Some farmers aren't finding much humor in a new television comedy that has exploding cows and an underlying serious message critical of large-scale agriculture.
Produced by the restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, the comedy series "Farmed and Dangerous" satirizes the lengths to which corporate agribusiness and its image-makers go to create a positive image of industrial agriculture, Chipotle says.
The first episode of the show, which began last week on Hulu and Hulu Plus, focused on farmers planning to feed cows petroleum pellets — a move meant to boost profits by lowering costs but which backfires when a cow explodes.
Later episodes begin with snippets of text on issues like the use of antibiotics in meat and food, and libel laws that make it easier for big food companies to sue their critics, according to The New York Times.
"Starring the actor Ray Wise, the series is a full-throated attack on industrial agriculture, complete with a Dr. Strangelove-like scientist inventing eight-winged chickens and cash bribes being delivered in gift boxes," The New York Times wrote.
The new television series underscores social values, Chipotle says.
"The show addresses issues that we think are important, albeit in a satirical way, without being explicitly about Chipotle. This approach allows us to produce content that communicates our values and entertains people at the same time," said Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle's chief marketing and development officer.
Farm groups, however, see the comedy as yet another attack on agriculture.
"Chipotle's latest marketing ploy is simply divisive propaganda. We hope that consumers see through this smear campaign against America's farm families by a corporate restaurant chain," the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation said.
Wisconsin gained national attention recently when an undercover video shot by an animal rights group showed cows being kicked, whipped and otherwise abused on a Brown County farm. Farm groups said they were sickened by the actions, which they said don't represent typical livestock handling practices.
The exploding cow in "Farmed and Dangerous," and other bizarre behavior in the show, also sends the wrong message to the public about modern farming practices, according to farm groups.
"It's saddening. It really is. There is a basic misunderstanding of what farming is and how it has progressed over time," said Mike North, a board member of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, based in Green Bay.
"Humorous or not, it plays poorly to getting the right information out," North said.
As farms have grown, they've become big targets for critics. In some cases, lawyers for local residents and environmental organizations are using tools in state administrative law to challenge expansions.
Farmers are using the same process to defend their rights to build bigger farms. They're also fighting back against filmmakers and groups critical of large-scale farming practices.
Chipotle is a big corporation attacking family owned farms that have been in business for generations, said Jim Ostrom, a partner in Milk Source, the largest dairy operation in Wisconsin with four farms devoted to milking.
"The attacks are despicable. ... We have to stand up and defend the truth, and the truth is that modern agriculture is the most environmentally sound type of farming in the history of mankind. And modern animal husbandry, by and large, is better than it's ever been," Ostrom said.