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q How would you summarize the key priorities for the Animal Agricultural Alliance?

a Our role in the industry is to connect stakeholders across the food chain, to educate the media and consumers about the importance of animal agriculture.

Our goal really is to protect the ability for farmers to keep farming and for consumers to make their own choices about food.

Our primary audiences do include stakeholders within our industry to help provide resources with insight on some of the campaigns and issues and threats that are facing the industry and various tactics that are being used.

Also to focus on developing media relations to help ensure that there is a counter or a balance to the discussion about the various issues related to farm animal production.


more mark In working with media, I would say we have had a great relationship, and especially with our agriculture trade media.

This year we are really working to develop more relationships with the food industry media that readers from restaurants and retailers rely on.

They have become such a huge part of the dialogue about farm animal production practices, so we are trying to make sure that those reporters, writers and journalists have access to the accurate information on these issues.

We are very involved in social media Facebook and Twitter and some the newer forms of social media and working to produce blogs for a number of publications online as well as in print.

Again we find that that is a very effective way to reach a younger audience that relies on social media for their news.

Other audiences include those decision-maker people, whether they are legislators, policy makers that are impacting agricultural production, as well as restaurants and retailers and people who are the customers of farmers and ranchers to ensure that they have access to resources that provide facts and about farm animals production today. more mark

q You mentioned the word media being a much broader context, especially with social media being in the hands of almost any consumer. How does that affect how you approach directing your message?

a We have identified a number of leaders in the areas of the food industry. In particular, those who are writing blogs, or the journalists who focus a lot on food issues, or agricultural issues that are in either mainstream media or online media.

We are engaging them by sending information to them in advance and presenting ideas about stories to them from a factual perspective about how agriculture operates today.

We are really trying to reach out to them and pull them in to look to us as a resource for information.

more mark Our communications director does blogs for a couple of publications on a regular basis. One is Meating Place, because it is read by many of the retail and restaurant groups.

She is also working with Progressive Dairyman, which has a wide variety of readers from the production side, but also people involved in the dairy part of the industry. 

We are also submitting a regular blog to another publication that focuses on youth involved in our industry; also those involved in maybe 4-H and FFA who aren’t necessarily farm kids but are in those programs for leadership purposes.

So those are just three right now that we have that we are regularly contributing to their blog posts. more mark

Otherwise we utilize and post daily information on our Facebook page, which has a broad reach, and then we’re also very active on Twitter.

We have a YouTube channel that has numerous videos that provide tours of farms and ranches.

So we post information through those hopefully to also drive people back to our website, which has much more detailed information on all of these issues way beyond what you can post using social media. Social media is sort of a drive-back to our website for more in-depth information.

q With the Consumers Union’s recent report on antibiotics, what’s been the key message your group delivers to those who are critical of antibiotic use?


amore mark We feel it is important for the public to understand that farmers and ranchers have a long-standing commitment to protecting public health and also the safety and health of their animals.

People have to remember that farmers and ranchers also eat the products that they are producing.

They live in the communities where they are producing or raising animals that might be receiving treatment from antibiotics. And so the health and safety of their families and employees is equally of concern as it is for the public. more mark

There are a lot of myths perpetuated about animal agriculture’s use of antibiotics in that some of the numbers being pulled from FDA reports are very misleading.

The biggest myth groups like Consumers Union and others present is that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in and throughout America go toward farm animals.

But that’s really a very misleading number, because FDA does not separate types of antibiotics and whether or not they’re used; it’s a matter of how they are sold.     

more mark That’s one factor that we have to deal with that generates a lot of misinformation. more mark

The other (point) is that more than 45 percent of all antibiotics used for farm animals are compounds not even used in human health medicine.

So, therefore, they cannot even contribute to the public health concern of antibiotic resistance.

That fact gets lost in all of these campaigns by groups that are really using the antibiotic resistance issue as a factor in their campaign against larger farms.

more mark So this is just one that I think is easy for the public to catch hold and to create concerns by the public with and so again it is one factor and I think much bigger agenda that unfortunately does create some concern with the general public. more mark

q Is the alliance working with states on legislation to restrict activist secret videos? Do you hear what producers may think about that kind of strategy?

a more mark The Animal Ag Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization so we do not lobby. However we do monitor legislation and we do certainly work on these issues and we are a resource that many legislators rely on for the facts.

Through our relationships with many of the chairmen of the agriculture committees, through our working with organization called the State Ag and Rules Leadership Conference, it’s a once a year conference where all the state ag chairmen come together.

So we developed a very strong relationship with those ag chairmen, who do look to us for information and resources. more mark

We have developed some resources on this issue of these activists gaining employment on farms and operating a so-called undercover investigation.

