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Animal Agribusiness Angle

Roy Graber, staff reporter for WATTAgNet, combines his Midwestern farming background with his knowledge of economics and agriculture policy to offer a deeper look at the poultry and pig industries.
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Agriculture under a President Oprah Winfrey

Oprah-Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey | Joe Seer, Bigstock

Texas cattlemen court case, vegan experiment, Meatless Mondays pledge are all causes for concern

January 25, 2018

Ever since media mogul Oprah Winfrey made her speech at the Golden Globes ceremony several weeks ago, there has been speculation about whether she will consider a run for president in 2020.

There was a time when the thought of Winfrey becoming the nation’s commander in chief, rather than someone with government experience, would seem preposterous. But when Donald Trump topped a field of governors, senators and representatives in the 2016 election, we learned that wealth, name recognition and voter fatigue with the two-party system status quo mean more than many were willing to give credit.

Since that speech was made, news reports and social media posts surfaced. People are wondering what kind of leader Winfrey would be, should she throw her hat into the ring.

Which leads me to wonder, would Winfrey be a farmer-friendly president? There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical.

Strained relations with beef industry

Let’s turn back the clock two decades, when on her television show she had guest Howard Lyman addressing the problems with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease to many, in the United Kingdom. On the show, both Winfrey and Lyman said things that made the thought of eating beef sound less than appealing.

That segment led to a lawsuit filed by a Texas beef industry group, which asserted that Winfrey violated the Texas version of a food libel law known as the False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products Act of 1995 and that Winfrey caused harm to the beef industry. A jury in Amarillo eventually ruled in favor of Winfrey, but the hurt feelings remained.

Adding insult to injury, Winfrey, after the verdict was reached, reportedly told journalists, “I’m still off hamburgers.”

Not a vegan, but …

Winfrey, according to most online accounts, is not a vegan, but has done plenty to further the cause. She and her staff members in 2008 went on a vegan “cleanse” diet for 21 days, and highlighted the effects of the vegan diet on her show.

Those segments were certainly enough to move some people off the vegan fence and onto such a diet.

Also, Winfrey's name appears prominently among lists of celebrity followers of the Meatless Mondays movement. She evidently committed to doing so after hosting Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, on her talk show.

Will others be any better?

Obviously, it is still too early to tell whether a Winfrey presidential campaign will come into fruition, but those in animal agriculture would be wise to be prepared to question her on her vision for the future of agriculture. That should be the case for anyone who tosses a hat in the ring.

After all, we are living in a society that is increasingly becoming further removed from the farm. As a result, it may not be surprising to see a candidate that has a history of being even more adversarial when it comes to agriculture. If that happens, we need to be prepared.

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