Perfect moment for new GFF leader

by Morton Sosland
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While the leadership of grain-based foods is genuinely appalled by the false criticism aimed at it and its major product, white bread, by a book reviewer writing in The New York Times, the industry now must strongly react to counter the untruths that made such an article even possible. As noted here in this publication’s issue of July 10, the review sinks to the absolute nadir in its criticism of both wheat flour and white bread, combining allegations about actions ranging from use of steel roller mills to grind wheat to enrichment of flour and bread into the work of evil doers bent on poisoning the nation’s food supply. As a major part of the food industry, grain-based foods has experienced its share of attacks over the years, but nothing has hit lower than this particular piece. The contents are bad enough. That it also carries the imprimatur of one of the nation’s leading newspapers adds insult to injury.

It is a remarkable coincidence that this most unhappy event occurred just as the board of directors of the Grain Foods Foundation announced their choice for the new executive director of the foundation. Created in 2004 by a collaboration of flour millers and wholesale bread bakers to provide a narrowly targeted focus of building appreciation for the quality of bread, the foundation has been looking for a new staff leader for five months. The selection just announced is Christine Cochran, who has made her mark in Washington as head of the Commodity Markets Council where she won praise for her advocacy “of free, open and robust markets.” The co-chairs of the Foundation, Breck Barton and Allen Shiver, could not be more enthusiastic than they are about the choice, hailing her as “an incredibly bright, talented and dynamic leader to promote the nutritional benefits of grain foods.”

Ms. Cochran could not come to this important position at a more propitious time. After all, the scurrilous article itself reflects a widening negative perspective of the role of white bread in the diet. Hardly any product has been subjected to more attacks than bread has endured in recent times, all seemingly aimed at persuading consumers to eat less and even to eat other foods as replacement for bread. From the decline in per capita consumption of wheat flour in recent years to the actual indications of slower sales across grocery counters, the evidence is plain that the industry has a severe problem that must be dealt with in the most forceful manner possible.

Without delving into the past history of the Grain Foods Foundation, much hope about Ms. Cochran relates to her proven management skills. It is those skills that obviously will go far toward persuading industry members that funds invested in G.F.F. activities are being well and carefully spent. Of course, that is important, but as Nan Redmond, chair of the G.F.F. marketing committee, noted, her success will be measured in terms of convincing the people who influence information about food. Reaching these “influencers” and persuading them to make positive statements about grain-based foods comprise the task Ms. Cochran must pursue speedily and aggressively.

In many ways, Ms. Cochran could not have a better beginning as executive director. No one holding the purse strings in a grain-based foods company will ask why financial support should be extended to such an organization. It is nothing less than a slap in the face that the industry received from the Times book review, which already has appeared in other publications. While this piece is the low point in the recent dismal period of questioning the quality of white bread, such an article may inspire others. This page many years ago coined “breadrappers” as a word to describe these people. That really does not go far enough to spur the industry to join in doing everything possible to end the outright lies the industry cannot long endure.
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