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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.

emily

#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!


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Taking Opportunities from the Cattle Pasture to Capitol Hill

Coming from a small, rural town in east-central Missouri, I never would have imaged myself interning in an office near the nation’s Capitol. Yet, growing up on my family’s large, commercial cattle farm has given numerous opportunities that have led me to where I am today. So, how could a small-town farm kid end up here?

The Beginning

If I were asked what my favorite animal was when I was younger, I would have answered “cows!” without hesitation. I knew I lived on a farm with cows, pigs and chickens, but I never realized the importance of agriculture and farming until I was older.

In grade school and high school I was known as the “farm kid”. I could be found wearing my boots almost every day and sporting a shirt from my FFA chapter or 4-H club. I raised and showed beef breeding heifers, breeding gilts and market hogs during my time as a member. (A breeding heifer is a young female cow shown at a fair to exhibit her qualities, a breeding gilt is a young female pig also shown for her qualities, a market hog is a pig grown and showed for his/her qualities and auctioned off during the fair.)

cow calf

Getting on the Right Road

When it came time to choose a college and major, unlike most people I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I was exposed to the agricultural communications field when I visited Kansas State University in the fall of 2011, due to my participation in the National 4-H Meat Judging competition. After that visit, I knew I wanted to be an advocate for the agricultural industry. I had my heart set on going to K-State and being a Wildcat. Yet, the University of Missouri was where I knew I belonged, mostly because it was closer to home and I had some family ties there. At MU there is not an agricultural communications major, instead there is a science and agricultural journalism program, which is where I found my passion.

How I got Here

I was a very active member of 4-H growing up and I served on the Missouri State 4-H Council for three years before retiring in early June. As a 4-H member, I had countless opportunities to minimize my comfort zone and maximize my leadership potential. One opportunity that took me above and beyond my comfort zone was being a participant in Missouri 4-H’s 2015 Legislative Academy. I was not interested in politics, I dreaded American Government class, yet with a smile on my face and a leap of faith I went to the state’s capital. I shadowed my hometown representative and as a savvy college kid, I left my business card and resume “just because”. The very next day I received an email asking me to return to the capital as an intern the following week. I was eager and excited, I accepted the position and caught the “political bug” while interning at the Missouri House of Representatives.

AGJAs the saying goes, “It’s a small world.” You never realize how small of a world it is until you talk to one person and the next thing you know you are interviewing for an internship halfway across the country. I was a participant in the 2015 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leader’s Conference, where I was sponsored by Farm Credit. As I was thanking one of the ladies from Farm Credit, I happened to give her my introductory elevator speech. The next thing I know, she is giving me a recommendation for an internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. A couple of emails and phone calls later, I was offered the position and decided I was moving to the East Coast for the summer.

Now Here I Am

As a 20 year-old, junior in college, my parents were not too keen of the idea of their youngest child living half way across the country. Yet, with some persuasion I was able to convince them this is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. As I carry on in life, no matter where connections take me, I will remain a passionate advocate for American agriculture. With an industry that fuels the globe, agriculture is indeed a very “small world”, you never know who you will meet next.


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Directionally Challenged

Trailhead

PathI was always told that if the path before me is straight and clear, you’re probably on someone else’s path. This honestly never made sense to me. At the age of eight years old I could have looked anyone dead in the eye and shared my future plans with certainty. Therefore, of course my path was clear and straight. At first, this belief was valid; I did know what I wanted to do, but that is the tricky part about paths. It is easy to know the general direction I am traveling, but at no point did I know the destination.

The push to “find your path” begins at a young age with constant reiteration that there is not one path; there is not even the right path; in fact, there is only your path. With sincere consideration my path lead me in the direction of becoming a zoo veterinarian. However, like any good path, mine fell victim to weathering. I have learned that this path is not guided, there are no mile markers, and with little solidity in destination, this path takes many turns. Originally I was in route to becoming a zoo veterinarian, then to a farrier, to an equine vet, as well as considering equestrian management. The common ground: agriculture. It was not until later in my high school career that I discovered my fondness for the industry, as a whole, was irrevocable.

murray-stateFinding My Path 

During my four years of high school I developed a fondness for agriculture that to this day causes me to light up when sharing my passion for the field. The agriculture industry is large in physical size as well as large in misconceptions regarding production practices. To put it lightly I found that concept bewildering, but following further consideration I recognized even with substantial passion, I too had a lot to learn. After high school graduation, I attended Murray State University in the unbridled spirit state of Kentucky. While attending Murray State University I pursued a degree that not only complimented my passion for agriculture but my aspiration to advocate on its behalf.  I am proud to say this past May I graduated from Murray State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture with a minor in Political Science.

