Friday, January 20, 2017

Not My Circus

After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending the greatest show on Earth.  Last week’s announcements cited many reasons for the closure, but it seemed many circled back to issues with activist groups.  These groups had been holding ongoing protests at performances around the country and were successful in ending certain popular acts.   While there are very distinct differences between a circus and a family farm; it’s a reminder of the influence activists can have on what many consider an American institution.  

Activists are becoming smarter when choosing their battles by taking small steps to much bigger and much more detrimental goals for agriculture.  Instead of attacking family farms producing hogs in Iowa, activist chose to start a legislative movement in states where hog production is less known.  There are several examples like the fight to eliminate gestation stalls, activists targeted 10 states like Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  Hog production in these states is much less important than Midwest states, and most voters have no connection to local hog farmers in their communities.  

Then look at the ballot initiative in California to ban poultry cages.  That law rippled across the country because it applied to all eggs sold in California.  The voters in one state, mostly unfamiliar with the care and husbandry of chickens, changed the way egg producers do business across the country.  The activists agenda was able to creep across the country unchecked then by a majority of voters or lawmakers.

It’s important that farmers stay in tune to what is going on in the state and federal legislatures this time of year.  While agriculture groups have their own policy proposals to make food production better and safer for our consumers, we can’t lose sight of activists’ proposals.  Their wish lists are long and come on many fronts.  Many proposals do not attack their goals directly, but lay the ground work to erode the ability of hard working farmers to raise livestock to feed the world. 

I know many people dislike the idea of being politically active; it’s a circus they don’t want to be involved in.  On this inauguration day, I encourage all farmers and agriculture supporters to be engaged in the political process, and be ready during the legislative sessions to speak up and defend our farms from harmful legislation and administrative rules.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Food and Farmers Share #FAKENEWS Battle

Image result for tomato
Last week Hunt’s made the announcement that there products are made with GMO free tomatoes.  I have no problem with food choices, but this is a false choice announcement.  There are no GMO tomatoes.  Hunts, Heinz, Del Monte, or even Trader Joe’s are all the same when it comes to this choice.  Farmers, scientists, and dietitians all cried fouled to this marketing tactic and Forbes magazine wrote a good article debunking the announcement and highlighting the truth. This is just the latest example of twisting facts or exaggerating claims to market to consumers.

I equate this practice to fake news.  Fake news has become a hot button issue after the election with both sides creating headlines from non-credible sources in hopes of swaying voters.  Fake news has become a lightening rod subject for journalists as I found out.  To share my disdain for the inaccurate information, I threw the #FAKENEWs on the Forbes story an ag journalist had retweeted.  I quickly got a reply from the journalist who rightly pointed out the Forbes story was accurate and he did not want that hashtag on Twitter next to his name.  I corrected that error with a new Tweet with the hashtag more accurately placed against the Hunt’s announcement.  This quick exchange reinforced the power of the phrase “fake news” to me.

Journalists will point out that Hunt’s announcement, blogger posts, or internet memes are not really news, but that’s the traditional interpretation.  Most millennials are relying on the internet for news, with social media being their number one source according to a Media Insight survey.   Any media or author that provides misinformation or bias reporting deserves scrutiny as fake news.
Ag has battled fake news for years.  GMO’s, hormones, corn syrup, animal welfare, clean water, and ethanol are just a few of the many favorite subjects of misinformation.  Reporters, bloggers, and internet users share information every day, often without fact checking any of the accuracy.  Most of the time the false or misleading information makes sensational headlines or great clicks bait. Many of us who care about agriculture and food facts respond or re-share the misinformation with our own experiences and facts to highlight the real story. 

In 2017, I resolve to go a step further and hashtag this misinformation #fakenews.  It’s clear to me that credible writers do not want the label on their work, and the phrase's popularity gains more attention to the issues than simply replying with the accurate information.  Why not use #fakenews to help uncover the truth and identify the false information about food and farming?  This may just draw attention to our battle.