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Understanding Consumers’ Relationship with Food

Dr. Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at The International Food Information Council shares key findings from their recent Food and Health Survey.

The majority of today’s population is several generations removed from agriculture and are often susceptible to believing myths and misinformation about how their food is produced. To help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, it is key to first understand consumers’ relationship with food. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey marked the 12th installment of this signature research.  This year’s survey shed light on the way consumers think about and perceive food and health, providing deep insights into food habits and purchase drivers. It investigated important issues regarding consumer confusion, the food information landscape, heath and diet, food components, food production, sustainability, and food safety. The online survey included 1,002 Americans from ages 18 to 80 and was nationally representative.

Sustainability Taking a Top Spot for More than Half of Consumers

Sustainability is a broad term, and can mean many different things to different people. Over half of Americans stated that the importance of food being produced in a sustainable way was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” To understand what consumers valued, specific to sustainability, the Food and Health survey found that reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food, conserving the natural habitat, and conserving farmland over multiple generations were the top three reasons. Fewer consumers highlighted that the food supply was a consideration in their understanding of sustainability.

Consumers and Industry Understand Sustainability Differently

The intriguing narrative presented by these data show that the features of sustainability that consumers found least important are the aspects that the food industry is more focused on. For example, the food industry is committed to producing more food with less natural resources and has developed pledges to reduce the use of greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste created from their products.

Confidence in Food Supply Down Slightly

The Food and Health Survey also investigated consumer trust and confidence in the food supply. More than 50% of Americans stated that they were “somewhat confident” or ”very confident” in the safety of the U.S. food supply, down slightly from last year’s survey.

Consumers were also asked what they considered to be the most important food safety issues today. Data demonstrated that foodborne illness from bacteria was the most important food safety issue, with about 25% of Americans highlighting this concern. Further, carcinogens and cancer-causing chemicals in food were ranked second on the list of food safety issues, with significantly more consumers citing this as their top concern compared last year.

Confidence in Animal Products High after Knowledge of FDA Rule

Animal antibiotics got a spotlight question this year to follow-up from the 2016 Survey. With the new FDA antibiotic rule that recently came into effect, the survey aimed to gain knowledge into changing consumer feelings towards animal products. This rule prohibits the use of growth-promotion antibiotics and states that antibiotic issuance must include veterinary oversight for the administration of certain drugs. These tactics are aimed to limit antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans. The Food and Health Survey examined if this rule altered consumer confidence in purchasing animal products as well as confidence in veterinarians and farmers using antibiotics responsibly. The survey found that just below 50% of consumers were at least “somewhat more confident” in purchasing animal products and responsible use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians.

If you wish to learn more insights from our survey, please follow the link below to the full report.

2017 Food and Health Survey


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3 Tips for Consumer Engagement this Fair Season

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Summer is upon us and while I was growing up, that only meant one thing: county fair season is here! Once school was out in early June, I spent each summer morning and afternoon in the barn with my family doing chores and preparing for the county fair. This included many hours spent washing my livestock, walking them around a practice show ring, watching the news and reading the paper to learn about what was happening in the industry and organizing my tack to get ready for the fair.

In addition to showing my livestock, some of the most memorable moments were spent hanging out with my friends in the barn. Every once in a while, though, somebody would pass through the barns and make a comment about how farmers do not care for their animals or another hurtful claim. Whether these individuals were uninformed consumers or animal activists trying to disrupt the fair, it was important to know how to respond. Recently, animal extremists have been targeting agriculture fairs as a way to protest animal agriculture, so I want to take this opportunity to share some suggestions for handling these types of situations.

1 – Communicate Respectfully
I’m sure that those of us who grew up showing livestock can recall a handful of conversations with consumers walking through the barn. Some of those conversations were comical – like the time a woman declared that my friend’s goats were ‘adorable!’ when in fact, she was looking at four sheep. Or when a man and his son asked if I was spraying chemicals on my pig when actually I was using a spray bottle filled with water to keep my pigs cool in the summer heat. While it is easy to laugh at these absurd questions and remarks, we should use them as chances to educate. Instead of responding with an eye roll, take the opportunity to engage with the fair-goer and share a positive story of how you care for your animals.

