by Marion Nestle
May 6 2011

AGree: “Can’t we just all get along?”

The title of this post is a quote from Steve Clapp’s article today in Food Chemical News about the unspoken message behind formation of a new group called AGree (Agriculture, Agree, get it?).  AGree, according to its gorgeous website, aims to “advance the well-being and prosperity of people in the United States and abroad by transforming food and agriculture policy.”

AGree is a bold new initiative designed to tackle long-term agricultural, food and rural policy issues. AGree has significant funding from eight of the world’s leading foundations for at least the next eight years…We also recognize the interconnected nature of agriculture policy globally and we seek to break down traditional silos and work across issue areas.

The funders? These are heavy hitters: Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.

Who is running the show? AGree is to be led by former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; Gary Hirshberg, chairman and CEO of Stonyfield Farm; Jim Moseley, former USDA deputy secretary in the first Bush administration; and Emmy Simmons, former assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

What’s the plan? AGree will “Build bridges among groups that have not traditionally worked together…This approach is needed because policy reform efforts targeting the food and agriculture system have traditionally operated in many independent silos – governmental, political, stakeholder, geographic and substantive – that have made transformative change impossible.”

Steve Clapp quotes Dan Glickman saying that AGree is going to “operate outside the partisan political process” because “Food policy is too important to be left to the food industry.”

What are we to make of this? It’s much too soon to say but it reminds me of two previous efforts to forge consensus among stakeholders.

One is a group that I belong to called PAPSAC, which stands for Private and Public, Scientific, Academic, and Consumer Food Policy Group.  The group, organized by Ray Goldberg, has been meeting for about 15 years, first at the Harvard Business School and more recently at the Kennedy School.  The meeting brings together high level CEOs of food and agribusiness companies, government officials, people in business and public relations, academics, and advocates to exchange views in private.  Its original purpose was to try to find middle ground on controversial issues such as genetically modified foods.   But one of the unstated hopes was that consumer advocates would relent on opposition to GM foods.

The second example is the ill-fated Smart Choices.  This, you may recall, was an attempt of the Keystone Center to get food companies and academics to agree on common standards for front-of-package labeling.  When it became evident that food companies were calling the shots, the consumer advocates dropped out.  The result?  The Smart Choices logo appeared on Froot Loops and failed the laugh test.

The problem with attempts to build consensus is that the sides aren’t equal.  Agribusiness calls the shots or won’t play.

I’m curious to know how the leadership intends to proceed.  At the Future of Food meeting in Washington this week, Gary Hirshberg made it clear that he is a strong proponent of organic agriculture and strongly against GM.  I don’t see easy bridges between stakeholders with this particular issue, but maybe AGree will start with easier ones.

If I read between the lines correctly, AGree will convene meetings and produce policy papers.  The group seems to be steering clear of the 2012 Farm Bill until after it’s passed.

As with all such things, let’s wish the AGree leaders luck and give them a chance to see what they can do.

  • Doc Mudd

    From the AGree website:

    “AGree will use best-in class research to identify problems and define solutions.”

    One can only hope they adhere to science-based concepts in their work. That will, however, work a serious hardship for Hirshberg and fellow “advocates”. When illuminated by science, many of Hirshberg’s ilk are revealed to advocate emotional “solutions” for which we have no corresponding real problems, only manufactured fear and unhelpful conjecture, dubious anecdotes and strained hyperbole.

    I sincerely wish AGree luck, of course, in any effort to reason with “advocates”. Especially if solid science is requisite.

  • You can watch their extended press launch here:

  • Judy Thomas

    I hope we can all get along, but I am doubtful. Corporations exist to make profit for themselves and their shareholders. They have a legal, fiduciary responsibility to operate in the interests of profit, not the interests of health and nutrition (unless their food products actually and directly kill someone). I fear that the only thing that will get them to change is to be brought kicking and screaming to the table by intense consumer demand and boycott. As long as consumers keep buying those “Froot Loops”, corporations are satisfied.

  • Doc Mudd

    Yes Judy, greedy corporations like Stonyfield Farm and evil CEOs like Gary Hirshberg, who would appear to be the lone CEO at the helm of AGree. The fox is in the henhouse, no doubt.

