CENTENNIAL, COLO. – Launched last fall by the beef checkoff, the Masters of Beef Advocacy Program (M.B.A.) recently hit a milestone: 1,000 registered course participants -- of that total, nearly 350 have graduated from the program. The program teaches, and in some cases refreshes, farmers and ranchers, university and extension representatives, 4-H and Future Farmers of America kids and industry affiliates in the U.S. how to become effective spokespersons for the U.S. beef industry.

Six, one-hour core courses are included in the program: beef safety, beef nutrition, animal care, environmental stewardship, modern beef production and the beef checkoff.

"This really shows producers are actively taking a role in promoting their industry by telling the story about beef," says Daren Williams, executive director of N.C.B.A. communications and M.B.A. program manager. "In less than six months since we opened the doors on the M.B.A. classroom, we have enrolled more students than we expected in the entire first year."

The biggest impact M.B.A. graduates have made to date is on the issue of the environmental impact of livestock production, Mr. Williams told MEATPOULTRY.com. "The first M.B.A. mobilization came several weeks after the program was launched on Earth Day [April 21, 2009]," he added. "At that time, we asked all M.B.A. students to submit letters to the editor of their local newspapers. We know at least 40 letters were submitted and many of them were published."

M.B.A. graduates were also mobilized to respond to articles containing the oft-repeated claim that cows are causing global warming, citing the U.N.'s "Livestock's Long Shadow" study claim that 18% of global greenhouse gasses are caused by livestock production, Mr. Williams said.

"M.B.A. grads posted comments on two major Washington Post stories and engaged in online discussions in social-media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Digg following the recent TIME magazine cover story, ‘The Real Cost of Cheap Food’ [all of which called on consumers to eat less meat to save the environment]," Mr. Williams added. "One M.B.A. graduate [and 2009 Beef Quality Assurance award-winner] Anne Burkholder, a feedlot operator from Cazad, Neb., was actually interviewed for the TIME story, although the information she provided did not make it into the story."

M.B.A. grads are encouraged to correct misinformation based on what they learned in the M.B.A. environmental stewardship course -- for example, the E.P.A. stated livestock production in the U.S. accounts for less than 3% of our G.H.G.s -- and to share their personal story of environmental stewardship, Mr. Williams said.

"This is really the focus of the M.B.A. program, to actively engage producers in telling their story and reconnecting consumers with the people who produce their food," Mr. Williams continued. "The M.B.A. courses give them the information they need to feel confident engaging in the conversation, whether with family, friends, neighbors and others in their community or in the growing global online community."