If you knew that only 2% of the population lived and worked in the agricultural sector of Canada would you consider them a suppressed minority seeking to educate the remaining 98% of our country, or would you consider them shills taking payment from a large corporation? At one point in history, farmers and ranchers were considered to be the most trustworthy profession in the country. That would be a logical assumption, considering that they themselves and the teams of professionals they work with – veterinarians, agronomists, scientists, researchers, governing bodies, etc. – have put countless hours and years of expertise into creating safe foods and products for the consumer. This begs the question - why are the consumers so concerned that the minority of the country who are the ones that feed them, are giant shills for corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer CropSciences, and or Zoetis Animal Health? When considering the narratives that boycotting companies and organizations use on the countless digital platforms, which encourages the deeply engrained fears that humans possess, it’s understandable. The media has once again implanted its agenda in the minds of eager consumers, removing any room for rational reasoning.
The DMO Will Kill the GMO: Digital Monster Organizations vs. Technology
When the words farming and agriculture come to mind, a percentage of our country would visualize the old farmer and his wife, tending to their handful of animals. A smaller percentage, roughly 2%, would visualize their own modern farm operations, which include the use of fresh technology and heavily monitored production practices for both animals and plants. These would all be designed with their team of professionals that work hand-in-hand with them. The remaining percentage would visualize things such as “factory farms”, or “Monsanto” holding farmers hostage, and genetically modified organisms being injected with fish genetics. It’s most curious that a profession and industry that has been so highly regarded is now being demonized.
Social media platforms are now battle zones between the “anti-ag advocates” and the “agvocates”. Fear mongering has become a phrase used by the agvocates, to describe the scene media has set for people distantly removed from the day-to-day of agricultural practices. Media has decided to play upon uncertainty – if they can create an uncertain feeling in their audience regarding agricultural practices, then they have set the agenda they intended. Countering facts with fear sells more tabloids than scientific data, and when questioning society’s safety, specifically food safety, people easily become divided.
Another agenda setting tactic that media has played up is our choice to humanize animals. We believe that if we, as humans, would be uncomfortable in a situation, then an animal must feel exactly the same. The majority of society is removed from the actual studies and practices of animal husbandry, which is a scenario that the media has latched onto. They’ve found their source of discomfort in their audience – the way animals on farms as supposedly treated – and have magnified misinformation to suite their audiences’ supposed needs. The fact that the majority of video coverage, pictures, etc. that the media chooses to depict Canadian and North American agricultural practices, actually comes from third-world countries, is outdated, and inaccurately depicts what happens on a farm. This works well for the media’s agenda. The need to play on peoples tendencies to avoid the discomforts of their surrounding societies allows the media to continue to use that same storyline, and spread it like wild fire through digital media.
Transmedia is the Seed of Confusion
Deciphering fact from fiction can be a task, particularly in today’s digital society. Everywhere you go for education, you can be sure to find misinformed propaganda. Even though propaganda was initially designed to entice people to join the army, we now see armies of propaganda filled, anti-agricultural movements. Social media celebrities such as Food Babe and David Avocado Wolfe have an intensive following due to their use of enticing propaganda. The volume of these anti-agriculture group’s and individual’s messages often out number the messages and social media memes that depict the truthful aspects of agriculture. It’s hard to compete in a market place that’s driven by noisy messages, and ones that are often a struggle to decode for someone not familiar with the realities of farming. It’s much easier to consider someone else an expert and take advice from them, than it is to actually do your own homework.
Docudramas such as Cowspiracy are a perfect example of how media has created a one-sided dialogue. The interviewer and production crew choose specific questions and phrases to create confusion and a feeling of uncertainty. Many of the people interviewed in this docudrama show physical signs of confusion, and as a result of being confused and unsure of the question actually being asked, their responses helped shape that feeling of uncertainty.
The use of high-powered celebrities such as Leonard DiCaprio to endorse the product has increased the potential to create comfort in the target audience. People who are highly regarded by their peers, and members of a greater society, would not endorse anything that was wrong or not accurate, correct? Celebrity endorsements have increased the fuel on controversial opinions of an industry, even when that celebrity has no education, history, or real life experience with the topic. Unfortunately the consumer may or may not know that. They simply see someone they think they can trust telling them that cows are beaten on farms daily, chickens in cages don’t produce as well as free-range chickens do, and that your non-GMO corn is actually healthier for you. Fulford said it best when he stated that “it is now fashionable to attack narratives” (Black, 2013). It’s much easier to attack the narrative of the 2% of the Canadian population working and living in agriculture, and create an opportunity for their culture and society morals and practices to be questioned, than it is to question a larger group of like-minded people.
The Cure to the Epidemic is Not a Shot of Organics
If the media would like you to believe that the 2% of the population is corrupt and full of immoral people, then what if all of those facts you believed about agricultural practices actually turned out to be fiction? The media would like you to believe that farmers have only recently implemented positive practices on their farms, because it creates an entropic situation. The media would not want to report on the countless hours and years involved with these agricultural practices – all of which are government regulated and highly studied procedures – because it would not provide the fearful story telling which their agenda requires. The synthetic reality that the media has created is a more desirable narrative than real-life. It’s much more appealing to sell tabloids about farmers who are changing their ways by seeding organic produce, allowing chickens to be free-run, and keeping cows with their calves and never weaning. This is the scene that agvocates are faced with, especially on social media. It’s a frustrating situation to watch as misinformed celebrities and social media gurus attach themselves to information that is false, outdated, and not relevant to a particular country’s government regulated practices. Fear and sexualized ideas have sold far more stories than anything scientific, using poster girls such as Pamela Anderson to promote no fur, and have created a mindset in consumers that is becoming hard to counteract.
As the very small world of agriculturalists struggle to wrap their minds around why someone from downtown Vancouver would consider Leonard DiCaprio’s endorsement on an agenda-setting docudrama to be gospel, yet words directly from a farmer, agronomist, or veterinarian to be preposterous; we need to reflect on what media has done to our society. Media prays on stories and ideas that sell fear and discomfort. They feast on twisting ideas and words to make their tabloids more appealing. They choose narratives that translate their story with more impact than the story containing the truth.
Will agriculture ever be able to counteract the attack they’ve been under in recent years? Ever so slowly, they are gaining ground with the 95% of people who are eager to educate themselves and have become interested in digging deeper into the headlines, and are willing to engage in proactive discussions. Agriculturalists are not the monsters that the media has depicted them to be. They are the honest and transparent people they have always been for decades, and will continue to be so.
Farmers 50 years ago may not have had access to things like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, but today’s farmers do. By using the same media outlets as their opposition, agvocates can help to illuminate what really happens in agricultural practices. The sharing of accurate information with as many people as possible is extremely important, because in the end, farmers are the ones that feed us and it’s never good to bite the honest hand that feeds you.
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Black, D. (2013) Comm 365 – Narrative Theory and Audience Studies (Powerpoint slides).