BRITISH agriculture urgently needs a “rapid rebuttal” team to counter anti-farming messages pedalled by activists.
Opinions about agriculture – even when poorly informed – are no longer confined to a minority. As a result, farmers risk being engulfed by a tidal wave of anti-farming propaganda.
Speed is of the essence when countering misinformation.
In the USA, farm groups have joined forces in a multi-million dollar campaign to response to attacks by activists (Financial Times – registration required).
With 50 affiliates, the US campaign will spend up to $30m a year to promote a positive farming message.
Until now, US farmers have been overly defensive and slow to respond to their critics, says Bob Stallman, of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“We realised that we have not been part of the conversation and we realise that is a mistake,” he concedes.
It’s the same in Britain. Farmers have been caught on the hop over a host of issues ranging from “mega-farms” to GM crops and livestock cloning.
Now plans for a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis are at the centre of a social media storm. Thousands of animal welfare supporters have signed anti-cull petitions and posted their objections on websites.
This time, industry leaders have hit back, urging farmers to post messages online explaining why a badger cull is necessary. They have also launched a TB Free England website, promoting the arguments in favour of a cull.
Battles like these will come thick and fast over the coming years.
Issues like high food prices, subsidy reform and the impact of farming on the environment will all see agriculture increasingly thrust into the limelight.
Rapid rebuttal of misinformation will become ever more important.
Without it, farmers will find themselves increasingly on the back foot when trying to get their message across.