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U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is a P.R. organization of "more than 20 of the leading farmer- and rancher-led agricultural organizations" that have "joined together to fund programs that bolster the image of agriculture and enhance public trust in our food supply."[1] The Alliance was formed in November 2010. They list as their objectives:[2]

1. Increase consumer, consumer influencer and thought leader trust and confidence in today’s agriculture.
2. Serve as a resource to food companies on the benefits of today’s agricultural production.
3. Work with leading health, environmental and dietary organizations to demonstrate the benefits of today’s agricultural production.
4. Increase the role of U.S. farmers and ranchers as the voice of animal and crop agriculture on local, state and national food issues.

USFRA was formed in response to negative publicity for the agriculture industry, including "the release of videos that show male chicks being put into grinders, egg-laying hens in battery cages and the mistreatment of hogs in large confinement operations."[3] Additionally, they cite opposition to genetically modified organisms, fertilizer, and pesticides as reasons for their creation. According to the USFRA, such negative publicity "threatens farmers' ability to produce food for the world's population." USFRA asserts that a mere 2 percent of farmers are the cause of the problems agriculture is criticized for by environmentalist and animal rights activists.

USFRA has hired the global advertising and PR agency Ketchum and "plans to launch a consumer-focused communications campaign this July [2011]."[4] USFRA projects it will have a $20 million annual budget for each of its first three to five years. Ketchum has previously worked with other large agricultural clients, such as the United States Potato Board, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and ConAgra Foods.[5]

Once the PR campaign launched, the group began describing itself in moderate terms, saying that USFRA represents "the first time agricultural groups at the national, regional and state levels have collaborated to lead the dialogue and answer Americans' questions about how we raise our food - while being stewards of the environment, responsibly caring for our animals and maintaining strong businesses and communities." However, the member organizations of USFRA overtly advocate radical anti-environmental agendas, also fighting against labor reforms, competition reforms, and animal welfare standards.[6]

Funding

According to the New York Times, USFRA's members include the largest agriculture marketing groups in the country, with billions of dollars to spend. They include the American Egg Board (“The Incredible Edible Egg”) and the National Pork Board (“The Other White Meat”). Its $11 million annual budget comes partly from mandatory marketing fees that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helps collect from farmers; and from corporations like Monsanto, the producer of genetically engineered seed, and DuPont, a major producer of chemical pesticides. Each company had committed to an annual contribution of $500,000, as of September 2011.[7]

Criticism

Almost immediately after the group formed, Susan Schneider of the blog Agricultural Law wrote:[8]

"The press releases issued by the new USFRA all seem to imply that if we just tell everyone how good agriculture is, the problems will go away. However, an ad campaign will not clean up wells contaminated by industrialized dairy operations. It will not create more water when underground acquifers are depleted. It will not halt the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It will not slow fossil fuel consumption. It will not make our food any safer or pay our migrant workers a living wage.
"Shouldn't funds be spent to figure out ways to address these and other significant problems while preserving agricultural productivity? Wouldn't it be fantastic to see agricultural groups coming together to solve problems, or even more amazing - coming together with consumer groups to discuss solutions to our problems? Isn't an ad campaign just another way to pretend that the problems don't exist?
"Let's have an honest discussion, i.e., a dialogue about the sustainability of our food system - environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability (making sure that farmers earn enough to cover the costs of good production practices), not an ad campaign. The farmers that I admire are the kind of people that step up to problems and are always looking for better ways to do things. Not shoving problems under the rug and advertising complacency."

Tactics

According to the Huffington Post, USFRA uses social media (such as Twitter and Facebook) along with a PR campaign to promote its message.[9] It has over 200,000 likes on Facebook. Many agriculture groups and farmers are also on Twitter, attempting to influence the discussion there. According to a report by the Center for Food Safety, USFRA has an economic agenda that favors the largest players and downplays the plight of small farmers, not to mention the public.[10]

The Alliance cannot legally lobby the U.S. government because some of its members are check-off programs (organizations established by the government that collect money from their members used for marketing and research).

