Saturday, June 18, 2011

Consumer deception on a grand scale

Here's an excellent article by Steve Pennells, published in today's West Australian:
Reality lost down on the farm
The most expensive eggs in the supermarket last week came courtesy of Giuseppe, a third-generation egg farmer who lives with his wife, Victoria, and daughter, Annie, on their family farm built from scratch more than 70 years ago on their own "little piece of Australia".

It’s heart-warming stuff, told by Giuseppe on the egg carton in intricate detail, illustrated with family photos and his gratitude for "supporting our family". Sadly he says, Giuseppe Sr, who started the farm in 1948 is no longer with us. But Nonna still lives in the family home. There’s a black and white picture of her there too, laughing next to Giuseppe Sr in happier times.

Except it’s not Nonna and Poppa. The people in the picture never farmed eggs and never set foot in Australia. They’re also not Italian migrants.

The image is a US Library of Congress picture of two Polish immigrant tobacco farmers in Connecticut who were battling poverty in post-Depression America when the photo was taken in 1940.

Almost nothing else on this $7 carton of eggs is real, either.

Despite the family photos and heart-warming history Giuseppe and his family don’t exist.

Even the four happy chooks pictured clucking in the meadow next to the family photos are on foreign grass. That image is a widely used stock US photo which can also be found as the cover of the book Animal Philosophy a weighty tome on animal ethics with a chapter by Nietzsche.

"It’s not misleading," says Brian Ahmed, the managing director of LT’s Egg Farms, which distributes the Down on The Farm gourmet free-range eggs.

"How does it mislead? It’s the story of a family and that farmer is very common with almost every egg farmer in Australia." When contacted about the eggs this week, Mr Ahmed, who also happens to be president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said Giuseppe’s story was not a lie.

SP: But they (the family) don’t exist.

BA: But the story of egg farmers if you go to every egg farmer in Australia you’ll find that is a similar story where they’ve all been passed on through generations of families that have grown up on egg farms.

SP: So you don’t think people would believe that’s where the eggs are coming from? BA: Well, that’s exactly what’s happening, mate.

SP: Really? So Giuseppe’s grandparents set up an egg farm in 1948? BA: Well, the date might be different but every farm has been set up in the 40s and 50s and it’s passed on in generations and now you find the children are running those farms.

He settles on the term "symbolic" to describe the company’s creative use of fictitious characters, emotive words and archive photos from the US Library of Congress to create the impression that a close-knit Italian migrant family in Australia was responsible for producing a pack of eggs sitting on the shelves of WA supermarkets.

"I can’t say if that’s (the photo) the actual people because what happens is we have a farmer in Western Australia suppling those eggs and we have a Victorian farmer in Victoria doing the same     thing," Mr Ahmed says.

Well, it’s definitely not anyone from WA or Victoria or any other egg farmer in Australia.

That picture of a Mr and Mrs Andrew Lyman, who set up a tobacco farm in America, was taken in September 1940 by Jack Delano, a photographer for the US Farm Security Administration, an organisation set up in the Depression to combat American rural poverty They farmed some vegetables too, but definitely no eggs.

The images and Giuseppe’s whole fabricated story feed into long-outdated myths surrounding the food that gets on our plate.

Photos of happy chickens frolicking across a meadow like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music are products of a time long since gone and belie the grim reality of an industry of mass production.

One of the most interesting things about the whole Australian-Indonesian cattle fiasco is that while we’ve rightly felt outrage at the images of what happened to our cattle overseas, no one has felt the need to look at the Australian food industry with a critical eye or any sort of introspection.

Phrases like "free range" conjure images that don’t match the reality of intensive farming.

Free-range eggs are produced on an industrial scale and some come from flocks of up to 120,000 birds housed in huge sheds that may never find the door to go outside.

Their eggs come off conveyor belts. There is also no national standard defining what constitutes a free-range egg so those labels and their inflated prices should be treated with scepticism. Still, we’re willing to pay more for them because it eases our guilt.

The very reason Giuseppe was concocted is because we still like to subscribe to the romantic notion that the food we eat got to our plate in the best, most ethical and humane ways.

There’s a reason that Australian abattoirs and producers have always been reluctant to have photographs taken in their slaughter operations. They might be operating to best practice but even at best practice, the bloody reality of a slaughter floor is not a pretty place.

The West Australian’s resident food guru, Rob Broacifield, bemoans the consumer naivety: "We have become infantilised toward food production by our increasing distance from it it’s the reason pork consumption plummeted when the movie Babe was released and while many adults express squeamishness in child-like terms when faced with eating, say a f1uffy cute rabbit".

The pressure to work fast - time is money - means that the animals suffer. No one who eats meat can escape responsibility for that, unless perhaps you rear your own animals and slaughter them on the farm." The message is simple: if you eat the meat, take off the blinkers and take ownership of the reality It’s enough to make Giuseppe Sr roll over in his imaginary grave.

Postscript: Brian Ahmed confirmed late yesterday that Giuseppe and his imaginary family would be erased from the future egg cartons, saying the company had no intention to mislead.

Complain to everyone you can think of !!!!


XTrail DayTripper said...

Marketing departments scratch their heads and wonder why many consumers are becoming so cynical. I think this article answers that question. LT's Egg Farms executives would approve all marketing work before it happens (as does every other company) so they actively participated in the BS story/images and thought it was acceptable to lie to their consumers.

I gave up believing what was printed on the box of any food product years ago. We have our own little suburban flock these days. I know what they eat and they get to spend time roaming the yard.

I really enjoy reading your blog.

freeranger said...

Thanks Lady of the Loch. We think that this has been so blatant that the ACCC should be able to jump on LT's Eggs and use it as a test case to investigate other false labelling from similar egg farms.

mokey said...

I checked and I have a carton of these eggs in my fridge. I am appalled beyond belief - I only buy free range when my own (happy, genuinely free range organic) chookies are off the lay. Such deception deserves to be exposed.

freeranger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
freeranger said...

This is the sort of con used by many large egg producers (I refuse to deswcribe them as farmers. They are using industrial methods to produce a product (in this case food but it might As well be nuts and bolts). They can't see anything wrong with it.