mom who co-authored this article and any farmer who soaks his clothes in chemicals is doing it wrong and wasting money. My husband uses the chemicals in a safe way and our children are not allowed to be around the chemicals or in the sprayer. Also, we don’t leave our clothes around on the floor, so no need to worry. World scientific consensus tells us GMOs are safe, so I don’t know why so many people choose to ignore that.

      • bob

        Re world consensus; In an article published by WP “US GMO crops show mix of benefits;concerns, USDA” the scientific community has not reached a consensus as industry would have us believe. How is it that the USDA is undecided after 15 years of research while industry would have us believe that gmos are safe. Industry has been able to market gmos to farmers but forgot to market to consumers. It is troubling times when we depend on “mommy bloggers” as a check on industry.I find the above article condescending while at the same time clearly lacking credibility. Keep it up “mommy bloggers”.http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/24/usda-gmo-report-idUSL1N0LT16M20140224….p.s. if you don’t let your children near the chemicals why should I let my children eat the same produce ?

        • http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com Sarah Schultz

          Bob, there’s a BIG difference between chemicals that need to be mixed safely wearing PPE and pesticide residues on produce.

      • Dayton

        Sarah if your chemicals are safe enough to spray on the Wheat prior to harvest why not let the kids run around and mix in? Seems farmers have a short memory and will lookout for their bottom line before they worry about the health and welfare of others. You go to great lengths to protect your kids exposure, what about everyone else?

  • bob

    Ms. Ryan attempt to influence the direction of the gmo debate reminds me of the religious zealots that stand on their soapboxes and proclaim that only they know “the truth”. The target of Ms. Ryan are the mommy bloggers because they are educated and can be saved, kind of like the teenagers that the religious deem worthy of saving.

    • Cami Ryan

      That’s what you took from this, Bob? I don’t recall our article saying anything about “truth” — about evidence, yes. But that is likely not acceptable to you either.

      Zealot: defined as “a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals. synonyms: fanatic, enthusiast, extremist, radical, young Turk, diehard, true believer, activist, militant”

      I am afraid that ‘zealotry’ and objective evidence don’t make for good house-mates in the world of academia. Call me whatever you like; no harm, no foul because I don’t really care. I think, though, that if you want to be heard as a serious (and reasoned) voice in the dialogue on food production and ag, you need to change your “name calling” strategy to something that is not so easily dismissed. Transparency also helps. Full name please.

      • bob

        Ms. Ryan, re name calling, check your article,I find your use of “chatty mommy bloggers” to be very patronizing thereby undoing your objective of forwarding the gmo discussion. Please comment on USDA article feb 20. Please explain the “scientific consensus” position when the USDA explicitly states that it has concerns.

  • bill

    well there is no evidence that gm food is safe so therefore good for the mommy bloggers, why would they want to feed their children or themselves posionous gmo food, most of europe wont even allow it grown on their soil, but here in canada we are following the lead of the u.s. with monsanto imbedded in the fda, the bee decline, the overgrowth of roundup ready weeds. gmo’s are bad for the environment and bad for people to consume and there are many studies to prove this all you have to do is research it. gmo should not be allowed to be grown in canada .

    • Chuck

      How do you prove something is safe? By lack of harm. You can’t make it safer than no harm. And there are no studies showing harm. Ergo, they’re safe. At the same time, you call GMOs poison without any evidence. Who’s stretching the truth here? But the GMO-truthers will always be out there. No way to convince them otherwise.

  • bill

    cami ryan, did you also come from the states from a monsanto company to spread your gmo propaganda here in canada?

  • bill

    so what no posts unless you are pro gmo, humm you must have something to hide.!

  • richard

    Sorry Cami, as per usual your articles are nothing more than thinly veiled propaganda desperately aimed at trying to impugn the motives of those who disagree with your ivory tower mythology……”mommy bloggers inciting unnecessary fears”…..”those of us in agriculture ….need to counter misinformation”…. “significant market pressure for parents to buy under the halo of natural and organic”…Are you serious??? Do you really believe your cute little innuendos will somehow sway intelligent people to your point of view…. The truth is it is the exact opposite!……Intelligent people witness the spectre of antibiotic resistance, BSE, CWD, contaminated watersheds, species extinction, industrial animal abuse etc. etc……..all brought to you no thanks to modern agriculture…..Please explain how these people are misinformed? And please explain how your “better living through denial” is going to advance your “agvocacy”???

  • Cami Ryan

    Well, We’ve (I’ve) quite obviously hit a nerve here. I’ve listened to and read these kind of rumblings for years. I’m not changing my tune. And my critics certainly haven’t changed theirs. Which approach will result in real change for agriculture? Yours? I think not.

    Take your sharp criticisms to the next level. Operationize them. Articulate your opposition to articles (mine, whoever) and submit as a letter to the editor. Again, transparency is always appreciated. Don’t be afraid to put pen to paper, opinion on lines and use your full names. We call that professionalism and accountability. Everyone knows that that’s the only way to move forward in a reasoned debate. That’s the only way we are going to solve some of the real challenges we face in ensuring food security.