Food Dialogues

In August 2011, USFRA announced a September 22 event held in New York, DC, Indiana, and California called Food Dialogues. The town hall style meetings claim their purpose is "simply... to create a forum that, we hope, will result in all of us being better informed about issues that affect our lives, our health, our planet and our future."[11] The 21 panelists that will be distributed among the four events include the top three board members of USFRA; Pamela Ronald, known for her controversial position that organic production methods and genetically engineered crops both have something to contribute to sustainable agricultural production; the CEO of one of the largest dairy farms in the country; and a farmer with 25,000 acres and several processing facilities in California.[12] After attending the event, Anna Lappé concluded that it was not intended as a dialogue at all, but an industry-controlled forum for the largest players in agriculture to advocate their agenda.[13] For more information, see the article on Food Dialogues.

Members

As of 2011, affiliates include:[14][15]

Industry Partners include:

Premier Partner Advisory Group

Industry Partners Council

Supporting Partners

Personnel

Board of Directors

The Board's executive committee, elected November 5, 2010 is as follows:[16]

Additional board members are as follows:

Other organizations with board representation include:

Management

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers was managed by Drake & Company, which was purchased in 2011 by AMR Management Services.[18][19]

Contact Information

  • U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance
  • 16020 Swingley Ridge Road, Suite 300
  • Chesterfield, MO 63017
  • Phone: (636) 449-5086
  • Email: info at usfraonline dot org or info at fooddialogues dot com
  • Web: www.usfraonline.org/ or www.fooddialogues.com

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External resources

External articles

References

  1. U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance About Us, Accessed March 16, 2011.
  2. U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance About Us, Accessed March 16, 2011.
  3. Michael J. Crumb, Farm Groups Form Alliance To Fight Bad Publicity On Animal Welfare, Biotech, Huffington Post, January 31, 2011, Accessed March 16, 2011.
  4. Ken Anderson, USFRA plans late summer consumer campaign, Brownfield Ag News, March 25, 2011, Accessed April 22, 2011.
  5. Ketchum Food Center Celebrates 30th Anniversary, October 13, 2008, Accessed April 22, 2011.
  6. Jill Richardson, "Big Ag's Opposition Research," La Vida Locavore, September 13, 2011, Accessed September 21, 2011.
  7. Julia Moskin, In Debate About Food, a Monied New Player, New York Times, September 27, 2011.
  8. Susan Schneider, Alliance Seeks to Boost Image of Production Agriculture, Agricultural Law, November 22, 2010, Accessed April 22, 2011.
  9. Michael J. Crumb, Farm Groups Form Alliance To Fight Bad Publicity On Animal Welfare, Biotech, Huffington Post, January 31, 2011, accessed March 16, 2011.
  10. Michele Simon, The Best Public Relations That Money Can Buy, Center for Food Safety report, May 2013.
  11. "American Agriculture's Responsibility," Food Dialogues blog, August 19, 2011, Accessed September 16, 2011.
  12. [http://indica.ucdavis.edu/news/in-press-tomorrows-table
  13. Anna Lappé, "Who’s Behind the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and Why It Matters," Civil Eats, September 23, 2011.
  14. USFRA Announces Board and Group Members, AgWired, November 11, 2010, Accessed April 22, 2011.
  15. Meet Our Affiliates, Accessed September 13, 2011.
  16. Jason Lance, Alliance Aims to Tell Ag's Story, Wallaces Farmer, November 12, 2010, Accessed April 22, 2011.
  17. Putze Named to U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Board of Directors, Accessed April 22, 2010.
  18. U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Contact Us, Accessed March 16, 2011.
  19. AMR Management Services, AMR Management Services Announces Acquisition of Drake & Company, corporate press release, August 6, 2011, accessed May 2012