A look at what influencers are talking about. This quantitative snapshot is taken from Bader Rutter’s Influence Center. Topics cover a wide range of issues, including business news, activism, legislation and more.

Trump Appointments: In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump made several appointments (which will require Senate confirmation) to posts affecting food and agriculture policy. Trump’s Dec. 8 nomination of CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder for labor secretary incited the most influencer discussion. The Wall Street Journal noted that Puzder will be more supportive of immigration than Trump’s campaign platform. However, advocates for foodservice workers, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), railed against the pick. The Huffington Post reported that CKE's Carl’s Jr. restaurants violated several wage and labor laws during Puzder’s tenure as CEO and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) commented: “With Mr. Puzder, the fox is in the henhouse. His nomination represents the greatest assault on workers that we have seen in a generation.”

On Dec. 8, Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Reuters quoted Pruitt: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations.” Activist group Union of Concerned Scientists objected to the nomination on the grounds that Pruitt denies climate change and has opposed EPA’s policies during his time in office. DTN / The Progressive Farmer reported that the move initially worried Iowa Governor Terry Branstad — who has been appointed to serve as ambassador to China — regarding the Trump administration’s stance on ethanol production. In a Dec. 12 press conference, Branstad reaffirmed (video) the administration's support of the renewable fuels standard (RFS).

Andy Puzder, Scott Pruitt and Gov. Terry Branstad
Puzder, Pruitt and Branstad;
via Wikimedia Commons

Food Channel Strategy: On Dec. 12, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced that co-CEO Monty Moran stepped down. CEO Steve Ells explained the company’s struggles following a series of 2015 food safety outbreaks: “Even though [Chipotle is based on] a simple idea, operations have become over-complicated.” Fortune food writer Beth Kowitt summed up the reaction of numerous influencers: “Chipotle's Crisis of Communication Leaves Analysts Unimpressed.”

Influencers continued to discuss changes at Starbucks Corporation, after the company announced on Dec. 1 that CEO Howard Schultz would step down to manage a new store concept. Reuters reported the concept, Reserve, was aimed at the millennial demographic, while BuzzFeed questioned the demand at such a high price point.

On Dec. 15, Mercy For Animals congratulated Pret A Manger for becoming the first restaurant chain to adopt Global Animal Partnership standards (originated by Whole Foods) for sourcing chicken products. This move follows Compass Group USA and Aramark adopting the standard on Nov. 3.
GIPSA: On Dec. 14, the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) announced an update to its Farmer Fair Practices Rules, with the express aim of protecting farmers. White House Senior Adviser to the Director of the National Economic Council Charlie Anderson explained, “Processing has become increasingly concentrated, with fewer companies controlling a larger share of the market. This has inhibited farmers’ ability to get a fair deal from the processors.” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall applauded the rules: “America’s chicken farmers have long called for greater transparency and a level playing field in our industry, and we appreciate USDA’s efforts to hold companies accountable and give farmers a voice.” However, National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks decried the rules: “I can’t imagine a more devastating regulation on an industry.” National Chicken Council President Mike Brown added, “Let’s call the recently rebranded ‘Farmer Fair Practices Rules’ what they really are — the ‘Gift to Trial Lawyers Rules’ that USDA is trying to get rammed through in the last weeks of this administration.”
SNAP: The House Committee on Agriculture released (PDF) a report on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) on Dec. 8. The result of 16 hearings over two years, the report defended the program and offered areas for improvement. In Meat+Poultry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “SNAP reduces food insecurity, increases access to healthy food, and generates economic activity and creates jobs all along the supply chain — from the store where food is purchased, all the way back to the farmer who produces it.”

In addition, USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) final rules were published the same day. The Wall Street Journal reported the rules prevent retailers from accepting SNAP if the majority of their income comes from prepared foods as well as removed chips and ice cream from the list of staple foods. Referencing an earlier proposal with stricter nutritional guidelines, Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg responded, “USDA has missed an opportunity to increase the availability of and access to healthier foods for low-income Americans.”

SNAP logo

Superbugs on the Farm: Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine released (PDF) findings in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy regarding the presence of the bacteria resistant to carbapenems, which are considered a last resort antibiotic. The researchers underscored, “The implication of our finding is that there is a real risk that CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) may disseminate in food animal populations and eventually contaminate fresh retail meat products.” Activist groups such as Center for Food Safety, Mercy For Animals jumped on the story, and Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Health Officer Dr. David Wallinga warned, “Superbug genes are here, and they're on our pig farms. The future's never going to be the same.” The National Pork Board remarked, “An important takeaway from the study is that the U.S. pork supply is safe. The resistant gene identified in the study was not found in a market hog, and there was no threat to food safety.”


Consumer Pulse A monthly ranking of animal agriculture topics as tracked by social media traffic.

Topics of interest to consumers over the last two weeks were dominated by antibiotics and farming methods. The term “superbug” spiked due to news of an antibiotic-resistant gene discovered on a U.S. hog farm. This news was widely reported and shared on various social media channels as well as mainstream news. A proposed California bill (SB 43) also garnered attention as State Sen. Jerry Hill called for doctors to record antibiotic-resistant infections on death certificates. Farming methods trended higher as the Humane League posted a new video touting its success this year regarding housing, maceration and animal welfare reform for chickens. The video is being used as a fundraising tool, pushing viewers to help meet its goal to raise $250,000 by the end of the year.




Mentions in news and social media outlets for two-week period.


Cage-free eggs generated the highest conversation volume, followed by avian influenza, with 1,734 total poultry mentions. Cage-free volume was driven by year-end reviews of corporate pledges to adopt cage-free egg policies, including those by Sodexo USA and McDonald’s Corporation. Avian influenza spiked on Dec. 7 in reaction to news that U.K. officials urged poultry farmers to take precautionary measures to protect the country’s birds against a highly infectious strain of avian flu in Europe. The story was shared widely on social media. Food safety conversations were spurred by a Dec. 5 recall of nearly 2 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products distributed by National Steak and Poultry.


Hormones generated the highest conversation volume, followed by food safety, with 922 total dairy mentions. There was moderate attention on social media in response to @Tomleewalker tweeting, “lots debate surrounding soy & estrogen, coming mostly from people who drink the breast milk of cows who are on sex hormones …” Food safety trended higher as several recalls were announced after a brand of dry milk powder tested positive for Salmonella.



Antibiotics generated the highest conversation volume, followed by farm animal welfare, with 1,021 total pork mentions. The discussion around a new antibiotic-resistant gene found on a U.S. pig farm garnered the attention of news media and stories circulated on Twitter. NPR caused a bump in conversations around farm animal welfare when the USDA announced updated Farmer Fair Practices Rules.



Farm animal welfare generated the highest conversation volume, followed by hormones, with 299 total beef mentions. Overall, volume was low. Farm animal welfare conversations did not focus on a specific news item or social media post. In general, references were made in various discussions to cattle abuse. Antibiotics activity was driven by news of an antibiotic-resistant gene found on a U.S. pig farm and Tyson Food’s commitment to offer more antibiotic-free meat. Hormones are frequently mentioned in advertisements by supermarkets and restaurants promoting hormone-free beef.