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June 2015

Planting the Seeds for Smart Corporate Policy


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

These days it seems as much policy comes from the corporate boardroom as from Congress. Some corporate directors are hurriedly bowing to pressure not from their customers, but from vocal activists. The result is corporate policies that forbid farmers and ranchers from using tools to maximize production, protect the environment or care for animals.

Smart companies listen to their customers – and their suppliers. They collect all the facts before making decisions, rather than just responding to whoever is complaining the loudest. Through our corporate advocacy program, Farm Bureau is working to help companies understand the reasons why farmers and ranchers use certain production methods, and how blanket prohibitions can harm farm profitability and therefore sustainability, as well as the reliability and even the safety of our food supply.

We don’t expect large corporations – even the ones that make their living selling food – to be experts in what it takes to run a farm every day. That’s our job. Farmers and ranchers are committed to providing customers what they need and want. But companies need to better understand how we keep store shelves and dinner tables full, and what it takes to do so while protecting the environment and keeping animals healthy.

Real corporate responsibility begins with listening to the people on the ground. Companies need to hear from farmers and ranchers on how policies could affect our ability to grow affordable food. Sweeping gestures such as Chipotle’s recent announcement that it is eliminating all or most genetically modified ingredients from its menu are shortsighted. They fail to count the cost to consumers, farmers and the environment. Catchy but vague slogans touting “natural ingredients” and “integrity” too often mislead consumers, and have nothing to do with keeping food safe and healthful.

There are companies that are going against the flow and looking beyond the trendy rhetoric. Kellogg’s is a good example. They are providing a variety of options for consumers, not insulting their intelligence with simplistic, cartoonish marketing campaigns. They are stepping up to the challenge of explaining why these issues aren’t as simple as one production method being bad and another being good. That’s a bit more challenging than jumping on the latest “all natural” bandwagon, but consumers should understand how the application of science and technology to farming allows us to grow more food with less fuel, water and land and cultivate crops that withstand drought, require little-to-no pesticide and benefit the soil. They need to know that banning modern farming methods means throwing away those benefits.

Farm Bureau is reaching out and recognizing those companies for their responsible decision-making on agricultural practices. And we are letting companies know that we and, more importantly, the men and women who actually produce our food are a source of information for them. Farmers and ranchers make hard choices each day – not based on what is popular at the moment, but on what is good for their families, land and animals.

Every food company has a responsibility to provide safe and healthful products. We bring them the information and insight they need to be responsible partners in feeding our growing population.