  • Joe

    Those engaged in the “Food Movement” should revisit or perhaps visit the basics of free market economics. What is the problem with a company making a profit? Whether it is Wal Mart or your corner produce stand if there is no profit there is no longer a business. Profits are not evil.

    When the public in mass decides to purchase from a particular business there will naturally be profits. What is disturbing is the way businesses and their profits are routinely vilified by some.

  • Suzanne

    Ahh, nothing like a dose of virtual root canal from the Docc.

  • Lee Poe

    “If there’s no profit, there’s no longer a business”? Really? So any company that is in the red should vanish or be destroyed? How about non-profit enterprises, volunteer organizations, foundations or churches? There are plenty of ways to run a business without making profit the only thing that matters. Unfortunately, the way we’ve got things set up in the Land of the Holy Free Market, as Judy Thomas points out, profits are supreme and trump just about everything else, including the heath of people.

    The fact businesses are “routinely vilified” by more than “some” simply shows that people aren’t always thrilled by what businesses do in the name of profit. There’s no inherent problem with making money, tons of money in fact, but how a business goes about it can have a vast impact on a lot of people.

    Part of this new food movement is an attempt to get everyone to think about the whole situation, long term effects of policy and subsidy, and show businesses that there is money to be made in doing things differently. That all seems good to me.

  • Doc Mudd

    “…There are plenty of ways to run a business without making profit the only thing that matters…Part of this new food movement is an attempt to…show businesses that there is money to be made in doing things differently…”

    Well, you’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that, so let’s have those plentiful business models and numerous live examples then. What’s the holdup?

    Oh, and not the silly stuffy “organic farmer Prince Charles” schtick – sure, his elitist gardening gig is sustainable – it’s sustained by the taxpayers of UK. And I think we can save some time by skipping over any insane idea of “volunteer organizations” doing our farming and food production for all of us. Likewise for “foundations or churches”.

    Sure do wish you’d share the magic of how feeding the world can be done for free so we all can kick back, relax, dream big and let prosperity break over us like a wave!! Can you do something about petroleum while you’re at it so we can all get free gas for our SUVs and minivans?

    One point of confusion; why is it then, that your trendy elitist organic fashion food costs so freakin’ much? Heck, it’s more than conventional food, not less – it’s certainly not being given away for a few kind words and a hug.

    Evidently all of you in the “food movement” are employed by government or non-profits (or unemployed on public assistance and/or goodwill). I guess the source of your income materializes out of thin air. What a luxury to be so righteous without being at all hypocritical.

  • Lee Poe

    I grow a lot of my own food so the costs are pretty low. Ever seen a home farm, Mudd?

    The rest of your “comments”…meh. I guess you smoke your own.

    Happy trolling in any case. Ya got a lot to learn.

  • Doc Mudd

    Ah, of course, subsistence peasant agriculture. We can all simply resort to stoop labor in our own little mud patches, then. Doesn’t require anything except some dirt and a pointed stick to stir it with! So we all can quit our jobs, stop producing any surplus goods for profit, volunteer our abundant spare time, live the easy life like the serfs did. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?

    How long, do you figure, before the heavy hitters at AGree stumble onto your medieval solution to fully nourishing nearly 7 billion humans each and every day?

    Uh, do you have a clever strategy to pay the mortgage or rent on the mud patch? Just wonderin’.

  • Lee Poe

    Mudd, you really should take your Marxist-Lennist ideas and move back to China. You spout free-market nonsense but it’s plain you’re a Communist party plant. No one who has actually lived in a free country could be as dumb as you are. Hurry now, before your handler has to start watering you twice a day.

  • Mike

    Doc Mudd,

    What are you so afraid of that you have to come here and belittle people? I mean, you don’t bring a logical argument against anything anyone posts. You just type a lot of condescending nonsense and sarcasm to get people to respond to you.

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  • Rick Adams

    Ms. Nestle provides an un-moderated platform here, and I know she really hopes it will stay that way; she’s something of an idealist, I think. But I have a neighbor who brings his dog over to my yard EVERY TIME I mow it, leaving a large deposit on the newly-cut surface; these trolls are the internet equivalent. Still, the fact that the astroturfers have decided to spend so much time muddying Ms. Nestle’s blog can only be taken as a sign that they are worried by what she writes.

  • Doc Mudd

    Is it a mutual admiration society you’re striving for here?

    Ah, well. The discussion gets broadened and your lawn gets fertilized. There’s bound to be some complaining and name calling.

