“We need ethical reflection, not extremism,” renowned author and film maker Shawn Lawrence Otto told the crowd of food and farm industry leaders gathered for the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 11th annual Stakeholders Summit. Sixteen expert speakers explored the theme “Real Farmers Real Food: Celebrating Tradition and Technology” during the two-day conference held in Arlington, Virginia. Presentations helped attendees ensure authenticity in telling their unique agriculture story and encouraged the entire food chain to unite and embrace innovative consumer outreach efforts.

Animal Agriculture Alliance


Otto, a science advocate, humanitarian, and author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America , provided strategic tactics to help agriculture better communicate science to decision makers, consumers and the media.

His core message? Food producers must get involved in the dialogue, demonstrate shared values with the public and continue to make science-based business decisions.

He explained that animal agriculture is invisible to the majority of Americans today. The farm community must make personal connections and a firm foundation in science to help the public understand the myths and facts about food production. There is a link between science, freedom and democracy, he argued.

Click here to listen to Otto’s presentation.


Otto provided five steps to help attendees debunk false information about agriculture:

  1. Lead with the facts.
  2. Warn the recipient that the next information that you share is inaccurate.
  3. State the myth.
  4. Explain how the myth is wrong using real-life examples.
  5. Use a visual to illustrate your point.

Michele Payn-Knoper , a professional agriculture advocate who uses social media to connect the farm gate to the plate, echoed Otto’s call to action. She challenged the agriculture community to step up and lead the conversation about food production.

Her real life “agvocacy” examples empowered attendees to tell their unique, authentic stories.

Agriculture can’t afford to just be reactive when it comes to discussing hot button issues like so-called “pink slime” or animal care. While farmers’ actions should be rooted in science, the industry must recognize the important role that emotion plays in the decision making process.

“Talk about what you love and build your community now,” Payn-Knoper said. “Transparency happens in the conversations.”

She offered some important tips to help farmers use social media effectively:

  1. Leave positive “breadcrumbs” online – post video farm tours or blog posts to help people find accurate information about agriculture when they turn to Google for the facts.
  2. Don’t be dismissive of questions about farming, no matter how trivial they seem.
  3. Get involved in the weekly #agchat Twitter chats held each Tuesday at 8 pm eastern.
  4. Personal stories are the most authentic.
  5. Everyone in the agriculture community should develop an advocacy plan to use to develop their personal voice online.

Click here to watch Payn-Knoper’s presentation.

The 2012 Summit was a unique learning and networking opportunity that commemorated the Alliance’s 25th anniversary with a special awards reception to recognize its founders. In 1987, the American Feed Industry Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation led an effort to establish the Alliance’s predecessor organization, the Animal Industry Foundation.

“As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we are thankful for the ongoing support of our members,” President and CEO Kay Johnson Smith said. “Today, farmers and ranchers need a strong advocate to protect their ability to produce safe, nutritious food for the world. The Alliance is that voice.”


The top scoring club in the Alliance’s third annual College Aggies Online social media advocacy competition was awarded a scholarship award during Summit. The Casper College Ag Club from Casper, Wyoming, took home top honors.

Club members were recognized for the efforts speaking up for agriculture online through blog posts, discussion forums, photo journalism, and weekly issues-focused homework assignments.

The Alliance sends sincere thanks to all event sponsors, speakers, and attendees. Click here to request to join the 2013 Summit planning committee. PD


Sarah Hubbart
Communications Director
Animal Agriculture Alliance