Masters of Beef Advocates rally around the cause
December 23, 2010
The Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program is a self-directed online training program designed to equip beef producers and industry allies with the information they need to be every day advocates for the beef industry. The training, funded by the beef checkoff, consists of six courses in beef advocacy, including: modern beef production, animal care, beef safety, beef nutrition, environmental stewardship and the beef checkoff.
Already, thousands of producers have graduated from the MBA program, living in every part of the country and ranging in ages from 11-80. The group stays organized through an online alumni group that can easily call them to action when issues arise.
Recently, an article entitled, “Big Meat vs. Michael Pollan,” appeared in the magazine, Mother Jones, which described MBA graduates as “crusaders for the big-ag movement, causing pro-beef backlash on college campuses.”
The article opened up on Carrin Flores, a well-spoken, veterinary student from Washington State University. Despite her best intentions to speak on behalf of beef producers, the article portrayed her in a very different light: “Carrin Flores is a cattle rancher’s fantasy come true: An attractive 26-year-old with stylish eyeglasses and glossy lipstick, she’s unabashed about her love of cows. ‘They are so cute. Their cute little tongues. Oh, and their eyelashes,” she says. “But I also friggin’ love to eat them.'”
Not impressed with the message the article portrayed, MBA graduates joined together to offer up their own definitions of who these producers in action really are.
“I am a busy cattle rancher and mom from Kansas,” said Debbie Lyons-Blythe, a natural-beef producer in Kansas. “Historically, ranchers are busy people – filling their days with the chores of caring for livestock and the land. A very small percentage are able, and willing, to take the time to advocate for agriculture. Not only does the MBA program teach you important facts about beef and our industry as a whole, but it gives you the ability to find the correct information and communicate it to people who want to know.”
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Lyons-Blythe is joined by a diverse group of producers, who are all dedicated to regaining consumer confidence in agriculture.
“I became part of the program to share my love of cattle and rural life with folks that might not be accustomed to it,” said Jacob Geis, a large-animal veterinary medicine student.
“I got involved in MBA because our farm directly sells to consumers in Kansas City, and they were coming to me with all kinds of questions,” added Mark Sconce, a Missouri beef producer marketing locally-grown beef. “I wanted to be able to answer those questions with confidence and truth. The MBA program has given me a place to find the answers. People are hungry to know the truth about our industry. The farmer’s market I go to has about 3,000 people walk through each day.”
Crystal Young, assistant director of public relations for the American Angus Association, was also interviewed for the article with Mother Jones. Even though Young went through the training, she said it was difficult to get the point across with a journalist who obviously had an agenda for the article.
“I was interviewed for the article with Mother Jones and from the beginning I could tell that they had an agenda,” explained Young. “I still feel that my quotes were twisted despite how careful I was in my responses…one of the things that I really grasped from the MBA course was how to talk to the media and consumers. The MBA course has also been an amazing resource for beef and agriculture facts. It is always important to tell your story and what agriculture emotionally means to you, but you are also going to have to have some facts to back that up.”
That’s what the MBA program provides – quick facts and figures to share with consumers and the media when producers are asked about livestock production. It also helps producers quickly respond to negative articles like the one featured in Mother Jones.
editor’s note: to take part in the masters of beef advocacy online course, visit http://www.beef.org/mastersofbeefadvocacy.aspx.