Welcome to the Farm Wars: Big Ag Fights the Small Farm Movement

Feeling the pressure of the growing number of small-scale farms and activists concerned with food safety and the effects Big-Ag farming has on the environment, some of the largest U.S. farming groups have joined forces in the formation of new organization called the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

Aimed at dispelling what the group claims are myths about large scale factory farming (pollution, animal cruelty, unsafe food), the group is going to begin holding town hall meetings across the country paid for by the $30 million budget provided by the 50 organization members, which includes the United Egg Producers, the National Milk Producers Federation, the U.S. Grains Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the United Soybean Board.

Citing films including Food, Inc. and Farmageddon as depicting the industry in an unsavory light, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation told the Financial Times, “Consumers are confused.” The alliance will be streaming their town hall meetings online in efforts to reach as many concerned citizens as they can with an assurance that industrial farming, especially of livestock, is a safe and healthy part of the American diet.

Big-Ag has come under scrutiny from a number of consumer advocacy groups, citizens – as well as filmmakers – concerned about the use of genetically modified ingredients, antibiotics, growth hormones and cruel industry standard practices that subject sentient animals to horrifically painful (albeit short) lives in cages and crammed CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).

The recent U.S. outbreak of Cargill’s salmonella-infected turkey, which triggered the second largest meat recall in history, has food and farm experts calling for a return to smaller farms (and less meat). Mark Kastel, director of The Cornucopia Institute, an organization that supports sustainable and organic agriculture, says that big farming groups are fearful that negative publicity is finally taking a financial toll. “I think corporate agri-business is frightened about the marketplace implications and concerned about more regulatory constraint… they are afraid that the ugly stories out there are tarnishing their reputation.”

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image: Jill Ettinger