Poultry farmers join to fight bad press

GEORGETOWN, DE: Poultry farmers in Delaware and Maryland have launched a public/private PR partnership to combat negative publicity about health risks associated with their products.

GEORGETOWN, DE: Poultry farmers in Delaware and Maryland have launched a public/private PR partnership to combat negative publicity about health risks associated with their products.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI), a trade group, is spearheading the communications effort, which is funded ? to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars this year ? by the Farm Bureaus of Delaware and Maryland, each state's Department of Agriculture, the Delaware Grange and a local newspaper. DPI is also contributing to the cause, said Bill Satterfield, the group's executive director.

To date, the campaign has employed a wide range of grassroots tactics, including everything from producing a 12-minute video about local poultry farmers to hiring an airplane to pull beach banners. The group has also established an Internet presence (www.dpichicken.org) and produced a local media and legislator guide that's been sent to each of DPI's 4,000 members.

Maryland poultry farmers started getting bad press about two years ago when the appearance of a microorganism in local waters killed fish, leading some politicians to paint the poultry industry as the cause of the problem.

'Suddenly we became public enemy number one,' Satterfield recalled. In response, the Maryland legislature passed a water quality measure that restricted the use of poultry manure as fertilizer.

'Farmers had been doing what they'd been told and suddenly, they're being portrayed as bad guys,' Satterfield said. 'We decided we needed to be more proactive in telling agriculture's story.'

The group's PR committee decided on a multipronged approach aimed at urban residents who might have misconceptions about the local poultry business. 'These are the people who don't have a lot of understanding about agriculture,' Satterfield said. The video was produced in April and has been made available for screening at community group meetings.

Poultry companies also paid for a special edition of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce's Business Journal to focus on the industry. Copies of that edition were sent to legislators as well as chamber members.

Satterfield expects the PR push to last into next year.

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