Building coalitions to protect industries
McGuireWoods Consulting serves as Smithfield Food's federal public affairs team, constantly monitoring Congress for activities that might affect Smithfield's bottom line, and fully integrated with Smithfield leadership. So when a group of legislators proposed measures in the Farm Bill that would devastate Smithfield's entire business model, McGuireWoods Consulting jumped right in.
Smithfield is one of the largest food producers in the world, contracting with thousands of farmers and raising hogs on its own farms to ensure the safe and consistent meat supply that its customers demand. But some in Congress wanted to prohibit Smithfield and other meat packers from owning hogs or even contracting for them with independent producers. They hoped to require that all hogs be sold on the open market, an outcome that would undermine stability for producers and prevent meat packers from achieving consistency and a reliable supply of hogs.
McGuireWoods Consulting understood that the stated goal of the proposed "packer ban" -to improve prices for farmers-wasn't based on a sound understanding of the marketplace or of the meat industry. Using data gathered from trade organizations, the USDA, and industry analysts, the experts at McGuireWoods Consulting developed a strong case against the provision and set out to educate the Congress. For legislators from farm states, McGuireWoods Consulting demonstrated that many farmers welcomed the contracts with Smithfield, which offered them stability and a known price. For market-oriented lawmakers, McGuireWoods Consulting made the case against legislation that would prohibit two willing parties from entering into a contract. And for the consumer-focused, McGuireWoods Consulting showed how the provision would potentially lead to a less safe, consistent and traceable supply of meat.
To make the case, the McGuireWoods Consulting Federal Affairs team built a powerful coalition of trade organizations and companies who shared Smithfield's concerns. Although many were competitors, all shared an interest in defeating a measure that just didn't make sense. The coalition met regularly over the course of a year to devise and implement strategy.
We also mobilized grassroots resources, encouraging farmers, Smithfield employees, and others to contact their legislators. Finally, we called on all of our contacts within Congress, targeting members of key committees and those who had Smithfield facilities in their states or districts.
The Right Strategy
McGuireWoods Consulting developed a sound and ethical strategy: starting early, establishing targets, developing a persuasive message, assembling a powerful coalition, and presenting the case to legislators. In the end, the Farm Bill passed without the “packer ban” or related measures, and Smithfield's opponents will have limited opportunities to offer similar proposals until the next Farm Bill is considered in five years.