Privilege brings choice. Choice brings preference. Preference isn’t always logical.

It’s hard to imagine another country with more food choices than those afforded to the American consumer. What once was one box of oatmeal on the grocery shelf is now dozens of varieties of flavors, styles, combinations and brands. It depends on what is preferred.

In that regard, consumer choice is harmless. Choosing maple sugar over blueberry-flavored oatmeal doesn’t impact the farmer. But when consumer choice evolves—to choosing rBST-free milk, for example—then producers begin to feel the impact. 

A common belief is that the consumer is always right. Retail brands stake millions of dollars marketing products based on this belief. Agriculture sees it a different way. Consumers always have an opinion, but it doesn’t always mean that the opinion is right.

It used to be that retail brands marketed products that just included product enhancements. Think “fortified with Vitamin D.” But when consumers indicated a desire to have products without certain attributes—GMO’s, for example—absence claims became popular.

Most everyone in agriculture curses absence claims. Mostly because they don’t make sense. All the meat in the meat case is antibiotic free, so what difference does it make if the animal was raised without antibiotics? Hormones aren’t allowed to be used in chicken production, so how does hormone-free chicken make sense?

GMOs are proven safe, so why should products be marketed as GMO-free? Ludicrous, right?

Absence claims must work for retail brands or they would stop putting them on labels. And some farmers are seeing opportunity in “absence” production. An Illinois corn grower once told me he would grow blue corn if someone would pay him for it. Is it wrong for these producers to acquiesce to what some consider misguided retail brands?

Not at all. It’s not wrong for producers to take advantage of marketing opportunities. In fact, we should applaud the gumption and ingenuity of producers who are able to adjust production practices to meet these opportunities.

Because any farmer should be able to choose the production practices they see fit to use. Many of these farmers are the ones who push ingenuity, not content with sitting aside and doing things the same year over year. They adapt and evolve, realizing opportunity and working hard to take advantage of it.