Choosing My Direction 

It has been fourteen years since I was eight years old and began the trek in search of my career goals. I am now living in Washington D.C. – a long awaited goal – working with an organization dedicated towards bridging the communication gap between farm and fork. Without a doubt, I am facing the direction of what I believe to be my end goal. Currently, I aspire to broaden my knowledge on the American animal agriculture industry and further identify the root of common misconceptions. As I move forward with my time here at the Animal Agriculture Alliance I am able to explore many aspects of the industry under continuous scrutiny. With this backbone of information I plan to continue my career by expanding my understanding of agricultural misconceptions to a global scale.

“You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need” –Jerry Gillies. At first, I thought the push to find my path was meaningless, then as my goals continued to change I found the assignment unmanageable.  Now that I have discovered an endless energy for a particular field I am prepared for whatever back-country, scenic, and narrow road this path takes me down, starting with contesting the misconceptions of animal agriculture.


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The faces behind the Animal Agriculture Alliance

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is a small, but mighty team with just four full-time staff members. Our mission is bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and we figured you might be wondering why all of us at the Alliance are passionate about our work, so we’d like to take this opportunity to share a little bit about our backgrounds and why we enjoy working on behalf of animal agriculture.

Kay HeadshotKay Johnson Smith, President and CEO

My dad always joked my sisters and I were city girls growing up in the country.  I used to think that was because we loved shopping, sports and all of the activities that came along with school.  We spent more time in town than in the country where I grew up in south central Virginia.

While all that’s true, it occurred to me recently maybe he meant we had the luxury of not worrying about where our food was coming from or having to spend endless hours growing it or caring for the animals that provided us milk, eggs or meat.  He grew up in a large family that logged and farmed for a living.  He told us many stories about milking cows before they could have breakfast and go to school, and then having to do it again before dinner.  There was little time for play or spending time away from the farm, but they loved this life and were very proud of their family business.

Not long after college, my political science degree helped me land a position in public affairs at the Virginia Farm Bureau.  I soon realized I was working on behalf of people just like my family: hard working, strong values and a commitment to doing things right.  I had found my passion: agriculture.

I’m thankful that led me to the Alliance in 1994, and I couldn’t be more proud to continue to have the privilege of working on behalf of America’s amazing farmers, ranchers and all of the stakeholders who help produce our nation’s food and fiber so people like me can enjoy a life without worry about where my food will come from or how it is produced.

2015-AFIA-29Casey Whitaker, Communications Coordinator

I didn’t come from an agriculture background, but I’m grateful I found agriculture when I did. I grew up on the outskirts of the Washington D.C area and my childhood dream was to become a veterinarian, but I found my passion elsewhere during my sophomore year at Auburn University.

When changing my major I wasn’t 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do with my life, but one thing I was certain of is I wanted to stay within the College of Agriculture. I wanted a career working on behalf of the men and women that showed me what it meant to not only work hard, but work with a true passion and love for what they do every day. I wanted to have that same passion and I knew I could find it in agriculture.

11406270_907503572622173_2636870306716014651_oI studied Agricultural Communications and joined the Alliance 10 months ago as an intern before being hired as the Communications Coordinator because I felt like I could make a real difference with the Alliance and be able to give back to the agricultural community. At the Alliance I am able to take my passion for agriculture and help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork through social media and educational resources to positively influence public perception about animal agriculture. I have enjoyed every moment I have been here and am looking forward to the new year with a great team!

2015-AFIA-27Hannah Thompson, Director of Communications

Although I have roots in production agriculture on both sides of my family, I grew up in town on a small bit of land that my family used as a hobby farm to house our horses, chickens and the occasional sheep or goat. As much as my mother wanted me to show horses in 4-H, my interests were elsewhere: dairy cattle.

