Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How to Avoid 'Snake Oil' Products

(This article caught my attention.  It might be controversial for some of you but it does give you something to think about.  debi)

Jim Downer, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, got into character for his presentation. The presenter twisted his mustache before grabbing hold of the podium.

"You will double your production! And you will have no pests, no diseases," he said, emphatically promoting an unnamed agricultural product to the audience gathered.

"You ask me, how can you afford this product? I ask you, how can you not afford it?" he said.

After his roaring introduction to participants at the California Small Farm Conference, the presenter Jim Downer, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Ventura County, proceeded to explain the real purpose behind the workshop session. His presentation wasn't about selling a product, but about cutting through promotional language to avoid wasting money on ineffective products.

"I guess what this talk is really about is knowing when you're being sold and when you're buying a product that can help," he said.

Downer explained that many ineffective products make scientific-sounding claims, but often cite studies that are nonexistent, unpublished or even unrelated to the product. He reminded the audience that any product claiming to control a pest — but not registered as a pesticide — is illegal.

"It is a violation of state and federal laws to apply products as pesticides when they are not labeled for that use," he said.

He also specifically addressed:
•Mycorrihizal fungi
•Biological control
•Soil Food Webs
•Compost teas
•Vitamin B-1
•Horticultural myths

Downer has written an informative article about recognizing horticultural "miracle products" and urban legends in Topics in Subtropics. In the article, he explains:

"Snake oil products almost always offer numerous testimonials to support their use. Those who provide testimonials are usually not researchers. Professional horticulturists, farmers and gardeners should be able to recognize snake oil products and avoid their use—we should base our horticultural decisions on sound research based information, not on marketing claims and testimonial based admonitions."

Read the rest of Downer's article "Snake Oil, Horticultural Myths, Horticultural Urban Legends, and Persuaders in our Industry."

(by Brenda Dawson, Small Farm News, University of California - Davis)

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