The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation is planning a $400,000 public relations campaign to generate support for farmers and persuade voters to support genetic engineering in agriculture.

The initiative ranges from running TV ads during football games and popular crime dramas to handing out temporary tattoos to schoolchildren and sponsoring face-painting at community gatherings.

The effort is “intended to win the hearts and minds of voters and shore up support for ALL agricultural producers,” the organization’s president, Chris Manfredi, wrote in an Aug. 21 letter.

He warned about potential economic impacts of recent Hawaii legislation that seeks to ban or regulate biotechnology in agriculture, such as a ballot initiative in Maui County that would impose a moratorium on genetically modified crops.

“Agriculture in Hawaii and across the nation is under attack,” Manfredi wrote. “Across the nation, farmers and ranchers have been caught off guard by extremist activists that will stop at nothing to realize their utopian, misinformed and unsustainable vision of how you should farm.”

Molokai Mycogen GMO Tractor

Employees at Mycogen Seeds, an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, lay irrigation lines in a field on July 2, 2014, on Molokai.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

According to an internal document obtained by Civil Beat detailing the public relations campaign, the group plans to run ads in major newspapers on five islands as well as on Hawaii News Now. The organization is also hoping to air 30-second commercials during TV shows like “CSI,” “Big Bang Theory” and “60 Minutes,” in addition to college football, PGA Golf, and CBS NFL games.

Manfredi said in a phone interview that the federation is attempting to raise money for the campaign and that he has been reaching out to the American Farm Bureau Federation as well as farm bureau chapters across the country to solicit funding for the cause.

“This is a local initiative that initiated with the local farm bureau and we’re asking our brothers and sisters to contribute,” he said. “I’ve made pleas in person and in writing in Washington, D.C., and to states across the country to help bring breath to the farmers and their voices in Hawaii.”

“This is bringing in the big guns.” — John Hart, HPU communication professor

The group has 1,900 members ranging from organic farmers to employees of biotechnology companies. According to its most recent tax statement from 2012, the majority of its nearly $1 million in revenue — more than $500,000 — came from hosting farmers markets on Oahu, with another $200,000 earned from members.

The public relations plan, which Manfredi described as a flexible, long-term project, includes relaunching a quarterly magazine called Ag Hawaii; revamping the organization’s website; writing op-eds in local newspapers; holding presentations at 12 schools; and conducting outreach at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range agricultural festival.

John Hart, a political analyst and professor of communication at the Hawaii Pacific University, noted the $400,000 campaign is nearly equal to what Republican Charles Djou has raised in his bid for Congress.

“This is bringing in the big guns,” Hart said.

He said money isn’t always effective in changing the minds of voters, as illustrated in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s recent stunning loss.

“But certainly in an issue like this that is very contentious, I would expect this kind of money would have an effect,” Hart said. “This is gunning for attitude change.”

More Funding on Both Sides of the Issue

While the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation’s public relations campaign plan mentions the Maui County ballot initiative as one of the many recent “attacks” on agriculture sparking the initiative, the organization hasn’t registered with the Campaign Spending Commission.

“We haven’t gotten to the point of implementing the plan yet so I don’t know that that’s appropriate,” Manfredi said.

He said the campaign is not simply in response to the controversy over biotechnology in agriculture, and fulfills the organization’s mission to be “the voice of agriculture.”

State campaign spending law requires groups to register if they raise or spend at least $1,000 to lobby regarding a ballot initiative.

Manfredi’s organization is one of many that is seeking to influence the ongoing debate over biotechnology in agriculture in Hawaii.

“My sense is that the community is going to see through this.” — Ashley Lukens, Center for Food Safety

Dow AgroSciences, an Indiana-based global seed company that farms in Hawaii, and a Maui-based group called the Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban both registered as ballot initiative committees with the Campaign Spending Commission on Thursday. Their financial disclosure reports are due today.

Monsanto Co. launched a public relations campaign called Monsanto Hawaii in February to improve the company’s image in Hawaii. The campaign has been sponsoring community events like the West Oahu Pet Walk, and recently gave $20,000 to the Queen’s Medical Center in West Oahu.

The Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for Keiki and the Aina (SHAKA) Movement, the group behind the ballot initiative, is also planning to register with the commission. The group has raised at least $29,000 so far, according to its online fundraising campaign.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Center for Food Safety is launching the Hawaii Chef Action Network in two weeks along with Chef Ed Kenney and the Chef Action Network. The initiative will sponsor educational events during the legislative session, create a policy guide for state lawmakers and conduct advocacy training for chefs.

In the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation’s public relations campaign plan, the group describes the Center for Food Safety as a “well‐funded anti‐agriculture activist organization” that exemplifies how farmers are under attack.

Ashley Lukens, who leads the Center for Food Safety’s Hawaii office, criticized the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federations’s initiative as misguided.

“It’s not about restoring the community’s faith in farming,” she said. “They need to address the community’s concerns about restricted-use pesticide use.”

The Center for Food Safety’s political action committee reported raising about $39,000 for its efforts this year, less than a tenth of the budget of the farm bureau’s public relations campaign.

“My sense is that the community is going to see through this because it doesn’t in any way address the concerns that the largest chemical companies in the world use Hawaii as the outdoor laboratory,” Lukens said.

Read the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation’s public relations campaign plan here:

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