If animal extremists confront you, seek a fair manager or other designated spokesperson to help. Having a designated spokesperson to answer questions and share key messages with the activists will alleviate pressure on the youth exhibitors and the exhibitors will  also learn from the experience.

2 – Show You Care
Just as the old saying goes: they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Often those walking through the livestock barns are interested in learning more about animals and how they are raised. In order to be seen as a trustworthy source, show fair-goers you care by telling them how you care for your animals. It can be easy to complete your daily chore routine with nothing more than a glance in the fair-goers’ direction. Instead, chore time could be a great opportunity to explain what ingredients are in the feed that your animal eats, and how you prepare your animal for the fair.

3- Tell Them Why
NutrientsInMeatIt is no secret that livestock exhibitors often get asked, “Are you really going to eat that animal after the fair?!” or “Why do you show your animal?” Let fair-goers know that you were aware when you decided to participate in the livestock project that your animal would become an important part of the food supply. Meat is an important source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals that are not found in plant-based foods. Be sure to remind them that because of farmers, we have food, fuel and fiber that make our day-to-day lives possible.

For those that question why you participate in livestock shows, share with them what you have learned. For me, it was a tremendous amount of responsibility that came with raising animals and caring for them daily, often putting their needs before my own. I made lasting friendships with my fair friends who shared my values and passion for animal agriculture. Showing livestock also meant that I was able to contribute to the food chain by raising a nutritious product that would provide food for a family’s table. And more than anything, showing livestock allowed me to spend time with my family in a way that no other activity could.

So next time a family walks through the barn at your county fair, take the time to answer their questions and tell them about your project – engage with them and show them how you care for your animal. Always be sure to treat fair-goers with respect so they learn to understand, appreciate and respect our livelihood in the animal agriculture industry.

For more fair and exposition security and engagement tips, contact the Animal Agriculture Alliance at hthompson@animalagalliance.org or call 703-562-5160.


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Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

It’s lights, camera, action for America’s farmers and ranchers – whether they auditioned or not. Films are popping up on the big (and small) screen, putting animal agriculture under increased scrutiny. These films often claim they are “shedding light” on the agriculture industry, but they usually leave out the true story.

Producer vs. Producer 

It could be a great thing to have American farmers and ranchers showcased for raising the safest food supply out there and providing great care to their animals, but when film producers attack the producers of our food, fuel and fiber it can spread misconceptions and “alternative facts” – especially when the films are produced by or in collaboration with animal rights groups.

Producing films (and publishing books) is not a new tactic animal rights groups are using to further their mission of putting farmers and ranchers who produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs out of business, but they are getting more attention in recent years. This is due to increased interest in how food gets from the farm to the fork along with the popularity of movie platforms like Netflix.

Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

Documentaries are supposed to provide a factual report of a certain event or issue, but the films produced by activists skew the truth or ignore it all together. Some claim they are giving an “unbiased” look into how food is raised on farms, but is it unbiased if the film is produced a vegan who only interviews other vegans?

Activist films are often how myths get started – because if it’s in a “documentary” it must be 100 percent true, right? Here are a few ways to tell if you’re watching an activist movie, or as Leah McGrath, dietitian and agvocate, likes to call them – “Shockumentaries.”

  • Cherry-picking studies
  • Playing ominous background music
  • Using outdated information and studies from 1841
  • Taking things out of context
  • An animal rights group is the main sponsor
  • The overwhelming majority of the cast is vegan
  • The call to action is “GO VEGAN!”

One of the main claims from an activist film recently released to Netflix is eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes. I was honestly happy to hear this lie included because any rational person would recognize it as crazy and discredit the rest of the movie.

