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0408 PD: Producers organize, launch campaign to unite others

Published on 27 February 2008

Hype and opposition from anti-animal agriculture groups and misleading marketers led a group of dairy producers to organize and launch a new grassroots organization.

American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT) publicly announced its intentions to help gather agriculture industry support for safe, approved production technologies during World Ag Expo last month in Tulare, California.

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Dairy producers Carrol Campbell and Liz Doornink are co-chairs of the organization and spent three days at the show getting other producers introduced to the new group’s initiative and what it hopes to accomplish.

“We want to open a dialogue to find a solution,” says Campbell, a dairyman in Winfield, Kansas. “I don’t know what the solution is, but we need to find the solution.”

The group believes that it has become increasingly more evident that “laying low” or “letting it pass” are not the best options for preserving the future use of agriculture technology and a positive consumer perception of milk.

AFACT wants to reestablish the trust that used to exist with the American public and says recent propaganda efforts by non-government organizations, like PETA and Green Peace, are creating fear in consumers.

“The public needs testable information and facts,” said Doornink, a dairy producer from Baldwin, Wisconsin. “Consumers don’t need fear, they need understanding. It’s important that consumers make choices based on facts, not fear.”

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The most recent concern addressed during AFACT’s panel discussion at World Ag Expo was the rBST labeling issue. AFACT leaders say the group is not against labels. Instead, they say what concerns them is the message that is printed on the label.

“Consumers deserve a choice, but they deserve accurate information,” Campbell said. “False claims do damage to our product as a whole. All the choices are good and wholesome.”

Campbell explained that when one label says, ‘rBST-free, antibiotic-free, all natural,’ it leads consumers to think the other cartons have rBST, antibiotics and something unnatural in them, when that may not be the case.

But the group’s campaign to educate will not just focus on rBST. AFACT leaders say labeling misconceptions don’t just exist on the milk aisle. The same groups pushing for labeling of dairy products are also pushing consumers of all products to worry about everything they eat, AFACT says. Doornink recalls a story that ran on ABC’s Good Morning America. She said a reporter went into a store and asked a woman looking at a box of crackers if she knew that they were made from genetically modified grains, to which the lady was alarmed and said she would never buy those products again.

“It’s unfair to make our consumers afraid by not telling them the facts,” Doornink said. “Consumers need to know us, and they need to hear us. We need to tell the story.”

The panel discussion involved producers from several states, California, Oregon, Washington, Kansas and Wisconsin, and discussed dairy product labeling and its effect on the industry. The panel’s consensus was that by backing away from modern technology all farmers involved in crop or animal production would struggle to produce the amount of food needed to feed a growing population without increasing the country’s agricultural land base or without using more resources. All the members of the panel expressed concern about what technology would be taken away next, if dairy producers everywhere don’t start speaking up.

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AFACT meets via teleconference regularly in order to discuss what is happening and potential solutions. All farmers are invited to join the organization no matter the commodity they produce. Members of the Voices for Choices campaign have also joined this group. Any producer interested in getting involved is encouraged to go to www.itisafact.org.

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