Organic food fight may be fought by lobbyists, pros

WASHINGTON, DC: Newly proposed federal regulations for organic foods could prompt food companies to dramatically increase PR efforts for such products.

WASHINGTON, DC: Newly proposed federal regulations for organic foods could prompt food companies to dramatically increase PR efforts for such products.

WASHINGTON, DC: Newly proposed federal regulations for organic

foods could prompt food companies to dramatically increase PR efforts

for such products.



But that will only happen once the rules are finalized, a process that

could take five months. Meantime, the organic PR spotlight will mainly

consist of lobbying and public affairs efforts by food groups and

processors who would like to see changes before the Agriculture

Department completes the rules, according to food industry PR pros.



Once enacted, the department’s guidelines will replace state and

industry regulations. From a PR perspective, they will open the door for

food companies to market organic products via national campaigns, rather

than having to tailor PR that conforms to state rules about what can be

called an organic product.



As proposed on March 7, the rules do not allow bioengineered or

irradiated products to carry the organic designation, a decision which

has already been met with resistance from the National Food Processors

Association.



To date, organic foods, a dollars 6 billion industry, have been sold

largely by smaller companies. But over the past year, food giants such

as Heinz, General Mills and Kraft have either bought organic producers

or set up their own operations.



’The new rules are probably going to help the industry grow up a bit in

terms of its marketing efforts,’ said Lisa Donoughe of LAD

Communications, which handles PR for The New Organics Company.



Added Ben Lilliston, communications coordinator for the Institute for

Agriculture and Trade Policy, ’Some of these (major) food companies that

have been holding back and waiting to see what the playing field was

going to be like for organic may step up efforts to market their organic

products, or add organic products.’



The major food companies aren’t saying anything yet about their PR plans

- perhaps because the rules still must go through a 90-day comment

period and then an additional 60-day Congressional comment period. Those

five months will likely see lobbying efforts designed to encourage

modification of the rules.



The issue has inspired passionate and sometimes caustic comments on both

sides of the debate. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), which has

called for a moratorium on the use of all genetically engineered

organisms in food, has turned to public education efforts to stress the

environmental benefits of organic food production.



’Even though we’re a few months away, it would make sense for PR people

to look ahead,’ said OTA communications director Holly Givens. Ellen

Haas, founder of FoodFit.com and a former undersecretary of Agriculture,

agrees: ’I’m sure you’re going to see an explosion of marketing

efforts.’



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