A pig farm

The Animal Agriculture Alliance has more than 20 movie and book reports summarizing these activist films which are available to our members. Each report lists out the main claims so you don’t have to go through the trouble of wasting an hour or two of your time, but can stay informed on what the other side is saying about our industry.

What’s worth watching…

As for what you should watch to learn more about agriculture and food production, how about videos of farmers taking you on a virtual tour of their farms?! They may not be as dramatic as the activist films, but they do show the truth. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh Air Farmer – a dairy farmer from Canada taking you on a different farm tour every week (from a celery farm to a pig farm!)
  • Farmland – a movie showcasing young farmers and ranchers across the United States
  • Chicken Checkin videos – the National Chicken Council put together a series of videos showing how broiler chickens are raised
  • Farm tour from Tyson Foods chicken farm – a recent video by Tyson Foods, Inc. about their commitment to animal care and sustainability
  • The Udder Truth – series of videos from dairy farmers about what really happens on America’s dairy farms
  • Veal farm tour – a veal farmer from Wisconsin invites you on a virtual tour
  • Turkey farm tour – a turkey farmers from California takes viewers onto his farm

Turkey farm tour!

Farmers and ranchers realize how important it is to be transparent and many have added advocate to their list of farm chores. They’re the true experts on farm animal care and know if they don’t tell their story animal rights activists will not only tell their version of the story, but make it into a book or film. So, the next time you hear of a “documentary” about animal agriculture ask yourself this question: who is telling the story? The farmers and ranchers who raise and care for the animals or the activists who could care less about animal care and just want to take meat off everyone’s plate?

 


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We All Have a Voice for Agriculture

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Firefighter, rock-star, princess and football player were always common answers for me. Yet as the years went by, my responses became more complex and so did the question. In high school it was, “where are you going after graduation?” and now in college it’s, “what would you like to do with your degree?” These questions likely get asked thousands of times a day throughout the world, but how many answers ever involve the word agriculture?

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I grew up with my heart set on becoming a veterinarian. It never occurred to me that my hatred of math might be a problem and that my love for writing could benefit my career. It took a very rude awakening, but I eventually realized that veterinary medicine was not for me; agricultural communication was. But when I declared my major in ag comm, I questioned how I could ever be credible since I hadn’t grown up on a farm.

Let’s Take a Step Back

If the history of agriculture tells us anything, it’s that the industry is constantly changing. This means that education and communication are changing constantly as well. I doubt when the Morrill and Hatch Acts were passed anyone anticipated we’d be studying drone technology and the best ways to reach an audience on Facebook, but here we are. And here I am, studying communications and learning more about the animal ag industry so I can share the stories of producers who care so deeply for their animals.

The first Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and the Hatch Act a few years later in 1887. These pieces of legislation, along with the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, have changed agriculture and my life. Each act emphasized agriculture, education and research, which have essentially shaped everyone’s livelihood. Without the establishment of land-grant universities, agriculture may have never had such high priorities for research and extension. Plus, I may have never had the opportunity to show cattle through 4-H, understand the importance of animal health or fall in love with my university. These acts set the foundation for lifelong learning, outreach and change.

You Have to Keep Up with the Times

As I’ve already addressed, the agriculture industry is constantly evolving. As a communicator and student, it is important (and difficult) to keep up with everything going on, especially when you didn’t have a great foundation of agriculture literacy growing up.

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In the year 1900, farmers accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. labor force. More than 100 years later, it accounts for less than 2 percent. We do have to consider that advanced technology allows fewer farmers to produce more food, but what does this mean for the gap between farm and fork? It means that people are disconnected from how food ends up on their plates. In fact, 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It makes you question what perceptions people have about strawberry milk, too, doesn’t it? There is information available at our fingertips, yet there are some interesting misconceptions.

Anyone Can Be an ‘Agvocate’

When I decided I wanted to share my story and the story of animal agriculture, I was anxious. I was afraid I could never connect with producers, professionals, peers or consumers because I worried they wouldn’t trust me. Because why should they? The only true exposure I’d had to livestock production was showing cattle that weren’t even mine! It took a year or so of college for me to figure this out, but my voice is necessary and welcome in this industry. It’s even possible that my background has given me an advantage when connecting with those around me. Having the status of ‘farm kid’ may not matter as much as it used to when it comes to advocating for the industry.

