Influencing Global Brands as a Strategy to Change Production Systems

Most people think about Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, written in the 1960s as a key turning point or perhaps even the birth of the modern environmental movement in the United States. Rachel Carson was a biologist and author (http://www.rachelcarson.org/) who brought forward the belief that the pesticide DDT (especially), widely used in agricultural applications post WWII, was having a serious negative impact on wildlife, especially birds--hence, the ultimate culmination of such practices being a spring season without the music of songbirds.

Rachel Carson seemed to believe that booming agricultural production systems which were coming into a euphoric period of efficiency gain after the second world war needed to be awakened to the impact of some of their practices. In other words, she could be considered an optimist with respect to systems potentially seeing their error and reforming. Her book was essentially an awakening call. Indeed a tremendous amount of progress has been made in "detoxifying" agricultural chemicals, especially in terms of their more generalized impact and sharpening their focus to the unique set of problems they are meant to target.

The use of GPS guided spraying technologies which precisely target the application of herbicides, pesticides and even commercial fertilizers are another promising technological advance that is minimizing wasteful overapplicaition of agricultural chemicals.

In the 40+ years since Silent Spring, the strategies employed to convice agriculture to change its practices have also become far more efficient and reveal a little less optimism. The current (and very successful) strategy is to barter with major global brand holders, negotiating change under the threat of attacking the global brand. When such negotiations are convincing enough, the customers of agricultural producers (packers, processors, distributors and global brand holders--some are all of the above) demand change down the chain as a condition of sales. This is a far more efficient strategy than chasing down the huge number of geographically dispersed farmers and farm managers and trying to make your case at the local level by handing each a copy of Silent Spring.

Charlie Arnot, President of CMA Consulting does a very nice job in describing this emerging strategy. We're going to explore it a little more as time goes on since I think everybody needs to hear a little something about Fordism (for a preview see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fordism) and Post or After Fordism since these concepts and their intellectual offspring are driving big changes in the global marketplace.

If you regularly use the word Fordism you will likely also use phrases like military-industrial-complex and talk about capitalism and its supporting structures as "a macrosocial regime of accumulation". We're going to pull out before we get that deep...but in general, you wouldn't want to try this at home. I really think you will find it interesting.