Monday, November 22, 2010

Alliance Seeks to Boost Image of Production Agriculture

There is a news item that has been picked up by a number of sources - the formation of a new alliance of agricultural groups for the purpose of marketing the benefits of production agriculture.  Those concerned about aspects of current agricultural production panned the new alliance and those concerned about media criticism of agricultural production cheered.  The Shook, Hardy & Bacon Food & Beverage Litigation Newsletter provided a neutral news recap excerpted as follows:
Agriculture Groups Form Alliance to Bolster Image of U.S. Farm Production Methods

A coalition of 24 farmer- and rancher-led organizations has reportedly formed an alliance to “develop and implement a well-funded, long-term, and coordinated public trust campaign for American agriculture.” The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) includes organizations from virtually all aspects of agriculture that share the goal of bolstering the image of farm production methods.

According to a November 11, 2010, USFRA press release, the alliance’s initial focus will be to (i) “increase consumer, consumer influencer and thought leader trust and confidence in today’s agriculture”; (ii) “serve as a resource to food companies on the benefits of today’s agricultural production”; (iii) “work with leading health, environmental and dietary organizations to demonstrate the benefits of today’s agricultural production”; and (iv) “increase the role of U.S. farmers and ranchers as the voice of animal and crop agriculture on local, state and national food issues.”. . .

 “The sun rises today on a new, collaborative and coordinated effort by many segments of production agriculture to tell our great story as never before,” newly-elected USFRA Chair Bob Stallman said in a statement. . . . See USFRA Press Release, November 11, 2010; National Journal Daily, November 12, 2010.
I don't think that what agriculture needs is a better marketing campaign.  I agree that farmers and non-farm consumers need to learn more about each other.  But one-way street lobbying efforts are not the way to achieve that result.

The agricultural sector is doing a lot of great things. But there are also some significant problems that have resulted from our phenomenal production.  A little self-reflection is called for. 

The press releases issued by the new USFRA all seem to imply that if we just tell everyone how good agriculture is, the problems will go away.  However, an ad campaign will not clean up wells contaminated by industrialized dairy operations.  It will not create more water when underground acquifers are depleted.  It will not halt the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  It will not slow fossil fuel consumption.  It will not make our food any safer or pay our migrant workers a living wage.

Shouldn't funds be spent to figure out ways to address these and other significant problems while preserving agricultural productivity?  Wouldn't it be fantastic to see agricultural groups coming together to solve problems, or even more amazing -  coming together with consumer groups to discuss solutions to our problems?  Isn't an ad campaign just another way to pretend that the problems don't exist?

Let's have an honest discussion, i.e., a dialogue about the sustainability of our food system -  environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability (making sure that farmers earn enough to cover the costs of good production practices), not an ad campaign.  The farmers that I admire are the kind of people that step up to problems and are always looking for better ways to do things.  Not shoving problems under the rug and advertising complacency.

By the way, the acronym USFRA is already in use by the U.S. First Responders Association, a non-profit, network, of firefighters, EMS, rescue, police officers, military and civilian support teams.


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