While U.S. livestock producers and farmers have made unprecedented productivity gains and set near-record increases in exports, they may be missing an important signal from U.S. consumers who are asking questions about how animals are raised and about how their food is produced. So far, consumers are not receiving satisfactory answers to their questions.
When considering factors that would increase trust with consumers, commercial farming operations are seemingly out of step with consumers’ values, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Food Integrity.
Commercial farming operations were seen as emphasizing the wrong priorities, putting profitability and productivity higher in the rankings than consumers think they should, and de-emphasizing issues such as humane treatment of livestock.
In the survey, respondents said they believe commercial farming operations rank profitability as the second most-important priority, after producing affordable food. Consumers, meanwhile, believe profitability should be ranked seventh among eight priorities. Humane treatment of farm animals, though, is seen near the bottom of commercial livestock producers’ priorities, while consumers think it should be ranked at least fourth among eight priorities.
These are “pretty significant gaps,” said Charlie Arnot, CFI chief executive officer, presenting the findings of the annual survey of Consumer Trust in the Food System at a conference in Chicago. The disconnects feed an overall distrust of commercial ag operations, he noted.
Demonstrating your care and attention to the factors that are important to consumers should be a key objective for commercial agriculture producers, according to Arnot. “Gaining [consumers’] trust by demonstrating shared values is way more important than demonstrating how competent you are.” Transparency is key: “You must bring consumers in and get them to believe you."
Family farmers fared better in the survey. When asked what they think a farmer’s goals are, and what they should be, more than 2000 respondents indicated that they believed family farmers’ priorities were satisfactory. Consumers believe that family farmers rank such priorities as profitability, sustainability, productivity and affordability about as consumers think they should.