    • richard

      Thank you Cami, I’m glad you will never change your tune. It is your “mission” to “convert” the masses that is precisely the reason why intelligent people seek alternatives to agri-biz platitudes around feeding the world…..And unlike yourself I dont have the smug certainty of what the future of food production will look like…. I do know however that it will not be one that is at war with nature……..Since you are unable to address my assertions let me clarify…. 1/ antibiotic resistance (the direct result of using antibiotics as a prophylactic in battery animal rearing, possibly the greatest threat to health in human history.) 2/BSE… a terminal neurological disorder in cattle directly connected to feeding brain and spinal tissues of dead animals to living animals 3/ CJD…. the human equivalent of BSE directly related to eating the flesh of infected animals 4/CWD… a terminal neurological disease related to rearing wild animals in captivity 5/watershed contamination (“agriculture is the largest contributor of non point source pollution in America” (National Research Council USA 1988) 6/ CCD (colony collapse disorder…..increasingly attributed to “less than lethal doses’ of neo nicotinoids systemically affecting non target pests ie. bees 7/ industrial animal abuse…the direct result of rearing birds and animals in overcrowded, pharmaceutical dependent conditions to meet the market imperative of cheap food for the masses. 8/ pesticide resistance… the direct result of repetitive overuse of single chemical agents to try to resolve complex ecological issues. 9/ GMO…a technology of hope, that continues to be more about inputs than output……..The real frightening issue here Cami is not that you as a journalist disagree with people, on their food concerns….. but that you may not even know what they are talking about?

      • Mark

        Richard it appears that when an opinion different from yours is stated a personal attack is a better approach. Along the way, let’s be sure to bring in really big scary statements and make it sound more believable. Last, let’s highlight research done almost 30 years ago as the reason to make it ok to say that she’s not credible. Why even try to address the other claims when it is clear there is no rationale approach you will take other than to thrash Cami and her work. Sadly, are you sure it’s you who don’t know what you are talking about?

      • Terry James

        Just a note on your comments about BSE. BSE is an example of how a modern agricultural was proven to be harmful. However, I believe the regulatory authorities have taken all the necessary steps, and much more, to fix the situation. I’m not sure it’s relevant to Doc Cami Ryan’s article. I personally am very proud of the fact that modern agriculture has improved the quality of life for so many people. Can we improve-for sure, and we are working towards doing so.

  • Mark

    Sad that an attempt to educate is being used as a sounding board for fear and contempt. There are too many trials that highlight the safety of genetically modified foods. This article is not being written about the numerous scientifically valid pieces. Rather about the fact that you should question the fear mongering comments that several of you just committed. These women aren’t paid company representatives. They are educated women working to dispel myths related to production agriculture and feeding their families.

  • http://thefanningmill.com Rob Wallbridge

    Personally, I’ve always found Cami Ryan to be very open-minded and willing to engage in informative conversations.
    There’s a pretty easy way to tell if a “mommy blogger” is willing to engage in reasonable, balanced discussion or if they are more interested in spreading fear and misinformation to further their personal agendas: check the comments. Open-minded bloggers will post comments from all perspectives; the comment section on “sancti-mommy” blogs (as they’ve been called) will read more like mutual back-patting sessions.

  • Paul Yanko

    WP Winnipeg bureau reporter Ed White has a great take on this issue. Farmers – get ready to tell your story:

    http://www.producer.com/2014/03/expose-yourself-embrace-science-and-tell-people-why-you-the-farmer-do-what-you-do/

    Cheers,
    Paul – WP web ed

  • Patty

    It’s Ag Day, and maybe a good time to bring up Norman Borlaug’s 2000 paper
    “Ending World Hunger. The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of Antiscience Zealotry” The following paragraph: “Extreme environmental elitists seem to be doing everything they can to derail scientific progress. Small, well-financed, vociferous, and antiscience groups are threatening the development and application of new technology, whether it is developed from biotechnology or more conventional methods of agricultural science” seems quite fitting.

  • Roberta Galbraith

    I woulld think it is safe to say that there is lots of emotion on the topic of food and food production. As a 5th generation farmer, woman and mother I have to say that we have some work to do making our urban friends and family comfortable with what our jobs entail. To my farm friends and colleagues I would say we need to share the real agriculture we know,love and work hard at perfecting. Science and technology is such a huge part of what allows us to do today what took 80% of the population years ago and still does in some countries in the world. As a farmer we are proud to feed others whether you prefer organic , vegan, gluten free, lactose intolerant etc.-choice is a wonderful thing! When we beat each other up online are we helping? Being a bully? Open to having a conversation? Thanks Cami for starting this conversation and Ed White for providing guidance in starting a conversation and everyone else for having an opinion!

  • Paul Yanko

    Thanks Roberta for your reasoned and respectful insight!

    Richard – you will notice your most recent post has not been approved.

    I (Paul Yanko, WP web editor, forum moderator) feel this thread of comments is getting too personal in that some of the comments being made are directed toward the holders of the opinion, rather than the opinion itself.

    I want to remind us ALL that it is perfectly acceptable to hold any belief you should choose.

    You may take issue with someone’s belief/opinion, but NEVER their right to hold it.

    Also, just because you disagree with any opinion does not give you the right to attack – in even the slightest way – the person holding it.

    Healthy debate is the cornerstone of a civilized society.

    Why not put forward support for your own theories and opinions rather than attempting to tear down those of others?

    I think we all need to take a deep breath, recognize there are passionate people on both sides of the issue, and that minds are unlikely to be changed with a singe post – especially a snarky one.

    At the same time we NEED to continue with this debate in a respectful and reasonable manner.

    Commentary on this issue from Rebecca (above), Ed White ( http://www.producer.com/2014/03/expose-yourself-embrace-science-and-tell-people-why-you-the-farmer-do-what-you-do/ ) and Rob Wallbridge ( http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/03/04/an-organic-farmer-speaks-out-for-gmo-co-existence-labeling-could-break-impasse-for-the-reasonable/ ) shows us this is possible.

    Let’s do our best to follow their example.

    Cheers,
    Paul – WP web ed

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