Our close family friends owned a dairy farm, and anytime we would visit I would immediately slip under the gate and be out with the cows. On my eighth birthday, I received the gift that would shape my future: a Brown Swiss heifer calf. This calf, named Joy, would be my ticket to getting involved with the dairy industry and joining 4-H and later FFA.hannah kid

Through these organizations, I was able to meet so many hardworking farmers who devote their time and energy to ensuring that their animals are receiving the best care. I knew I wanted to find a career that would allow me to give back to the community that has given me so much, and I have definitely found that at the Alliance!

Our mission of bridging the communication gap between farm and fork is personal to me because so many of my friends and family members depend on this vital industry that we all love: animal agriculture. I am proud to go to work every day and put my passion and education to work on behalf of all of our nation’s livestock and poultry farm families.

Allyson HeadshotAllyson Jones-Brimmer, Membership and Marketing Manager

I grew up in a rural area in northern New York, but not on a farm. My family drove by a small dairy farm and a large, expanding dairy farm on a daily basis. What exactly was happening in those barns and fields was a mystery to me. I was involved in 4-H because I rode and showed horses, which led me to join FFA and enroll in agriculture classes in high school. These experiences helped me gain an understanding of what was happening in the barns and fields. The more I learned, the more amazed I was by the ingenuity and innovation of farmers. The more farmers I met, the more appreciative I was of their hard work and dedication to their AJB FFAanimals, land, employees and community. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share the story of agriculture with others. That led me to study Animal Science and Agricultural Science Education. I joined the Alliance seven months ago because I am passionate about the Alliance’s mission of bridging the communication gap between farm and fork.

If you would like to give a personal donation to support our mission please click here.


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An interesting perspective: animal agriculture and city life

This guest blog is by one of our past interns, Kirk Kaczmarek, reflecting on his summer internship experience. 

Since finishing my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, I’ve had time to visit my brother at college, see both sides of my family, halter break some calves, and reflect on my experience in D.C. Working with the Alliance helped provide me with an interesting perspective.

On one hand, I was connected to my family’s farm and agriculture in general through the nature of my internship. On the other hand, living with the hustle and bustle of D.C. places you far away from the farms that produce your food. However, the D.C. social life, at least for my age group, is dominated by food. We meet for lunch, coffee, drinks, appetizers at a bar, and the list goes on. For a huge group of people, farms are always at least a D.C.’s worth of distance away from their forks. Now this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking observation, but I never really stopped to think about what this means for animal agriculture as an industry until working with the Alliance. I noticed three effects in particular that caught my interest.

People Want Information

Most restaurants I went to engaged in some fashion of advertising the origin of their products. Local beef, Boars Head meats, all eggs from insert-farm-name-here, etc. adorned signs in business after business. People generally want to make smart choices; they want to eat food they know is healthy and humanely raised, so they seek out certain products that they think will benefit them in these regards. This should be wonderful news for the animal agriculture crowd, because we aspire to produce just that kind of food. And for many of the farms with their names listed in D.C. restaurants, I’d say this consumer demand for information is working out rather well. However, people don’t always have correct or complete information.

People Don’t Always Have Good Information

Although consumers want to make the most informed decision concerning food purchases, they are often bombarded with statements that misleading. The amount of people who think a “No Hormones Added” label to chicken means anything at all – no chicken sold in the U.S. has added hormones – is astounding. It can be difficult for consumers to wade through all the disinformation and misinformation surrounding food so that they can make the best decision possible.

Long Live Price and Taste

Regardless of how somebody purchases food based on the first two observations, price and taste remain the most significant factors in determining food choices. Once again, those engaged in animal agriculture should be overjoyed, because we do aspire to produce flavorful and reasonably priced products.

The animal agriculture industry today has the opportunity to continue bridging the gap between farm and fork. Consumers will continue to have questions about our food supply; farmers and industry leaders need to ensure they are present to answer the questions.