I am grateful for what the past has given me and I am excited for what my future will hold. I anticipate gaining great skills during my time with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, becoming a strong communicator for animal health and traveling the globe to experience different animal ag systems. Of course, there are concerns and obstacles that myself and the industry will face, but I am no longer weary that I don’t belong. In my opinion, all it takes is passion and a little bit of curiosity. Even though not everyone can be a farmer, everyone is a part of the agriculture industry. That’s something that will never change.

pexels-photo-95425So, as you continue to take classes, search for jobs or find new hobbies, I challenge you to approach the question a little differently. When someone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” why not tell them you plan to get involved with agriculture. Because believe it or not, you already are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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What Will You Do?

My Roots

cornfield.jpgFive generations. For five generations my family has grown crops and raised livestock for food, fuel and fiber just outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. I have always considered myself lucky to be raised on a farm that is committed to providing food for a hungry world.

Growing up on a farm in a large metropolitan suburb, my family’s farming intentions were questioned more than once as housing developments, new roads and businesses started closing in on our acreage. It seemed that not everyone understood what my dad does as a farmer, and I often had to explain how the crops and livestock we grow get from our farm to their table.

Realizing that even my peers did not understand much about agriculture, I became interested in telling my farming story and sharing facts about farmers’ role in producing healthy food. To become a more skilled advocate and learn techniques that would help me share my story with others, I chose to major in agriculture communications.

We Have Work to Do

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The peta2 brochure that was handed to me freshman year.

It wasn’t long after I settled into my freshman year, that a group of students in matching t-shirts handed me and other students walking to class a ‘Guide to Going Vegan’ brochure. After class I read the brochure, published by peta2 (a branch of PETA that targets youth and young adults). The brochure was filled with vegan recipes and false information about “factory farms.”

I was concerned. There I was, surrounded by impressionable college peers who were uninformed about the safe and humane animal agriculture practices. Being handed a brochure with misinformation about animal agriculture on an agriculture campus while walking to an agriculture education class made me realize… those of us with a passion for animal agriculture have our work cut out for us.

Taking Action  

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This summer, I will take action while interning with the Animal Agriculture Alliance: an organization that stands up to protect producers, engage influencers and connect industry stakeholders to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. There is an immense need to share farmers’ commitment to responsibly and ethically produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs.

For those who have the privilege of working in the agriculture industry, I encourage you to share your story. Personally, I get to spend my summer creating social media content that busts myths, shares facts and answers questions about the animal agriculture industry. What will you do? With all of us working together, we can dispel the myths of animal agriculture and ensure a secure, safe and reliable food future.


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“This is My First Summit!”

Over the course of my semester interning with the Animal Ag Alliance, preparation for the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was the main focus. I had witnessed how much work each member of the Alliance team had put into this event, listened to them discuss new ways to ensure every attendee was engaged, and strategize how they would make this year’s Summit the best one yet. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectation for the annual event.

Myself at the Alliance photo booth at Summit.

Board of Directors Meeting

The day before the official start of Summit was the Alliance’s spring Board of Directors meeting. With their strong connections to major industry organizations, the Alliance’s Board is filled with individuals who I am completely in awe of. Surrounded by and having the opportunity to mingle with representatives from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, etc. was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Stepping into my first “real” job, it was incredible having the opportunity to spend the day alongside so many people in positions that I aspire to be in.

Connect, Engage, Protect

Once Summit officially kicked off, each morning and afternoon focused on one core aspect of the Alliance’s work: connect, engage, and protect. The connect segment focused on misconceptions related to food. The Alliance team was able to provide a consumer focus group comprised of people that ate out at least 4 times a week. Attendees were able to hear why they choose the foods that they do related to labeling and what they associate those labels with.