    Those folks over at AGree certainly have their work cut out for them, unless they lay down and AGree lock, stock and barrel with the dreamy “advocates”, as they are called. Relative to aggressive “advocates” we have little to fear from greedy CEOs of corporations.

    BTW: What are “astroturfers”? That’s an old football term I haven’t heard in years. In this context it must be derogatory though, like “troll”, “communist”, etc., etc….?

  • Doc Mudd (the real deal, etc.)

    This morning I finally fed the Amazon machine and paid good money for Dr. Nestle’s “Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, Updated and Expanded” edition. I hadn’t realized the extent that that the evidence she presents is peer-reviewed by the scientific community, is free of dubious assumptions, and employs scientifically recognized mechanisms. In fact, her evidence serve as the basis for further studies which are accepted by the scientific community!

    I may be a pessimistic, recovering corporate shill, but I’m starting to see the light and there’s hope for me yet.

  • Doc Mudd

    My ghost writer and protege appears to be practicing farce as a genre.

    Livelier than satire but a bit too much poetic license taken and too little plot development. Needs a lot of work. Could be a real time-saver for me, once perfected.

    Mimicry; I guess I should be flattered. It’s a big responsibility being a role model.

  • Jessica

    Even my kids laugh at the idea that Fruit Loops is a “smart choice” for their bodies. I sincerely hope that this new committee is able to make some headway. I think that the best way to change our food system is to educate the consumers. I still dont’ understand why nutrition is not a real standard course in high school. I remember “health” class, where they taught us how to have sex(and protect ourselves during it), but nothing about how to take care of our bodies properly(besides the outdated food pyramid, what a laugh). When I was 14 I could name all the parts of both sexes reproductive organs, but I couldn’t tell you what was in a box of Oreos or how much sugar my body was supposed to have in a day and I don’t see that changing at all. In fact, it’s getting worse. My kids are homeschooled so they have the nutritional information they need to make their choices, but other kids, particularly public school kids don’t. I see them choosing Capri Suns over water because they think the Capri Sun is healthier!! What? What kind of educational system are we running when kids think a sugary beverage is healthier than water? No wonder there are so many fat kids. When I thought the same way(capri suns have fruit juice after all, that’s got to be healthy!), my kids became obese. I was choosing everything I was told was healthy for them and they became obese on these products. So I learned for myself what’s really healthy and in the last 7 months my kids have lost a lot of weight, my daughter lost 20lbs, my oldest son lost 25 lbs and gained a good 2inches in height, and I lost 37lbs and counting. I think education is the key. I think that when people truly discover the chemicals that are masquerading as food in their lives they will start to change their habits, particularly when healthier eating seems doable. It took me 7 months, but I have finally convinced my husband that healthier eating can be tasty and worth it, he’s also lost some weight but more importantly his acid reflux is getting better and he’s starting to feel better. These statements came from him, the guy that told me eating healthy was a waste of time, all foods are just as healthy as all other foods, just look at the labels. I’m no scientist and I don’t have facts and studies backing me up(although I could probably find some), all I have is my own experience and what I see in my community. Those who know what they’re eating choose different items from those who don’t know what they’re eating. I agree that organics are expensive, but when you’re not putting pesticides and chemical fertilizers on your crops they don’t grow to Miracle Grow size and the bugs will get in and destroy part of the crop if you’re lucky, the whole thing if you’re not. Perhaps if organics were subsidized as heavily as corn they would be as cheap as all of the products we have that are cheap and made with corn(chips, cookies, candies, etc). Go AGree! We need real foods!

  • Brandon

    Recently I’ve enjoyed reading the comments here more than the articles. Its terrible, like a train wreck – can’t not watch.

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  • Nice comment thread here. If we can’t all get along I am not hopeful with the charter of AGree. That said, I think that there are certainly areas where all will agree. That is if we want to feed 9 billion people then we need to do something that helps increase food production with the acreage available to us. While there has been discussion in this forum about corporate responsibility to investors, there has been little productive conversation as to how to help the problem hat we should be addressing: increasing food production in a way that helps the environment not poisoning it.

    There is a relatively new area of soil amendments that are microbial based and fix years of fertilizer and pesticide pollution while greatly increasing crop yields. More information can be found on our company web site: I can be reached as well and the link is on the site.