ST. LOUIS — For American farmers, food activism is hitting close to home.

Farm advocate Kevin Murphy said that restaurant chains, churches and even food companies are undermining modern agriculture.

“The food morality movement is everywhere,” he said. “And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere.”

Murphy, who spoke recently at a meeting of the St. Louis AgriBusiness Club, is creator of the website and hosted the first Ethics of Food Animal Production Roundtable.

He pointed out that while food and animal activists have long been a thorn in the side of agriculture, their message is spreading rapidly to the heart of farming.

“Some of agriculture’s largest customers are partnering with organizations that seek your demise,” he said. “The food morality movement incorporates some of the people you know, like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

On its website, the HSUS says it “has been concerned about farm animal protection since its founding in 1954 and has led national efforts to advance farm animal protection. Our work has included passing farm animal welfare laws, exposing consumers to how farm animals are typically mistreated and working with retailers to improve farm animal welfare in their supply chains.”

“But what you don’t know is just how deep they’re going,” Murphy said. “For example, some of the largest branded food companies in our country are not only participating with these activists, but they’re willingly partnering with them.”

One example is a McDonald’s press release in which the fast-food chain announced new policies regarding care of animals produced by contractors. The disturbing part, Murphy believes, is the fact that the humane society is a partner in the campaign.

The group’s logo is situated next to the famous Golden Arches, and the release includes not only contact information of a McDonald’s source, but also that of a representative of the society.

“You turn your brand over to an activist organization to distribute information on your behalf,” Murphy said. “Why would McDonald’s partner with somebody whose ultimate idea is to get rid of agriculture, especially animal agriculture in its current form?”

The answer may be that forces opposed to modern farming have had more success reaching the hearts and minds of the public.

Retail chains such as Starbucks and Chipotle have been in the forefront of the food morality movement.

“Starbucks probably started the whole idea of rather than accepting the end product, you look within the system in which the product is produced to differentiate you between somebody else,” Murphy said. “They saw themselves as operating on a higher plane, more moral than Folgers or any other coffee company.

“Chipotle is the most egregious marketer on the planet because they have taken the art of marketing to new levels. It’s the art of deception. They’re diminishing the character and integrity of a farmer. It is more than just about burritos.”

Even food companies such as Tyson and Perdue have embraced the concept. A Tyson commercial assures consumers that hormones and steroids have not been added to their chicken.

“How many steroids do we give to chickens?” Murphy said. “And that’s Tyson. And the activists go, ‘See, we told you!’”

Likewise, Perdue advertises that the company believes the food eaten by animals contributes to one’s health.

“That sounds similar to what Michael Pollan said in his book. Perdue has this wonderful campaign where all their chickens get vegetarian food.”

Pollan, author of the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is an animal rights activist who has said that veganism is “utopia.”

The movement also has spread to religious groups. Murphy points to an Anglican Church teaching that has been changed to reflect that the commandment to love one’s neighbor includes animals.

The Presbyterian Church’s website contains a presentation titled “Climate Change and our Wacky Food System.”

The National Catholic Rural Life Association has promoted an “eater’s bill of rights” that claims consumers have the right to know if their food is coming from an international conglomerate.

“St. Louis folks: Read that as Monsanto,” Murphy said, referring to the St. Louis-based international agricultural giant and one of the region’s largest employers.

“The Humane Society and others are forming relationships all over the world. We’re still in the starting block, and they are rounding the track. If we aren’t ready to explain why we do what we do from a moral perspective, we’re going to be in trouble.”