Casey, Alliance communications manager and I having fun at one of the receptions.

The engage portion of the day was headlined by author Nina Teicholz, who spoke the importance of animal products in a healthy diet. It was great hearing from someone who was not biased related to this issue. She admitted that previously she was a believer that animal products were not good for your health, leading her to follow a vegetarian diet. She eventually discovered that this was not true and noted that she actually lost weight after introducing animal products back into her diet. The remainder of the day was broken into two breakout tracks: engaging with consumers, and engaging with the media to ensure the public has accurate information related to animal agriculture. I sat in on the media portion and was able to gain a better understanding of how to work with biased media.

Thursday morning was focused on protecting animal agriculture from people and organizations that are working tirelessly to end it. This was probably my favorite part of the event! Part of my responsibility with the Alliance was to monitor the news every morning for issues related to animal welfare and animal rights, and it was so cool to hear from experts on these issues in their fields. Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, closed the conference and was absolutely great to listen to. She brought up an important food topic, but one that I do not think of often. She shared her personal story and the hardships she’s faced securing food for her family. She was a great choice to wrap up Summit!

Two of the College Aggies winners and I showing people how to use the photo booth props!

College Aggies

I was fortunate enough to spend a good bit of time with the College Aggies Online winners during Summit. These winners are peers that I look up to and were absolutely deserving of the recognition they received. It was so cool meeting students from across the country and hearing about their campus experiences at their perspective schools. Hearing about how much they enjoyed participating in the College Aggies Online program has inspired me to participate in the contest this fall. I can’t wait to signup! 

Attending the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was an incredible experience and I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to attend! The event provided so many networking and learning opportunities which is super important for a college student like me! If you were not able to attend this year, I highly encourage you to signup for next year!

 


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Animal rights activists masquerading as consumers

Consumer demand is powerful. It can be the champion of a company’s success or the culprit of their failure. What I find even more interesting is how consumer demand is defined. Does a group of people with no intention of ever buying a restaurant’s product qualify as their consumer? With the avalanche of recent restaurant and retail pledges caving to pressure from animal rights organizations, it seems so.

At the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s recent Stakeholders Summit, speakers offered insights about consumer demand – suggesting consumers aren’t the ones demanding restaurants and grocery stores to change their supply chain policies at all. Dr. Dan Thomson of Kansas State University stated, “activists today are masquerading as the consumers.”

I have yet to hear a person order their chicken sandwich only with meat from “slower-growing” chickens, so Thomson’s statement didn’t surprise me. Although I understand why restaurants adopt certain sourcing policies in the face of mounting activist pressure, it would be refreshing to see a company stand up against the “self-appointed food police” as Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate calls them. Thankfully, there is still at least one brand with a backbone – Domino’s Pizza.

Tim McIntyre of Domino’s Pizza

Tim McIntyre from Domino’s shared how the pizza company hears from animal rights “extremists” all the time, but they value the hard work of farmers and ranchers and will never make a policy announcement threatening farmers’ livelihoods [cue standing ovation].

Animal rights organizations hide behind the guise of being concerned about animal care and well-being, but in reality they are campaigning for animal rights. No matter how well animals are cared for, if it benefits humans in any way it is unacceptable in their eyes. The pressure campaigns are about one thing – driving up the cost of production and in the end, consumer costs to put farmers and ranchers who raise meat, milk and eggs out of business.

I urge the consumers who don’t want to be bullied by animal rights organizations to take a page out of Domino’s playbook and stand up and take action. A simple thank you to our favorite restaurant or the manager at your grocery store can go a long way.


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4 Things I’ve Learned Interning with the Alliance

With only two weeks left until the Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit, my time here is quickly coming to an end. Managing work responsibilities, homework and studying, and extracurricular activities, this semester has been one of my hardest yet – but definitely the most rewarding. I feel like now is a good time to share the four greatest opportunities and learning experiences I’ve had because of this internship.

