Spinach industry fighting back

Ad Age magazine reports the spinach industry is planning on spending a bunch of money trying to rescue the $300 million dollar industry. Already there are reports of farmers near Salinas, CA having to plow their spinach crops into the ground because of the FDA ban and collapse of demand following the e.coli outbreak.

E.coli is dangerous and all precautions should be taken. But e.coli doesn’t come from spinach. I won’t mention where I understand it comes from nor will I speculate on how it got on organic spinach from a healthy sounding brand like “Earthbound.” Seems to me the most important thing is to help consumers understand how that nasty stuff got on perfectly good stuff and what those involved in the processing are doing to make certain it doesn’t happen again.

The article references the Odwalla e.coli problem and steps taken after that. I haven’t studied it but it seems to me Odwalla is one of those few major reputation/safety crises that turned out pretty good for the company. Very appropriate to have the PR manager from Edelman invovled in that commenting on this situation–and his comments are right on target.

What I find interesting about this situation is the possible impact on “organic.” Seems to me people pay a lot more for stuff labeled organic than typically can be justified by the benefit, but that is only my perception. But if they are doing that for safety reason, what impact will this have. Sure, it has nothing to do with the organic categorization of the product, or does it. After all, if they don’t use commercial fertilizer, what do they use to fertilize organic spinach. And where does e.coli come from again?

Whatever, explantion is needed to reduce impact not just on spinach but on the organic labeling.

2 thoughts on “Spinach industry fighting back”

  1. First of all let me start off by saying that it is not confirmed that the spinach was from an organic farm. But to me that is not really the point. As the word “organic” gets thrown around more and more we as consumers are going to have to be wary of that term and become better informed as to where our food actually comes from.
    This outbreak was the result of large industrial farms misusing the fertilization process. Most likely because of the size of the farm raw manure was placed on the soil and was not left to sit for the full 90 day term in order for it to properly compost. According to a farmer I spoke with.
    I think what we should learn from this tragedy is the importance and the significance of buying locally and seasonally. It is not right for us to place the blame on the farm and target the organic farming industry. Instead, it is the consumers who control the market. The consumers (us) are demanding food out of season which forces these large scale farming situations that are more likely to run into problems such as the one we are seeing now.
    In an ideal world we, as consumers, would buy locally. In doing this we are getting a fresh, seasonal product grown in our own community. If there were to be an outbreak the location of the place of origin could be very simply tracked and stopped almost instantly. Not to mention the many benefits of the money staying in the community and all that entails for the local economy.
    I want to encourage people to not use this against the organic industry, if any one is to blame it is we, the consumers who are demanding products that can not naturally be produced in the off season and on such a large scale.

  2. I believe the focus on the current episode is good but too narrow, from a crisis perspective. The major lesson to be learned here is the value of crisis prevention, not through communications but through organizational processes, and the importance of reacting to warning signs. This is true whether the crisis involves spinach, disgruntled employees, or financial processes.

    Few crises arrive unannounced, and post hoc analysis almost invariably points to warning signs. This is only the latest of several outbreaks of E Coli in the Salinas River valley, some of it involving bagged spinach. Why was no process put in place?

    The spinach industry can be thankful that their product is associated with health: if this were a pharmaceutical product, heads would already be rolling.

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