Summer doldrums bring the activists to full throat

The summer doldrums mean a slow news cycle, perfect for activist groups to score lots of ink and airtime.

It is that time of the year, the summer doldrums. It always seems like this is the slowest time of the year from a cattle industry standpoint. Most of the conversations revolved around the markets and moisture, what feed costs and how much calves are expected to bring this fall. 

Wheat harvest is over in my part of the world, haying never ends and corn harvest is a way off. Cows, for the most part, are on grass and weaning and fall marketing are still mostly a future consideration, at least in terms of implementation. It is time for local fairs and those projects that weren’t completed earlier this summer. Or final family gatherings before school starts again. Even the political world slows down in August. 

The news cycle also takes a breather, which is why it is during these times that we tend to get reports released by activist groups. I guess during slow news periods, these groups hope to garner some attention and news coverage.

For example, this week a group calling itself Mighty Earth released a report that blames Tyson for playing a big role in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. A perusal of their website shows they have several environmental campaigns, mostly targeting meat companies like Burger King and Tyson but primarily modern agriculture in general. The report isn’t a scientific paper and isn’t intended to be, although it is cloaked in the trappings of science. It is a campaign piece in an organized campaign and from that perspective, it is pretty well done. 

I find it fascinating that these groups exist, that they can raise the money to employ people, and that their reports somehow garner publicity at a far greater rate than actual, real scientific papers. Groups like OCM, PETA and the like may not represent large constituencies, but they are tied to and funded by larger groups that are more mainstream. 

They are easy to disregard, but it is important to realize that they are the tip of the spear. They serve a vital role in these campaigns. When the larger, more recognized groups come into the debate, they appear more mainstream, more academic. These tip-of-the-spear groups focus on eliciting strong emotions and biases against any free market entity so that slightly less radical positions seem middle of the road rather than extreme.  

Perhaps the beef industry should take a lesson from these groups, both from the fund-raising and messaging standpoint as well as how they are able to orchestrate successful media campaigns integrated with other entities. Of course, the popular media turns a blind eye and nobody seems to know or care how these groups fund themselves or how they are tied to each other. 

I doubt pro-industry groups would be free from that type of scrutiny, but we simply don’t have anyone who can take the fight to these groups. Tyson or groups like NCBA say little and point to the real science and what they are doing to protect the environment, but they don’t waste precious capital confronting these groups. Any effort to do so would likely legitimate their claims. It is what the tip of the spear wants; reaction, emotions and an opportunity to pave the way for more mainstream groups. 

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