Partnering across the supply chain is key to furthering the animal agriculture community’s sustainability progress. This was the theme of the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2023 Stakeholders Summit, held just outside of our nation’s capital in May. More than 300 people — including many from the dairy community — attended to partner with stakeholders throughout the food chain and across commodities. They came to share ideas and form connections that will elevate the farm and food communities in ways that lift everyone and to collaborate toward vital progress. They also want to learn how they can do their part to help protect, sustain, and advance our entire community. I’m still processing all the great insights from the conference, which are highly valuable to check out even if you couldn’t join us!
The 2023 Summit featured a dynamic group of speakers and included an opening keynote from former agriculture advisor to the president Ray Starling. He discussed the key concept of his book, “Farmers Versus Foodies,” which is that those of us involved in farm and food production are proud of our food system while those not involved share a belief that the food system is “broken.” The farm and food communities must work together to bridge the gap in beliefs and perceptions. Here are some quotes from his session:
- “We [people involved in food production] think we're doing a pretty good job, arguably. I mean, I agree with you. And then there's this whole world of folks out there that seem to want to tell everyone else how horrible we are, how inhumane we are, fill in the verb of choice . . .”
- “You can [ask Google], ‘Is the food system broken?,’ and I do this about two or three days before I give a presentation, and it never changes. The first eight pages essentially answer the question. ‘Yes, the food system is broken.’”
- “[It’s] not surprising when animal activists say the food system is broken. We know what their motivations are.”
- “If we look at what we were producing with one man hour of labor after World War II in agriculture and compare it to what we're doing today, [we are] 1,600 times as productive with one hour of labor. No other industry comes even close.”
On a panel about engaging with Generation Z, two farmers and a communications professional shared how we can proactively engage them and other groups effectively based on both research and personal experience:
- “Values are important and so is science, but they're not treated equally.” – Roxi Beck, Director, Consumer Engagement, The Center for Food Integrity
- “People want to understand science, and they want to feel like they are a part of something, and they don't want to feel like they're being spoken at. They want to be spoken to.” – Emily DeSousa, Fisheries Scientist and Sustainable Seafood Educator, Seaside with Emily
- “The questions people are asking may not actually really be what they're wondering about, but they don't know how to say it. They don't have the right words because this is not their wheelhouse.” – Cassidy Johnston, beef rancher and consultant, Not Your Average Rancher
Wrapping up Summit, closing keynote speaker Jack Hubbard, partner and owner of public affairs firm Berman, discussed how animal rights extremist organizations are exploiting animals and donors to bankroll their anti-animal agriculture campaigns. Hubbard dubbed these groups “factory fundraisers.”
- “Over the past two years [HSUS and the ASPCA] groups have doubled, if not more, their revenue, and they haven't even started to figure out how they're going to spend it.”
- “The root of [the animal rights] movement is a very, very small group of people who have extreme, extreme radical points of view, trying to force it on the entire American public through legislation, through litigation and through a culture war. And that's what's going on every single day.”
- “They're trying to essentially get the food service community to dictate changes to you that will drive up costs and decrease demand. That's their game.”
- “The reason these groups get meetings with legislators and the reason that they're successful sometimes in their initiatives is because of their reputations. But their reputations are based on lies. The public thinks that they're the local humane organization in their backyard, they're not.”
- “Words matter in how you all, even inside your own community talk about things, has an impact on the debate. If you start off with the wrong language, you're almost immediately likely to lose somebody.”
If you missed the 2023 Summit or want to see more of the insights shared, check out the 2023 Stakeholders Summit Highlights Report! Save the date for the 2024 Summit, set for May 8 and 9 in Kansas City, Mo., and follow the hashtag #AAA24 for periodic updates.
Emily Ellis is the manager of communications and content at the Animal Agriculture Alliance. In her role, she works to execute the Alliance’s issues management and communications strategy.