Happy Birthday, Afact

With the backdrop of higher food and energy prices and concerns about future food production capabilities, the American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT) held its first AFACT Summit in Chicago. From its embryonic start as “Voices for Choices,” a campaign initiated by DairyBusiness Communications, to its official birth just a year ago, the organization now boasts 1,000 dairy producer members who do not take kindly to attacks and restrictions on science and technology in the production of milk and other food. They represent about 1.5 million U.S. cows. There are another 400 members in related farming or agricultural enterprises. AFACT leaders contributed more than $125,000 out of their own pockets to get the organization on its feet, because they believe strongly in their cause.

July’s AFACT Summit brought together regional and national leaders of ag companies with similar interests in preserving access to modern agricultural technologies. The meeting’s main theme was to emphasize how producer advocacy can help reconnect with food retailers and consumers to educate about and protect the use of those technologies, promoting not only the efficiencies of modern agriculture to feed a growing world population, but also to share their passion and values in their pursuit of sustainable and environmentally sound food production.

AFACT is young and, like everyone, must admit to some youthful mistakes. Some early actions were based solely on emotions, after having been backed into a corner by those with far different agendas and motives. But they have learned quickly, and are mature beyond the single candle on their birthday cake.

This is truly a “modern” organization, in that most members have never met. Nearly all business is conducted electronically, in almost weekly teleconferences and daily e-mail communications. They’re using that same electronic technology to combat anti-animal agriculture/ technology activists – and having success (ask them about the Wal-Mart blog site). They also strive to make communication personal, by visiting one-on-one with grocery store managers to discuss marketing practices, and conducting consumer focus groups to find out what consumers “really” think about milk label absence claims. They’ve spent a great deal of time learning about the tactics and methods of those opposed to animal agriculture and technological advances, and refuse to concede the moral “high ground” to them. And, even though many have never met, AFACT leaders have developed a cohesive team with shared passions and values.

They’re also getting more arrows in their quiver. Studies in Europe, at Cornell University and South Dakota State/University of Minnesota (see page 20) show modern, efficient dairies have a smaller carbon footprint per unit of food produced, despite claims to the contrary. A milk composition study compiled at Penn State University showed that despite marketing claims and milk labels, there’s little or no difference in the composition of milk produced conventionally, as “rbST-free” or organically (see page 23). In its early stages, AFACT asked the American Farm Bureau Federation to monitor retail milk prices for regular, “rbST-free” and organic milk.” Those numbers show profits are going somewhere, and it’s not back to producers – many of whom are forced to give up tools which could boost their bottom line.

If you’d like to wish AFACT a “Happy Birthday,” or join its growing organization, visit www.itisafact.org. The group, like cheddar, will get even better with age.