The biggest concern we have is the fact that these videos are often taken and edited, and they are sometimes staged activities being videotaped on farms.

Then the videos are held often for weeks or months before they are released. They are usually released at an opportune time with another campaign, or with possibly a bill that is being presented before a state or Congress, and used to really misrepresent and disparage farms in general.

Not only is there the concern that the activist is being hired and paid by a farm to do his or her job and yet their real goal is to either create or capture something bad happening on video.

They pose a risk to not only the farm but the farm employees, the animals themselves and, certainly, we have the greater concern that the real terrorists are watching these undercover activists and finding out just how they operate, how easy it is to get on farms and potentially have access to our animals that will become part of our food supply.

more mark So it’s a much bigger concern than just the animal rights community from that standpoint. It is a matter of really of farm and food security.

So as far as our work with legislators we do provide resources to help the legislators understand just how big of a threat this is to the farms that they represent and the need for having legislation that will protect farms from this type of activity that poses such a high threat to the individual farms as well as our food supply.  more mark

q Are producers more willing to jump on board with this type of legislation as more video emerge?

aThey are. This past year we saw three states pass legislation. They are somewhat different from one another. Some ban the actual videotaping.

Some address the issue of fraud and these people posing fraudulently as one who is there to work on a farm but they’re being paid by someone else with a different agenda.

One of the bills puts in recording requirements, so if there are videos taken of alleged abuse, then rather than being able to hold onto that video and use it for a campaign against the farm and ranch community, the video must be turned into authorities (and) reported immediately within I believe a 24-hour period.

more mark So there are states that do see the need for this legislation in order to protect the agricultural communities but in a way that is not infringing on someone’s freedom of speech (and) forcing these groups to do the right thing.

That is if they are there under guise of improving animal care than let’s do these videos for the right reasons and stop this campaign of creating negative videos simply for the purpose disparaging farmer and ranchers. more mark

q Talk about the process that led to ending your business ties with Bank of America based on its connections to HSUS.

a more mark As everyone knows the Humane Society of the United States is not an animal welfare organization or an animal protection organization.

It is the largest animal rights organization in the United States and its leadership is very adamantly opposed to the use of animals for food. more mark

We learned about the Affinity Card Program that Bank of America had with HSUS, which provides $60 donation to HSUS for every new cardholder that applies for a card that would have the HSUS logo on it. HSUS had also received a percentage of each $100 charge made on the card.

q So it wasn’t just a finder’s fee as they were saying, it was more transactions going back to HSUS?

aYes, right for every $100 that is charged on a card that is part of this HSUS affinity program, the HSUS received percentage of funds from Bank of America for those charges.

So, while these may not be direct donations by Bank of America corporate directly to HSUS, the fact is by having these cards that have a picture of a cat or a dog, they are not only helping perpetuate the myth that HSUS is an animal protection organization protecting cats and dogs, but it is also providing financial support that is used on campaigns against farmers and ranchers.

q So that Affinity Card Program did a similar service for other groups or charities? HSUS was just one of the programs that were in that card program?

aYes, right. HSUS is not receiving any special treatment. In all fairness to Bank of America, this is how their Affinity Card Program works with all participants. HSUS promoted this as if it were a new program. I believe the program started in 2009.

We did write to the president of Bank of America at that time. Nothing was done. There was no response, so it was one of those programs we felt we probably wouldn’t be able to take action upon.

But social media has changed the ability for us to communicate our principles. more mark So we decided to address this again in a more significant way, writing to the president of the bank and also posting on social media. And it really is a testament of the power of social media: more mark

It was within probably a couple of hours of our posting our letter to the president on our Facebook and also tweeting about it on Twitter that we received a call from the agri-business executive at Bank of America responding to our concerns.

While we discussed the program, discussed our concerns and the fact that these cards do perpetuate that myth that HSUS is an animal protection organization, Bank of America was unwilling to discontinue its relationship with HSUS …

more mark They provided a lot of assurances that they support agriculture and they do not support HSUS agenda, the fact is this program with Bank of America is helping financially fund an organization that we find to be a true threat to agriculture. more mark

So it was as a matter of principle we decided to end our 25-year banking relationship with Bank of America and move to another bank altogether that we found to have no affiliation or any programs with any activist group.

q So Bank of America officials did not respond to your efforts, which started as far back as 2009, until some type of feedback came from producers on your Facebook and social media presence?

aAbsolutely. It is by posting our letter on Facebook and Twitter that farmers and ranchers all across America started contacting Bank of America. The power of contact from farmers and ranchers at that grassroots level made the difference in Bank of America’s response.

more mark Now again, they did not respond accordingly to drop their relationship with HSUS. However they did respond at that corporate level to our concerns.

