‘Agvocacy’ is a made-up word but it works nicely in this case. When I visited with the folks at the American Angus Association a few days ago, the main topic of conversation was communication. One of the critical questions we batted around the lunch table was how can agriculture define itself more effectively to the 98% of Americans who are ‘non’ ag?
The table talk was driven partly by the recent and very strange hook up announced by the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Organization for Competitive Markets. Both groups are against the beef check off and they’ve filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction, aimed at the U.S.D.A’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.
Almost immediately the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association issued a press release that said "USCA will not support OCM's willing involvement of HSUS, a known opponent of U.S. ranchers and animal agriculture, in this lawsuit partnership. We doubt that HSUS has any true concerns about how checkoff dollars are administered and, in fact, if the organization's long-term goal is to eliminate animal agriculture, then the complete demise of commodity checkoff supports that plan.”
We all remember the lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) controversy. ‘Pink slime’ it was called by people who knew almost nothing about the product. The label stuck and the damage was done. Beef prices took a hit and a company that was a major contributor to food safety was knocked to its knees.
Both issues were tied to communication – or rather a lack of it. In the HSUS/OCM/USCA donnybrook, the HSUS was able to define a wedge issue and use it to create ill will among industry segments. As for LFTB, a product that had been around for two decades and gained a flawless reputation for safety? When we let others define the term for us, we lost the battle before it was joined.
The ag-driven parts of social media are all about ‘agvocacy’ and the need to tell our story first and best. Unfortunately, much of that chatter is amongst the choir. More of it needs to be pointed outwards, aimed at people who really believe a good steak or chicken breast comes from the supermarket, neatly wrapped in plastic. No relation to a real live animal implied, understood or accepted.
It’s all about effective communication, of course, and one of the most effective and forward looking programs comes out of the American Angus Association’s headquarters in St. Joseph, Missouri. A longtime producer of an excellent printed magazine and an active issuer of press releases, they realized several years ago that modern communications had evolved well beyond paper and ink.