Just as pork production has changed dramatically over the past three decades, so have consumers’ understanding and opinions about those practices. Animal care and well-being is a top pork-producer priority, but most consumers don’t understand today’s production practices that ensure the animals’ safety, health and well-being, and it’s easy to condemn what they don’t understand.
So, how do pork producers protect their freedom to operate and communicate their commitment to animal well-being in a positive, constructive way?
At the Center for Food Integrity, we believe the best way to do this is to help consumers understand that even though agriculture’s size and scale have changed, producers are still committed to traditional values like responsibility, respect and truth. This approach requires a fundamental shift in how you communicate with the public and how you build trust in who you are and what you do.
Despite significant industry efforts to ensure consumer confidence in pork production, negative events — like those that transpired on an Ohio farm in 2006 and were broadcast in HBO’s film “Death on a Factory Farm” — cast a dark shadow on the entire industry. Such isolated incidents do not represent the majority of producers committed to doing what’s right. Nonetheless, some consumers have drawn negative conclusions about today’s production systems and farm-animal well-being. This creates opportunities for anti-farming organizations to encourage consumers to support restrictive and prohibitive ballot initiatives, and pressure decision-makers to introduce and support anti-farm legislation.
What we can learn from these incidents and the success of animal agriculture’s opponents is that the power of shared values will trump science and economics every time. Every successful non-profit organization in the world, from the Humane Society of the United States, Pheasants Forever and the Sierra Club to the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross, is able to channel its members’ passion because they are committed to common values or beliefs. Communities of “people like me” claim the moral high ground of any argument, and science or economics alone cannot change that. To compete, you have to demonstrate your commitment to similar principles and shared values. That means redefining who you are and what you do to meet the values and expectations of the rational majority of consumers who want to eat meat, milk and eggs but want to know that the animals involved received appropriate care.
Does this mean you must abandon science or apologize for making a profit? Absolutely not; science is largely responsible for today’s productivity levels, and without profit you cannot produce the safe, nutritious and affordable food consumers enjoy.
It does mean, however, that you have to shift the debate and play to win versus playing not to lose. This includes building trust with those individuals and groups that will grant you operational freedom in the future. You need science to verify that you are doing a good job, and you need effective, values-based messages to tell your story in a way that connects with the public, allowing them to see that you are “people like me.”
Each year, CFI conducts a national survey to gauge consumer opinions and attitudes toward the U.S. food system. In last year’s research, 55 percent of respondents strongly agreed that they would have no problem consuming milk, meat and eggs if the animals were treated in a humane way; only 6 percent strongly disagreed. However, only 16 percent of respondents strongly agreed that U.S. meat was derived from humanely treated animals. There is a clear disconnect between what Americans want to have happen on the farm and what they believe is happening. It is our responsibility to ensure that consumers are getting accurate information about production practices in a way that is meaningful to them. You need to show that pork producers are people like them and that you share their values for compassion, responsibility, respect, fairness and truth.
Pork producers — like the people that consume their products — send their children to school, go to church, shop at the grocery store and are concerned about the future and the world around them. Producers also drink the water, breathe the air and raise families on the land they farm and want to leave a clean, healthy environment for their children and communities. Revealing these shared values will help consumers and producers better understand each other.
CFI has developed a training curriculum designed to help producers communicate those shared values. The program, SHARE: Connecting Through Shared Values, focuses on building trust and confidence in contemporary production. Through SHARE, producers learn best practices to engage with those outside of agriculture. It helps producers connect with consumers so both parties better understand what’s important to the other and why. The program is based on the following five principles:
Share your core values and discover theirs.
Honestly discuss these values.
Ascertain the common values.
Recognize and respect differences.
Engage in a win/win dialogue.
CFI’s research also shows that shared values are nearly five times more important in building consumer trust than science or proving your technical skills. Building trust leads to acceptance. Communicating shared values provides an opportunity to illustrate to the non-farming community that producers are “people like me.” Pork producers have always had a passion for their animals, families, communities and the environment. Regardless of how far removed someone is from agriculture, you can connect and build trust using the power of shared values.
Harnessing the Power of Shared Values
The Center for Food Integrity offers many opportunities and training sessions to refine your communication skills and tell animal agriculture’s story. These include SHARE: Connecting Through Values, Operation Hometown Outreach, Issues Management Team and Producer Engagement Team.