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#1: Time Management

This is absolutely the biggest thing I’ve learned these last couple months. A full college course-load is hard enough, but when you add in this internship and stepping into a presidential role for a club, it’s safe to say I kept busy. With daily deadlines and to-do lists a mile long, I learned hard and fast the importance of working quickly, efficiently, and not wasting any “down time”.

#2: “Ag-vocate” wherever and whenever

In a coffee shop, at the store, in class, on social media; there are always opportunities to advocate for the animal agriculture industry. Those involved in the industry are eager to share their stories, and consumers are seeking more insight about the agricultural world. The Alliance has shown me the importance of forming relationships with everyone – consumers, food retail associations, producers – to help bridge the gap between farm and fork.

#3: Take advantage of every opportunity

You always hear “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. This internship has provided me with many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. I’ve had the chance to attend receptions, events on Capitol Hill, and even a barnyard social with other animal ag interns in the area! Stepping out of my comfort zone and engaging in these events has left me with memories that will last a lifetime.emily 4

And #4: Animal rights activists are crazy

Period.

I am so thankful for everything the organization has taught me and the wonderful people that I have met in my short time here. My last month will be bitter-sweet as I am sad to be moving on from the Alliance, but looking forward to finishing this experience with a bang at the 2017 Stakeholders Summit in Kansas City!


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How the Animal Ag Alliance got its start…Part II

Steve Kopperud, the first president of the Animal Industry Foundation, tells the story of the first days of the now Animal Ag Alliance. See Part I of his story by clicking here

The Animal Industry Foundation (AIF) was founded in 1987. I was the sole staffer, and I was a part-timer. The directors were those same eight groups who originally formed the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, namely the national groups representing the various species producing meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, as well as general farm groups. The American Feed Industry Association generously donated my time as administrator of AIF, as well as providing office space for the organization, in exchange for a bit of adult supervision. All producer groups accepted the AIF invitation to sit on the board. The old Pfizer Animal Health and the old Continental Grain Company lent executive expertise. If memory serves, the first year’s budget was about $65,000, compared with HSUS’s $100 million and PETA’s $20 million or so back then.

Our initial successful project was the first ever “Myths & Facts” booklet. This publication took the allegations of the animal rights groups and put them in an honest and correct context, explaining modern housing, animal care and so on. So popular was this booklet, companies and groups bought them to distribute to local school districts. I’ll never forget walking into a rental car office at the Denver airport and seeing “Myths & Facts” on the waiting area coffee table.

We also designed a full-page information/fundraising ad featuring an Iowa large animal vet – Dr. Rexanne Struve. Rexanne farmed with her husband, practiced vet medicine and at that time, was raising two sons.  In the ad, she talked about her experiences with farmers and ranchers and her frustration with the misinformation told by animal activists.  We broke the mold one more time – we didn’t run that ad in an agriculture magazine; we bought space in regional editions of Better Homes & Gardens and Newsweek. From the one-time appearance in Better Homes & Gardens, we received over 1,000 requests for more information.

Not too long after, a mutual friend and colleague introduced me to Kay Johnson Smith. After a single interview, I hired Kay to be the day-to-day administrative brains of the organization. We went through a lot in those days, hustling donations, trying to get projects done and out the door, hustling donations, making speeches around the country, hustling donations, creating partnerships with other like-minded organizations, hustling donations, and fending off groups trying to exploit AIF’s success. We worked to reinvent AIF in the mid-1990s to reflect changes in the industry. That spirit continues as the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

In 2000, I departed AFIA and the Animal Ag Alliance to start a government affairs/strategic communications company with a friend. I’ve remained AFIA’s federal lobbyist since, leaving Kay well in charge of the Alliance. I’ve never forgotten or ignored the Alliance and its good works. No one is as impressed as I that the Alliance is turning 30 this year!

Read Part I of Steve’s reflections here.


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How the Animal Ag Alliance got its start…Part I

Steve Kopperud, the first president of the Animal Industry Foundation, shares how the organization got its start and his experience with the animal rights movement. 

