Today’s livestock producers work in a noble profession. Unfortunately, not everyone believes this so people who care for animals must understand how consumers think and feel. Get inside their heads, if you will.
Consumers hold farmers responsible for the humane treatment of farm animals. In recent consumer surveys, people rated animal well being higher than the care and well being of workers in the food system but not as high as food safety.
It is not science, technical capacity or ability that drives trust. Instead, it is whether consumers believe agriculture shares their ethics and values.
Farmers and ranchers must talk about their commitment to doing the right thing – their commitment to values and ethics, not just science.
They have plenty of evidence to demonstrate they’re doing the right thing, but rely too much on such language. They must connect with the public on a value’s basis.
The most important job ahead is to communicate in a way that helps people trust what farmers and ranchers say and do. Too often livestock producers take for granted that rural neighbors know and understand who they are and what they do.
Agriculture can no longer take this for granted. Our industry continues to evolve and most of the people in the United States today are not involved in farming and ranching.
Americans know little about where their food comes from. They want to believe that what livestock producers are doing is consistent with their values and ethics. Telling this story includes showing people what is taking place on our nation’s farms and ranches.
That said, there clearly remain legitimate reasons like disease prevention and biosecurity not to allow unfettered access to farms and ranches.
Livestock production or animal agriculture in the most affluent country in the world faces special challenges and opportunities. Among those challenges is that Americans spend such a small percentage of their income on food that they can demand food where they want it, when they want it, in the proportion they want it and produced in a humane way.
Many food stores and food retailers have announced implementation of third-party verification measures to ensure food animals are treated humanely. In some instances, customers will demand third-party verification and if it doesn’t exist, the store providing the food may not be credible.
Agriculture can and will win the hearts and minds of consumers.
Farmers and ranchers must remember whom they are trying to influence. Customers and consumers need to hear from livestock producers.
It is not productive for the agriculture community to attack activist groups. Instead, agriculture must retake its rightful position as the people in charge of ensuring the humane treatment of animals.
Tell your story. Inform people at every opportunity how hard you work every day to ensure animals are treated fairly and humanely.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion