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PR Push by Ag and Biotech Industries Has a Secret Weapon: Moms

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Betsie Estes is a mother of two young kids who lives in suburban Chicago.

She's also public relations gold.

Last week, Estes was in the audience at an annual biotechnology industry conference in Chicago, attended by the industry's power players, Creve Coeur-based Monsanto Co., and its competitors, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, among them.

After the gathering, Estes jotted a few thoughts on her blog.

"There's a pervasive thought that the people who are anti-GMO are operating from a purely altruistic place," she wrote. "But make no mistake, just as there is big money in biotech, there is big money in opposing the technology. Entire brands, both corporate and personal, have been developed around the concept that GM foods are bad."

That's the kind of message the industry wants to hear - that they're not the bad guys - and it's the Betsie Esteses of the "momosphere" who are, increasingly, being invited to convey it.

"Moms are really important because they're the most influential consumers in the country," said David Wescott, director of digital strategy with the public relations firm, APCO Worldwide. "They're increasingly finding their own peers to be the most credible sources of information."

So, what does an industry do when it wants to nudge public opinion in its favor? Find moms - preferably with blogs.

In the past several years, as American agriculture has come under greater scrutiny for everything from biotechnology to antibiotics use, farmers and farm industry groups have banded together to push back against the growing criticism, which has, they fear, grown closer to the mainstream.

"Production agriculture has really taken it on the chin for the past couple years," said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, the biotechnology industry's main trade group, which organized the Chicago conference. "We need to do a better job of providing information."

In 2011 the leaders of 12 commodity groups met in St. Louis at the invitation of Rick Tolman, head of the National Corn Growers Association, resolving to do something to better connect with consumers. They formed the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which in turn launched the "Food Dialogues," a series of panel discussions and other programs intended to reach shoppers with a more ag-friendly message. The group members pooled their resources and hired New York PR firm, Ketchum, to help guide strategy.
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