I know that many Bank of America branches all across the country are having that same conversation with farmers and ranchers.

I know for a fact that farmers have contacted us and said that because of what we issued and giving them the information that they would have not known otherwise, they too have ended their relationship with Bank of America. more mark

It is unfortunate. It’s not as if we are trying to pick on Bank of America or pick on any company.

But we do need to stand up for our principles and let people know that HSUS is not the organization that many people believe it to be, and that it is using its millions of dollars to attack farmers and ranchers every day and we need to find a way to stop that.

q What does this scenario tell other agricultural allies about how they determine their business?

aWell, first, it is important that we check who we are doing business with to find out what other organizations they support.

Where are they involved in providing support either directly or indirectly to organizations that are our opposition? …

more mark So you ask those questions. Who else do you do business with and do you do business with? more mark

We need to make our dollars count and vote with our pocketbook, just like these activist groups are asking consumers to do.

q What’s your feedback on the growth of the Meatless Monday campaign and how much of a threat is it to protein producers?

a more mark Ninety-seven percent of the American public loves to eat meat, milk and eggs. They include those as a mainstay in their diet.

So from a standpoint of this being a true threat, people will continue to eat meat. more mark

What I find very disturbing about the campaign is it has been around for eight or nine years and it is very misleading in its presentation as a way to become healthier by eliminating meat in your diet one day a week.

You also “will help the environment,” and that is not at all what this campaign is truly about.

The agenda behind this campaign is an animal rights campaign. It was initiated and funded by a very wealthy heiress in New York who has been a long-time animal rights activist.

Her husband is a public relations advertising guru and it is really their approach on how to drive people to incrementally eliminate meat from their diet because they don’t believe animals should be used as food.

This campaign was a few years ago based at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in its Center for a Livable Future.

This center only has programs that are very anti-meat, anti-agriculture or at least very anti-modern agriculture.

The Center for Livable Future is also the coordinator for the Meatrix video that is very anti-dairy, anti-beef, anti-pork and anti-modern conventional agriculture.

more mark It is also the coordinator for the Grace Factory Farm Project, which encourages individuals to sue large farms on the basis of health and emissions that come from farms.

They provide training for how to teach people how to sue farms. So that is where the Meatless Mondays campaign is based.

But they know that people love to encorporate animal protein into their diet and so this is a way to provide them the incentive or the encouragement without making it to difficult.

So if you can eliminate it one day a week, then why not two days or why not three days? more mark

q Do you have any input on the new issue of the OCM’s partnership with HSUS against the beef checkoff?

aWe are very concerned when anybody in agriculture decides to partner with HSUS.

more mark This is an animal rights organization that does not believe we should be raising animals in any way shape or form, in any size, indoors or outdoors, for human consumption or for any other products that are produced for fiber or leather. more mark

HSUS is opposed to raising animals for any human purpose, so for any organization or any individual within the agricultural community to partner with them does create a lot of concern.

Ultimately that is helping them achieve their goal of dividing and conquering. That’s why HSUS is approaching some of these groups who may have concerns or may be vulnerable and looking for partners at any level – because they have a concern about one issue.

Ultimately those that have partnered with HSUS do it because they are just looking for someone else to help them achieve their goal.

It is very dangerous because HSUS may work with you today but, ultimately, they don’t like how you raise animals for food, whether it’s organic, or it’s a small producer, or it is a rancher out on land that has concerns about how the checkoff funds are being spent.

So we see it as a very dangerous and a very slippery slope.

more mark q Finally talk about the alliance’s stakeholder’s summit. Who participates in your annual event?

a Our stakeholder’s summit consists of individuals all across the food chain, from retailers and restaurant representatives to communications specialists within associations or companies involved in animal agriculture, to individual farmers and ranchers.

We host the summit specifically to be a networking opportunity across the food chain, so that we could have people from the pork and the cattle and the poultry industries all in one room and talking to one another, because we share the same values and we also share the same concerns about the threat to animal agriculture.

Our summit provides an opportunity to learn about some of the key issues and the threats that are facing the industry, as well as learning about ideas and about how to better engage the consumer and customers in meaningful ways to help them better understand the issues they are facing.

We try to present not only information about the threats and concerns that are posed to the industry but also the solutions.

What is happening around the country or what are some out-of-the-box programs that are being initiated at the state or local level that we see as model programs creating that positive experience about farming and ranching.

How we can we take that setting on a broader scale and share those same ideas with others across the country? more mark   end mark