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As Food Inc's Aggressive Campaign Reflects,Organic and Animal Advocates Often Dominate Food Debate

Posted by Susan Luke.

As Food Inc's Aggressive Campaign Reflects, Organic and Animal Advocates Often Dominate Food Debate

Skewed visibility and influence leave big brands facing credibility, reputation challenges online

St. Louis (June 23, 2009) - When consumers go online to look for information about the production practices that put meat and dairy products on their kitchen tables, they are most likely to see the kind of one-sided content featured in the documentary Food Inc., at the expense of content reflecting the points of view of most conventional producers or major food brands, according to new research from v-Fluence Interactive.

"Our research shows very few conventional producer groups or well-known food brands have a presence in the content that most frequently shows up when consumers search on these food production topics," says Randy Krotz, senior vice president and head of v-Fluence's Food and Agriculture practice. "And when they do, it's more likely because organic competitors or animal rights advocates are talking about them in a critical manner.

"In addition to omitting important voices that consumers should hear when they search on these topics, this landscape creates an uphill battle for producers and brands that seek to promote more animal-friendly production techniques as part of their sustainability and corporate reputation initiatives," Krotz says.

For example, the research shows 70 percent of the content consumers are likely to see when they search for information about beef production comes from producers of organic or grass-fed beef, rather than from conventional producers. Perhaps not surprisingly, this content is biased toward organic or grass-fed methods, suggesting they're safer alternatives to the kind of traditional, conventionally-produced beef that has fed America for generations. Meanwhile, similar to the sensationalized documentary Food Inc, little content accurately representing conventional animal production or the brands under which it is sold appears to balance these critical claims.

Similarly, a majority of the content (60 percent) consumers see when they search for poultry and egg production topics comes from promoters of free-range and organic chicken. About 30 percent of the visible and influential content found online comes from advocacy groups such as United Poultry Concerns. The research shows little content from conventional poultry producers or well-known brands in this online environment, aside from some references to Tyson and Perdue Farms crediting their efforts to reduce antibiotics in chicken.

Other key findings:

  • Content critical of large-scale producers of beef and poultry appears when consumers specifically search for animal welfare topics. The content includes references to the treatment of animals and workers at slaughtering and packing facilities and comes from advocacy groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The v-Fluence study finds little visible content from the companies themselves or groups representing conventional producers effectively addressing such criticisms online.
  • Consumers associate some large food producers and brands with animal welfare and well-being more than others when they search. The study's analysis of consumers' most frequently-used search terms shows they link meat supplier Cargill and Tyson - via search terms like "Cargill animal welfare" and "Tyson free range chickens" - to these topics more than other brands.
  • Consumers also appear more likely to search for advocacy groups, such as the Animal Welfare League, Animal Welfare Society and Animal Welfare Institute, more frequently than food production companies, producer groups and individual brands when they are interested in animal welfare and well-being topics.

"Our study suggests the online information consumers see when they search for animal welfare and food production topics is largely skewed against conventional food producers and their brands," Krotz says. This means the debate leaves out critical questions, like whether organic production can feed an expanding world with shrinking resources; the ongoing need for increasing, not decreasing, the global food supply; and the mandate to do all of the above in a way that is affordable not only to the wealthiest countries of the world, but the poorest, too.

"These questions are all important ones, regardless of where you are on the continuum of public opinion," Krotz said. "Vigorous debate that includes all points of view is in everyone's best interest, and that's what's missing here."

For more information on getting your company's content visible and influential online - contact v-Fluence Interactive.

About v-Fluence Interactive: With locations in St. Louis, San Diego, Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, v-Fluence is a leading provider of Internet marketing and online issues management analytics and Web services. v-Fluence, recognized as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies by INC magazine the past two consecutive years, provides major brands and organizations in key food, health, energy and other market sectors the online analytics, counsel and engagement support they require to be measurably successful on the Web, in blogs and beyond.

