Saturday, August 15, 2015

The PR Cost of Pro-Ag Policy

Last week, Jayson Lusk commented on a recent strike down of an ag-gag law in Idaho. Such laws are designed to keep anti-ag activists from recording footage on farms and using it to make the industry look bad.

Lusk points out the potential for unintended consequences:
From the farmer's perspective, it isn't hard to see understand the motivation for such laws.  But, what kind of PR does such a law create for the agricultural sector?
... in trying to protect themselves from undercover activists, proponents of the law now created bad publicity for the entire industry (even for producers who weren't video taped and who did no wrong) in one of the largest newspapers in the country.  It is not as if there is no legal recourse for activists who break the law.
In an era where consumers demand greater transparency, the industry probably isn't doing itself any favors by engaging in public actions that make it appear as if there is something to hide.
 So, the industry pushes for ag gag laws, they pass, and those who love to bash the industry have more ammo. As the article Lusk refers to points out, we already have laws against "trespass, fraud, and defamation." Does the ag industry need enhanced versions of those laws? What are the public relations costs?

Over the last few weeks, I've had similar questions about all pro-ag laws. There are plenty of laws and regulations that impose heavy costs on the industry. I'd wager that most anti-ag activists are happy about them and wish they were more plentiful. However, there are a lot of pro-ag laws on the books that very likely impose a PR cost on the industry.

Consider the passage of the farm bill last year and the media frenzy it created. For example: here, here, and here. (I defended it here.) What does it cost the industry to deal with the objections made by anti-ag activists? I don't think that cost, whatever it is, comes to mind often enough in policy discussions. Ag is organized very well at the state and national levels with the many breed associations, crop producers' boards, Farm Bureau, and other organizations out there. I see no reason that these groups should ignore the PR costs of pro-ag policy.

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