This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
Food Dialogues are a series of events being held by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, an agribusiness front group funded by major biotech and pesticide companies like Monsanto and DuPont and major industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation that is advertising itself with moderate language about collaborating "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." USFRA explains the town hall style meetings, saying:
- "The goal is not to advance an agenda or to persuade you to any particular point of view. We simply want 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."
However, that contradicts the mission of the group at its creation, as it 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." 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. For more information about the group, see the article on the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.
Town Hall Events
In 2011, U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance announced a series of "town hall meetings" to be held around the country. They framed them as follows:
- "Americans have a lot of questions about how our food is raised, the impact on our health and the health of the planet. Today it seems there are more questions than answers. Join us, journalist moderator Claire Shipman and Chef John Besh right here on September 22 for The Food Dialogues – the launch of a new effort to bring together different viewpoints on farming and ranching and the future of food to solve our most challenging problems. This Town Hall-style discussion will take place in Washington, D.C., California, New York and the Midwest, and virtually – to connect Americans interested in a dialogue about their food."
"Dialogue" Without Much Dialogue
- "While these industry players may be saying they want to “open their doors up,” it seems only on their terms. Certainly the Food Dialogues yesterday gave a semblance of impartiality: Highly-credentialed journalist Claire Shipman of Good Morning America moderated from a satellite location in D.C. and celebrity chef John Besh hosted the panel in New York City.
- "But the reality was an orchestrated framing of the message about “modern agricultural production” from the perspective of big business. In the staged kitchen set at the New York City, the questions from the “audience” included only one: a pre-arranged question from the head of the National Pork Board. In D.C., Jay Vroom, from the agrochemical trade association CropLife America, was handpicked to join in the “conversation” and lob a softball question to John Besh about chefs and portion control."
Lappé concludes that the "dialogue" was nothing of the sort:
- "This media campaign, the industry publication continued, is also intended as a “preemptive strike” against “a long list of new regulations and restrictions coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food & Drug Administration, ranging from tighter rules on pesticide applications to a potential ban of routine, preventative use of animal antibiotics.”
- "Take a look at the policy priorities of USFRA members and you’ll see exactly that: Most of its affiliates are hard at work, lobbying on Capitol Hill to weaken the very regulations that the consumers the USFRA itself surveyed say they care most about: Pesticides and antibiotics, for instance, as well as artificial hormones in animal production, and air and water pollution."
She goes on to detail the recent lobbying of USFRA's member organizations, including:
- The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is currently lobbying to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
- USFRA members involved in animal agriculture (NCBA, Dairy Farmers of America, National Pork Producers Council, American Egg Board, and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association) are lobbying against legislation to prohibit the use of antibiotics in livestock that are not sick. (Antibiotics are often used in healthy livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention. The legislation would not impact farmers' ability to treat sick animals with antibiotics.)
- The National Corn Growers Association opposes use of the Endangered Species Act to control toxic pesticides.
The panelists at each town hall location are as follows:
- "Our D.C. panel will share insights and discuss broader issues such as our nation’s role in feeding a growing population while maintaining high standards for food safety and quality and our commitment to providing healthy choices for people everywhere. Emceed by ABC’s Claire Shipman, and moderated by food industry analyst Phil Lempert, our panel includes:
- Tres Bailey, director of Agriculture and Food, Wal-Mart
- Kathi Brock, director of Strategic Partnerships, American Humane Association
- Frank DiPasquale, CEO, School Nutrition Association
- Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau Federation and chairman of USFRA
- Jon Scholl, president, American Farmland Trust
- Dan Glickman, senior fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center and former secretary, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (1995-2001)"
Fair Oaks, IN
- "The panel in Fair Oaks, Indiana will share their insights into farmer and rancher values and their personal stories, the economics of farming and ranching and how consumers affect farmers’ and ranchers’ decisions. Moderated by Max Armstrong of Farm Progress Companies, the panelists include:
- "Moderated by CNBC’s Jane Well, our panel at the Robert Mondavi Institute at UC-Davis will review sustainable practices in farming and ranching and dig deeper into the issues surrounding conventional, local, organic, natural and free range farming, weighing the pros and cons of each. Our panelists will also discuss agriculture education and look at what students today are learning about when it comes to sustainable methods of farming and ranching for the future. The UC-Davis panel includes:
- "As home to foodies and restaurant industry experts, New York City sets the stage to discuss how and where consumers get their information about food and the impact of farming and ranching on consumer choices. Featuring Chef John Besh, our panel consists of:
- Bart Schott, president, National Corn Growers Association
- Dr. Lynn Silver, director Science and Policy, New York City Dept. of Health
- Sarah Murray, author, “Moveable Feasts”
- Patricia Cobe, senior editor, Restaurant Business Magazine
- Dr. Pamela Ronald, professor, Plant Pathology, University of California-Davis"
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- Jill Richardson, "Big Ag's Opposition Research," La Vida Locavore, September 13, 2011, Accessed September 16, 2011.
- "American Agriculture's Responsibility," Food Dialogues blog, August 19, 2011, Accessed September 16, 2011.
- Michael J. Crumb, Farm Groups Form Alliance To Fight Bad Publicity On Animal Welfare, Biotech, Huffington Post, January 31, 2011, Accessed March 16, 2011.
- Town Hall Venues, Food Dialogues, Accessed September 16, 2011.
- Anna Lappé, "Who’s Behind the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and Why It Matters," Civil Eats, September 23, 2011, Accessed September 23, 2011.
- Alli Condra, "A Rose by Any Other Name: The Food 'Dialogues'," Food Safety News, October 4, 2011.
- Mark Bittman, "Polls Agree: Food ‘System’ Needs Fixing," New York Times, September 28, 2011.
- John Hart, "Alliance Up For the Daunting Task Ahead," The Voice of Agriculture, American Farm Bureau Federation, September 26, 2011.
- Sarah Gonzalez, "USFRA Food Dialogues engage consumers and aggies nationwide," Agri-Pulse, September 23, 2011.
- Michele Payn-Knoper, "Thinking about food, Cause Matters Corp., September 23, 2011.
- Anna Lappé, "Who’s Behind the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and Why It Matters," Civil Eats, September 23, 2011.
- Jill Richardson," Hey Locavores, Astroturf is in Season!," La Vida Locavore, September 22, 2011.
- Jill Richardson, "New Ag Front Group Releases Survey Data #FoodD," La Vida Locavore, September 22, 2011.
- Jill Richardson, "Big Ag's Opposition Research," La Vida Locavore, September 13, 2011.
- Nancy Huehnergarth, "Let the Big Ag Reframing Begin," New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance, September 12, 2011.
- Mike Callicrate, US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, No-Bull Food News, April 21, 2011.
- Michael J. Crumb, Farm Groups Form Alliance To Fight Bad Publicity On Animal Welfare, Biotech, Huffington Post, January 31, 2011.