The importance of communicating well when things go badly: three cases of food crises.(I)

I recently had the chance to take part in KAUSAL, International Congress of Own Checks and Food Safety (http://www.kausal.cat/), which was held in Barcelona in October 2012.

There I was able to present three cases in which agr! suggested communicational solutions for different food crises.

DECEMBER 2006: ALMERIA PEPPERS contaminated with pesticides not registered in the EU.

In late December 2006, the Ministry of Consumption of the German state of Baden Wüttemberg reported the finding of an unauthorised substance in samples of peppers from the Spanish province of Almería.

Shortly after, the Ministry of Health and Consumption informed the Government of Andalucia of nine batches of peppers (some 4,000 kilos) from Almería that had been detected in Germany with remains of the isofenphos-methyl plaguicide, the use of which was illegal in the EU, which caused the suspension of this product in Germany and triggered the alarm throughout the Spanish province’s agricultural sector.

Although the level of plaguicide detected did not suppose a risk to consumer health and although the lands from where the peppers had come were quickly discovered, German supermarkets rapidly followed the authorities’ recommendations and soon began to cancel the orders they had made for that time, when consumption rose for the Christmas period, and to withdraw all peppers from Almería from sale. 1

At that time, agr! was contacted by the Andalusian Government to find a solution to the problem.  The way we faced the situation was, first of all, to check the facts and size of the problem in situ, by talking with associations of producers, agricultural organisations and cooperatives.  Were good agricultural practices under way in Almería and was this case just a “black spot” on an immaculate record or were activities verging on the illegal commonplace?  We sadly discovered that the phytosanitary products used and the collection of plastics were matters on which work had to be done before giving a communication or solution to the problem and a reply to all consumers around Europe.

The strategy we recommended was first of all to stop doing things badly, and then to do them very well and finally to report.  Following our suggestion, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Andalusia started up the largest transformation known in modern agriculture. In under two years, 90% of pepper production and 11,500 of the 27,000 hectares of protected crops in Almería were under integrated production (today more than 14,000 hectares), which caused a significant reduction in the amount of phytosanitary waste and 100% recycling of the plastics used.

Having managed this, we advised the sector in Almería not to attack the reporter but to recognise the reporting work done by the ecologist organisations led by Greenpeace in the situation.  In some way, it was a question of saying “thank you for your criticism, we have changed for the better”, and this translated into an award given by the Andalusian authorities to the president of Greenpeace Germany during the 2008 edition of FruitLogistica. This had a dramatic effect and even appeared in the German news reports.

What today is known as the “Almería model” had been born, our model characterised by a more and more sustainable agriculture leading the world in applying biological control techniques, all thanks to a food safety crisis.

1

http://elpais.com/diario/2007/02/25/andalucia/1172359331_850215.html

http://elpais.com/diario/2007/01/11/sociedad/1168470006_850215.html

http://www.ideal.es/jaen/20061229/costa/supermercados-alemanes-penalizan-costa_200612290817.html

http://www.elalmeria.es/article/agriculturadealmeria/908210/alemania/recupera/la/confianza/pimiento/almeriense.html

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