Organic, scandals and understanding

March 2011

Mr Gutberlet, society is frequently shocked by food scandals, such as the recent dioxin scandal. Do you observe different purchasing behaviors following such headlines, or do consumers tend to react quite calmly?

Yes, we notice a change, both in consumers’ communication with us and in sales. Of course, it depends whether the trigger is location specific or widespread. Following the recent dioxin scandal, it was quite obvious that consumers were trying to avoid these products, either by going without or seeking alternatives. However, such fear-driven changes do not last long because they are fuelled by panic rather than understanding and therefore have no permanency.

Scandals that arise as a result of unfair or criminal dealings are hard to avoid entirely. But consumer protection groups also criticize “legal misrepresentation

As regards the first part of the question, organic produce is one of the most controlled product groups, but you are never completely immune to conscious misrepresentation. Allow me to give a comparison: although the 100 euro note is controlled more strictly than food, forgeries can sometimes turn up. 
The second part of the question requires a more nuanced answer. It must be noted that there is significant demand for both high quality and a good price today. For some manufacturers this can result in serious difficulties, which can lead to misrepresentation by lowering the quality. Of course, this can never be justified, but such decisions arise through the reconciliation of stress situations, price and quality promises. The phrase “it is worse to condone a crime than to commit it

What would you say is the best recipe for ensuring or even improving the quality of food: educating consumers or stronger regulation of providers?

I believe regulation is fundamentally wrong. It is rare that something is achieved as a result of regulation and instead it usually encourages crime. The better formula is to draw on the will and understanding of individuals, so education is essential. The way a child is raised is especially important, because children must learn the correct habits and mindset to eat healthily.

4. “The consumer’s weapon is his money”, said Cora Orlamünder, author of the book “Du bist, was Du isst. Wissen wir noch, wer wir sind?” [You are what you eat. Do we still know who we are?] in an interview. Can, or could, German consumers ensure that they have higher quality food on their plates by spending more and carefully considering their choices? And what do you regard as the most important ground rules?

In my opinion, it is not primarily about cost, but about education and awareness. The main task for the individual is to consider their actions and to live their life conscientiously. Furthermore, I prefer the word “choice

A personal question to conclude: do you think it is practical and even possible to eat only organic products?

Definitely, because that’s exactly what I do. I don’t like eating anything else. If you are aware of something, your tastes and perceptions change too. I even take food with me when I am traveling, so that I know what I’m eating. I don’t see organic as just another product, many people see it in materialistic terms. For me it is a process and a relationship of give and take.

Thank you very much for the interview!

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