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Farmers care about their animals and the people who say they don’t

FullSizeRenderI think it’s safe to say that my internship with the Alliance has been everything I was hoping for and more. From my first blog post to this one, I have done something I didn’t even know was possible – I’ve become even more passionate and dedicated to agriculture. This is why I am excited to continue working alongside a great team here at the Alliance as communications coordinator!

During my time with the Alliance I have not only learned so much about animal agriculture, but I have also been able to see my ideas come to life through my writing and serve their purpose of informing people who want to know more. But I’d have to say without any hesitation that what I have enjoyed the most isn’t the writing, the content creating or all the other daily tasks I’m responsible for. What I enjoy most about my work is when I interact and hear directly from the farmers and industry leaders that I advocate on behalf of.

Whether it’s on the phone or face-to-face, every farmer I have met cares about three things: their animals, the environment and people.

It’s about animals, the environment and people

You’ve probably heard the first two a million times, but maybe you didn’t realize that the people who work every day to make sure there is enough food in our country actually care about you and your family. A shocking reality is that just two percent of the population are farmers and less than that claim it as their full-time occupation. Of course more are involved in the entire farm to fork process, but it’s the farmers that are are continuously being criticized by people who are making demands that will drive up food costs and make farming more difficult.

I understand that people want to have a say in how their food is produced and I agree that we should be involved as consumers. What concerns me is that people are making demands without any factual evidence to back up why they want farmers to adopt or eliminate certain practices. When consumers who have never met a farmer or visited a farm tell farmers that they know what’s best for the animals and environment instead of the farmer who washes the dirt from his or her hands every evening before bed just to get them dirty again the next morning, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Whether the farmer is from a small farm or a larger one, they have the same goal in wanting to produce quality food at an affordable price so you can feed your family safe food without breaking the bank. So far they’ve done an excellent job because whenever I go to the grocery store, the question as to whether the food I’m buying is safe doesn’t even cross my mind.

For the majority of farmers, the health and well-being of not only the animals they raise, but the environment they are raised in and the people that use the product from the animal in some form or another rises above any amount of profit. Yes, they need to make a living too in order to provide for their own family and I think it’s fair to say the men and women who help to feed the country should not be below the poverty line, but at the end of every day they are thinking about their animals and if they are doing a good enough job to provide for the people who trust their food supply and the farmers that grow it.

For farmers, farming is always on their mind.

A couple weekends ago I went to see one of my best friends graduate with her bachelors degree and her father happens to be a farmer. He’s actually one of the most dedicated and caring farmers I have met and every time I see him (which really isn’t that often because he’s always on the farm) he is itching to get back to his farm and care for his animals because that’s what he does. He made arrangements for someone to be at his farm to take care of his animals so he could see his daughter graduate from college, but you could tell he couldn’t wait to get back home and do what he loves.

He works every day to provide for people who probably don’t give a second thought to how much passion and dedication it takes to be a farmer, but he does it anyway because that’s what farmers do. They think about the people who don’t necessarily recognize their hard work. Farmers don’t farm for the fame and glory. If they wanted to make bank and be famous they would be in a different field. They farm every day because they sincerely care about providing for the people in their surrounding communities and across the country.

I’m not relying on this blog post to convince you to believe farmers care about the people they provide for, but I do hope I convince you to talk to a farmer and know the whole story before you ask them to do something that is not in the best interest of their animals, the environment or for you.

In just four short months I have become more passionate and dedicated to not only sharing agriculture’s story by connecting with farmers and industry leaders, but creating a dialogue with consumers who are interested in agriculture and want to know more. I can only hope I become even more invested in agriculture’s future, but I’m not sure that’s possible. I suppose time will tell and I am thrilled to spend it with the Alliance!


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20 Years an Ag-vocate: Then and Now

Imagine a time with no Internet (or online shopping), no smart phones, no laptops or iPads. Correspondence outside of the office took three-days to be received and at best another three days for a reply to be received back, unless by phone (land line of course) or fax (if you even know what that is – believe me, many today don’t!) Relationships were built through personal connections, face-to-face – not virtually via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. International conversations required flying long distances on planes or through very, very expensive telephone calls. And researching anything meant pulling out the Encyclopedia Brittancia or scouring newspapers – possibly requiring library visits to only find archived stories on microfiche (again, anyone know what that is?)!

