Animal agriculture may be at the tipping point that could send it from social license to social control, according to Charlie Arnot, president of CMA Consulting, a Kansas City, Mo.-based consulting firm that manages the Center for Food Integrity.
Producing food for the vast majority not involved in food production is a noble pursuit, he says. But if we do not retain and broaden consumer trust in what we do, we will lose that social license and will be faced with increasing regulation and scrutiny, he cautions.
The recent videos of animal abuse may be a watershed moment. Primarily because for the first time, animal welfare has been connected with food safety via these visuals, Arnot explains.
That is complicated by the fact that agriculture generally operates in a science-based culture. However, science is no longer enough to communicate with consumers. "We need to be able to talk about value judgements - we must be able to 'own' the ethical obligation we have to our animals and their care," he notes. Consumers sense a change in the way their food is raised, but do not understand modern agriculture.
“It is up to us to communicate that our commitment to doing what’s right has never been stronger,” says Arnot. “Until we do this, we’ll never earn consumer trust." It goes back to the adage, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
"We’ve improved safety, efficiency and traceability, but not consumer trust," he adds. "We need to stop talking about how we used to be. Let’s talk about who we are today in a way that builds consumer trust and confidence."