I’m occasionally asked from where the notion came 30 years ago to create the Animal Industry Foundation, now the Animal Agriculture Alliance.  Herein, I’ll commit the origins of the Alliance to the official “record” of its 30th anniversary recognition – as best I can recollect – but first, you have to indulge me – and this brief history lesson – as I expound on how legislative action spawns public education and outreach.

I first heard the term “animal welfare” applied to farm animals in 1980, from Dr. Howard Frederick, then the staff nutritionist for the “old” American Feed Manufacturers Association, now the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).  I was Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the American Broadcasting Company’s publishing division, which fed D.C. coverage to a host of ABC magazines, and Washington editor for Feedstuffs, the flagship of its Ag publishing books.

Dr. Frederick had returned from an animal nutrition conference in the United Kingdom (UK). He told me of the growing frustration among UK aggies over the increasing activist noise alleging routine mistreatment of farm animals. He also talked about the emerging animal rights movement.

My cynical reaction to Dr. Frederick’s report was, I think, pretty typical for the time: “How ‘European’ to worry about ‘happy’ pigs and chickens.  That stuff will never catch on here.”  U.S. animal right activists focused on animals used in biomedical research and ending the fur industry. I filed the issue in the back of mind, in that spot reserved for story ideas to be pursued later, if at all.

Steve at his desk in the AIF/Alliance office

Shortly thereafter came the first U.S. public noise on animal rights from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  HSUS in the early 1980’s pushed for House legislation to “study” on-farm livestock production practices, the goal being to change those practices and federally regulate how farm animals were raised.  The focus was on veal calves.

As a reporter, I took Dr. Frederick’s European experience combined with the HSUS agenda, and interviewed Dr. Michael W. Fox, the vice president of HSUS one afternoon in his office.  The focus of the article would be “could the European situation happen here?”  The article concluded the European “situation” was already happening in the U.S.  The interview ran in Feedstuffs, and my phone didn’t stop ringing for a week. The vast majority of calls were from aggies outraged I would give Dr. Fox a forum to criticize without basis U.S. animal agriculture, and by default, farmers and ranchers.

In 1982, about 18 months after the Fox interview, I was hired by AFMA/AFIA to be its federal lobbyist. I worked with Dr. Frederick identifying evolving issues which could affect the commercial animal feed industry’s customers.  In looking to Europe to see what, if any, issues were on the cusp of export to the U.S., “animal welfare” topped the list.

At first, I was a voice in the wilderness convincing livestock and poultry organizations of the threat of animal rights activism.  Farmers and ranchers could not fathom anyone believing the activist message of senseless cruelty in pursuit of profit. I sat down with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), these groups having independently identified many of the same issues as AFMA/AFIA, as well as the HSUS “farm animal production practices” legislation.

Still, convincing some groups to take the issue as seriously as tax, food safety or trade legislation was tough. Consumers, based on contacts with ag groups, didn’t ask about on-farm production practices, housing, medications, feeds or animal transportation and processing.  However, given the noise being made by HSUS, the newly launched People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Rights International (ARI) – including national newspaper ads, publicity stunts involving nude activists and the ensuing media attention – it wouldn’t be long before consumer head scratching evolved into consumer demands for change, for regulation and so forth.

AFMA, AFBF and NCBA founded the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC) in 1984, an ad hoc coalition of agriculture groups focused on ensuring any regulation or legislation affecting on-farm animal production and handling was science-based, actually enhanced animal welfare and gave the economic welfare of the farmer/farm family equal consideration. In addition to HSUS, PETA and ARI, groups like Farm Animal Reform Movement (now the Farm Animal Rights Movement), Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association, the Animal Welfare Institute, ASPCA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and others joined the ranks of animal rights dogmatists.

In the beginning, FAWC’s membership was eight organizations representing general farm, feed, cattle, swine, chickens, turkeys, dairy and eggs.  At its peak in 1986, more than 40 groups attended meetings, including representatives of other animal industries, i.e. biomedical research, rodeo, fur farmers, zoos, fairs and exhibitions and circuses, along with university academics, bureaucrats and others who were involved with animal behavior.

