How bloggers influence ag policy

By Kristin Merony

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 16 - Whether you are an avid blog reader or ignore the blogosphere entirely, finding out where food and ag bloggers get their information, what goes viral, and what they write about most, incited a lively dialogue at CropLife America's 3rd annual national policy conference Wednesday at the Newseum.

“Food is a very personal thing,” said Tom Philpott, a food and ag blogger for Mother Jones and co-founder of Maverick Farms in North Carolina. He said that any blog post relating to human health usually generates the most traffic because it is what people worry about.

And traffic, of course, it what bloggers want most.  The larger the numbers of visitors and page views on a site, the more a blogger can generate income.

Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, said that bloggers , in this digital age have the power to influence agricultural policy and should be involved in the conversations surrounding a new farm bill.

“From farmers to food bloggers to conservation associations, it is clear there are many unique perspectives that have a stake in this important and sweeping piece of legislation,” he said.

Danielle Gould, Food+Tech Connect founder and CEO, said that anything that generates controversy goes viral. In her experience, those have included cheese made from breast milk and a headline that read, “Carbs Are Killing You.”

Hemi Weingarten, Fooducate founder and CEO, said food and ag bloggers seek to be the change makers and accelerate how change happens in the food system today.

The moderator, Marc Gunther, a blogger and contributing editor at Fortune magazine, made a reference to Philpott's “skeptical eye towards industry and politics.”

Philpott replied by critiquing the agricultural chemical industry and said he aims to be a counterweight to companies like Monsanto and what he described as industrial agriculture's marketing and lobbying power.

Challenging the bloggers' opposition to modern agricultural practices, former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, said, “The world cannot be fed without biotechnology.”

The bloggers suggested that agribusiness companies need to do a better job educating the public on safety, security and research and increase transparency. They suggested that farmers and related firms need to change their mindset about communications, think outside the box and do more to gain the public's trust.

Weingarten said that consumers just want to be made aware of the issues and have the ability to choose. He related how he had become interested in food issues when he saw the food coloring red dye No. 40 on the ingredient panel on a package of yogurt. Through research, he learned that it was questioned by European regulators. There are too many things “the public simply doesn't know,” he said.

Philpott said the hyperbole surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in crops has greatly outpaced the achievements. “The technology has succeeded, but in terms of doing something useful, I don't see it,” he concluded.

Others disagreed, pointing to the tremendous gains in crop yields and productivity over the last few years. 

#30

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