To my teen and probably many on my staff, I’m sure I seem ancient – and after writing the above – I sound ancient to even myself! “We’ve come a long way, baby!” (anyone remember that phrase?) Some good, some that has made the Alliance’s work even more challenging. A lot has changed in my 20 years at the Animal Agriculture Alliance (originally named Animal Industry Foundation), yet we still focus on the same issues we did back in the 1994 when I started and in the mid-80s when the Alliance was founded. What’s changed most are the tactics, the technologies and the funding of the groups that oppose animal agriculture. In the eighties, the animal rights organizations turned their attention to farm animal agriculture, as they indicated, for the sheer number of animals raised for food and fiber and because many were being raised in doors – for their own protection, mind you, from predators, the elements, disease, and oh yes, to ultimately allow farmers to produce safer food. These extremists believe eating meat or using animals for any purpose is immoral. They believe all animals were equal. Remember the famous quote from PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk: “…a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”?

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In the ‘90s, some of the most common tactics to get attention was to sling buckets of paint, symbolizing blood, on mink coats or to dump truck loads of manure in front of hotels and convention centers where farm animal trade associations held their annual conferences. Today, they often sling lies and innuendo about farmers or threats to CEOs of publicly traded companies with brand names using social media to post “undercover” videos obtained by activists who have gained employment illicitly on farms or in processing facilities.
The top executive of one extremist group has boldly stated on national television that “the lifeblood of [our organization] is our undercover investigations of animal agriculture.” Another group’s executive is described in a Boston Globe article as accomplishing “his wins by playing to both the fears and desires of corporate executives.”

While these extremist groups certainly are threats to agriculture, I think what disturbs me most about today’s trends are more and more food chain partners marketing against U.S. farmers and ranchers and the modern advances of farms today to improve animal well-being as well as food safety. Many are even disparaging processes and technologies used by their own farmer suppliers.

Just this week, my husband brought me a laminated card handed out by the Cosi restaurant next to his office which reads: “New Chicken! Antibiotic and hormone free, vegetarian-fed; Raised in a humane, cage-free environment; Costs a little more, but…taste, quality and source is superior.” Really??!! This is NEW CHICKEN? News flash! ALL meat chicken is antibiotic free, and comes from chickens raised without added hormones or in cage housing. But sadly, they bank on the fact that its highly millennial clientele doesn’t know that. It makes me very frustrated and sad as well.

Why sad? I’ve met so many great people over the past 20 years who strive every day to do the right thing by their animals, their employees, their customers, their families and the public. These people are really the driving passion behind what I do and why I love what I have done for my 20 years here, and in my previous role at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

The conversations I’ve had with many farmers who ask questions like, “Why are they (meaning activists) doing this to me and my family”? Why do they portray us as evil? Why can’t they be happy their lifestyle choice and leave others alone? How can they get away with attacking farm families with their rhetoric, lies and false representation of our businesses? Don’t they understand the harm they present to the animals when they’re traipsing from farm to farm, potentially spreading disease?” The questions go on and on, and the individuals asking are truly hurt by the false accusations presented.

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do know the activists are not going away. Unfortunately it took too long for stakeholders to believe these groups were truly a threat and their campaigns would impact their businesses. The “sucks to be you” and “I just hope they won’t bother me” mentality lingered way too long, and now we’re behind the curve.

But the good news is, 97% of the American public enjoys meat, milk and eggs on a daily basis. Developing countries around the world are incorporating animal protein into their diets and world food needs to grow by nearly 50% in the next 20 years and 70% in the next 40.

So it’s important we all proactively seek opportunities to share the amazing story of animal agriculture and let the public know more about the incredible people who produce our food in America and beyond. We have to actively engage in conversations whenever and wherever possible to ensure our collective voice is represented in the same spaces as the activists.

Fortunately more than 20 years ago, forward thinking ag leaders understood “united we stand, divided we fall”, thus the Alliance was formed. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to work for such a noble mission and with such absolutely amazing people across the world. I look forward to continuing the Alliance’s work on behalf of America’s farmers, ranchers and producers of food and so many other crucial products, and invite you to join in our effort!