With agriculture united, FAWC ensured federal farm animal rights legislation never saw the light of day, lending aid and comfort to state legislative battles when it could.

Steve exhibiting handing out information about the Animal Industry Foundation at a trade show

In 1985, FAWC partnered with the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) to beat back language in the 1985 Farm Bill to amend the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). While FAWC had no dog in the biomedical fight, it lent political support, but stayed focused on protecting the “farm animal exemption” in the AWA definition of “animal” for the purposes of USDA regulation. That definition specifically exempts animals raised for food, as well as research to enhance the use of animals for food, and while they’ve tried numerous times, animal rights groups have not been successful in pulling farm animals into the AWA.

NABR and FAWC have allied for over 30 years on major legislative and public relations initiatives to protect legitimate animal use in farming and biomedical research, i.e. food and medicine as “quality of life” issues. During the run-up in animal rights violence in the late 1980s-1990s, the two groups coordinated an animal user coalition which successfully saw enacted in 1991, the Animal Facility Protection Act (AFPA), a law which for the first time amended the federal criminal code to make violence against animal facilities a felony. In 2006, due to the expansion of animal rights violence to include ecoterrorism and other criminal activity – “domestic terrorism,” by FBI definition – that new section of the federal criminal code was amended by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), providing federal protections not only to the physical facility housing protected animals, but to the organizations and individuals who represent the legitimate use of livestock and poultry.

While all of the above was going on I was living in airplanes, flying around the country and overseas making up to 50 speeches a year to various state and regional groups, as well as to national conventions, warning about the threat animal rights to farming and ranching, but also how best to talk with the public, how to counter the absurd allegations about on-farm animal handling, how to get ahead of the issue, and how to open up to consumers about where their food comes from, i.e. “good food from good people.”

It occurred to me during a late night flight home from who knows where that one person could not continue do what I was doing. That agriculture needed to coalesce behind an effort to engage the public about the reality of on-farm meat, poultry, dairy and egg production was obvious. Certainly the brains and expertise were abundant within the various farm and animal producer groups. Think of the iconic advertising over the years: “Got Milk?,” “Where’s the beef?!,” “Pork. The Other White Meat,” “The Incredible Edible Egg,” I figured the folks who brought American consumers these gems could easily message routine humane handling by farmers and ranchers who care about their animals.

However, it was also clear producer groups were not going to shift either resources or personnel away from protecting the business of raising animals and selling product to, as I kept saying in speeches, “selling the producer.” At this point in managing the animal rights issue, most groups did not have a dedicated staff person whose job it was to monitor and coordinate the industry’s response to the movement’s attacks. Associations were most comfortable reacting publicly as part of a collective to avoid being singled out by activists or the media.

Kay Johnson Smith at a trade show in 1991

After much research, brain picking and lawyer sessions, it became clear a stand-alone organization was needed; An entity that would have as its sole function the education of the consumer as to the realities and benefits of modern farming and ranching, and how professional farming and ranching contribute to everyone’s quality of life.

This new organization would focus exclusively on public education, doing absolutely no lobbying or product promotion. Most importantly, the majority of the new group’s board of directors would be representatives of the farm and ranch segments the new group was designed to help, i.e. national animal producer groups.  A board member had to be organization staff, but staff who had the authority or the permission to make decisions for their association.

The rationale behind the “no-company-director” rule was to protect company brand names. Company stockholder meetings were being targeted for shareholder resolutions brought by animal rights groups, making companies less confrontational and less aggressive in their approach to the issue than farmers and ranchers. We also wanted to spare the associations the pressure – real or perceived – of having a big member company argue against a proposal/position in a board meeting. As supporters, companies could sit on project committees and the like, and they could attend board meetings; they would not have a vote.

That day 30 years ago in 1987 when the Animal Industry Foundation was born was the start of something great for animal agriculture.

Stay tuned for part II of Steve’s reflections!