LAST CALL: Accusations and tomatoes flying in media food fight

Long before US planes began bombing runs over Afghanistan, American

farmers fired the first shot in a different skirmish with their

neighbors to the north.



The Yanks successfully secured steep tariffs on tomatoes imported from

north of the border. The Canadians retaliated, forming the Tomato Trade

Alliance, an eight-month-old organization that publicizes what it sees

as Washington's rotten tomato policies. Last week, the group's campaign

bore fruit in the form of a New York Times story headlined "US-Canada

Tomato War Heats Up."



"Pre-anthrax, we were shipping baskets of fresh tomatoes to members of

the Canadian media," says Randy Wood, senior partner at

National-Labrador Communications (NLC), which has been handling PR

efforts for the alliance.



"That really opened the door to our pitch. The first thing reporters

wanted to do was thank us for the fresh tomatoes that they'd just sliced

into." Adds Wood, "It's amazing how many newsrooms have olive oil on

hand."



NLC also works to publicize complaints brought by the British Columbia

Lumber Trade Council against US softwood growers. So far, that conflict

- part of a century-old timber tiff between the US and Canada - has

proven a harder sell than the vegetable imbroglio.



"Tomatoes are sexier than two-by-fours," Wood explains.



After hearing Wood expound on the virtues of "big, red, Canadian

hot-house tomatoes, the tastiest, juiciest tomatoes in the world,"

PRWeek wondered whether we might receive our own sample of his client's

product.



We were told that unfortunately, due to the tomato war, such a shipment

would be impossible to arrange. "It's kind of hard to get our tomatoes

across the border right now," Wood says.



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