California’s ‘Happy Cows’ Aren’t 100% Local

Articles
July 21, 2010

California’s ‘Happy Cows’ Aren’t 100% Local

Consumer groups, media and government officials have brought to light an issue of significance regarding how taxpayers’ dollars are spent promoting American products.

Consumer groups, media and government officials have brought to light an issue of significance regarding how taxpayers’ dollars are spent promoting American products. Case in point is the Happy Cows of California team who took a trip to Auckland, New Zealand, to shoot four days of its Unhappy Cows “Auditions” campaign in an effort to save on production costs. The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), which is funded by California dairy farmers, was quoted as saying the move was an expression of fiduciary responsibility. We say, it’s misleading and a questionable practice.

No one doubt the “local” movement is an excellent move forward to connect our citizens with our foods – and narrows the huge gap that exists in most people’s minds about just where our foods come from. When marketing and advertising programs that reflect “local” become questionable themselves, we put at risk one of the most powerful food movements in recent times. Were those happy cows California natives? Or born and bred in New Zealand? Or as some may wonder, Californians (ad folks and their performers) who were shipped ‘down under’ for a combination of pleasure and business?

Dozens of commodity products are promoted through programs that are funded by farmers or ranchers who are assessed a certain amount per head of cattle or per pound of product. These dollars are typically mandated by the Farm Bill and in some cases, their budgets and programs must be approved by USDA or the State Departments of Agricultures (as is in the case of the Happy Cow campaign). There has always been controversy: some groups suggest that these “checkoff programs” actually raise the retail price to the consumer, while others, like the Maryland Beef Council point out that their research shows that the $1 per head of cattle fee (which is collected each time a head of cattle is sold) actually delivers $4.90 to the price of the head of cattle…which may actually be the same thing.

The objective of these programs is simple: create monies to be used for research and promotion which will increase consumption for these foods (at another time we can explore whether just increasing consumption should be the objective, or if it is time to use a portion of these dollars to actually teach people to eat healthier and smaller portions!). We say that these monies that are used to promote crops and foods that are actually American should be required to keep all elements and production costs associated with the entire program including the advertising, promotion and research activities, local and within U.S. borders.

If local, or as we have suggested before “locale”, is to be kept alive, growing and powerful, every facet needs to be kept genuine and transparent. There are few words in our lexicon that have the strength to move products off our shelves; and they have their own expiration dates. “Healthy” was replaced by “all natural” which was superseded by “organic” which has now been pushed aside by “local”… we can only hope that the day never comes when we never see a Chiron added to the Happy Cow television spots that says: Not all the cows used in the filming of this television spot are from California.