Comments: (11) post your own

As Food Inc's Aggressive Campaign Reflects,Organic and Animal Advocates Often Dominate Food Debate

From: Chuck
This shows how important it is for agribusiness and food producers to join the online conversation. A blog that is well written and updated regularly is just one way a company can address this issue. Actively using other forms of social media would be very helpful too. Unfortunately, too many start a blog, Facebook page, etc. and then don't "use" them. Many run into too many corporate controls that preclude them being used effectively or creatively.
From: Glenn Babcock
I read a post today about a young farm couple that were raising chickens conventionally on a farm in the Midwest. It was on the Tyson Food site and it was about as balanced an article that I have ever seen. It is those types of stories that the consuming public need to hear and see. It is on YouTube and it is very good.
From: Deborah Duck
I just saw the movie Food Inc. It was very informative! and to say that the mega producers of the food that is being mass produced in this country have no presence in the contentof the information that shows up on some web sites and other media's of info is bogus at best! Monsanto,( the largest producers of GMO'd seeds, Tyson, and Perdue all declined interviews for this movie. One can only imagine, if one has a lick of sense, why these money hungry Corp's. declined all interviews! The argument being presented about mass feeding the world is NOT the bottom line here... and for one to believe this, is far beyond comprehension!
From: Michael Dezso
Have to agree with Duck here. They aren't online talking about it for the same reason they're declining interviews from responsible documentaries (ie this wasn't a Michael Moore witch hunt). They don't have anything to say that will explain the abominations they have created.

The Food Inc. people have their lawyers and act checkers in place, and have had to because of the aggressive stance taken by those firms. But hey, we're all accountable. Those companies will be held accountable for their "all all costs" drive toward efficiency and profitability. A free market depends on a free flow of information. I would love to hear what Perdue and Tyson has to say for themselves.

From: Katie Robinson
I have to agree that this post is complete trash. The only reason in my eyes that a big corp would deny an interview is because they have something to hide. If they knew they were right, it seems to me they would want all their information out there. There's a reason why all the searchable information favors organizations like animal rights, the offending companies have no counter argument.
From: Giovanni Pinuellas
There are several problems with this post.

The reason why there is a perceived "bias" towards organic and sustainable advocates is simply because the counter arguments are just not there. This makes sense because of two reasons:

People who care about food and what they eat will generally prefer food that is organic and sustainable, or at least have some concerns whether the food that they buy from "conventional" sources. Therefore it makes sense that most arguments in the food debate will be skewed towards this side.

The second thing is that these food companies have been surprisingly silent in this great debate. As seen in Food, Inc., both Tyson and Monstato had an opportunity to speak. What better way than to combat the supposed bias by having their own say in the debate? The fact is that they refused to comment. It is not rational to complain that there debate is skewed when at the same time they make it seem like they have something to hide.

For example, going to the Tyson website, there is no easy way to get to a page that outlines their production practices. There is a page about 'Tyson and the Environment' that takes 3 clicks to get to, considering you know exactly where to look. But there are only three small paragraphs on 'Natural Farming Techniques,' which are, of course, very vague.

In contrast, going to the Marin Sun Farms website, they tell you exactly how their chickens (and other meats) are raised and fed, including the option to have farm tours or at the very least look at pictures of the farms.

What these big "conventional" food companies have done to themselves is the result of something called the Streisand effect--whenever someone tries to censor information, they inadvertently create more attention to themselves. They themselves have spurned the food debate so naturally documentaries like Food, Inc. are inevitable.

One last thing: this post says that "content is biased toward organic or grass-fed methods, suggesting they're safer alternatives to the kind of traditional, conventionally-produced beef that has fed America for generations." No! Traditional, conventionally-produced meat IS organic, grass-fed and sustainable. This is the way it has always been done, as early as the way my grandparents used to eat, and it is certainly safer. An extreme would be to re-approriate the word "conventional" to mean organic, and create a new word for the now "conventional-industrial" way of producing meat. I suggest the word "fake."
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