Prior to the Purdue-Nebraska football game Saturday in West Lafayette, Nebraska grad Charlie Arnot was on campus talking about agriculture with students and faculty as part of the Learning from Leaders program. He is CEO of The Center for Food Integrity, the organization dedicated to building consumer trust and confidence in today’s agriculture and food system.
Arnot says that’s the not for profit’s mission and it’s important because there is growing skepticism about whether or not agriculture is trustworthy.
“People are increasingly concerned about big,” he told HAT. “They are concerned about the industrialization of food and the concern about whether or not then that makes the food safe for them and it’s being produced in a responsible manner. So it’s a real opportunity for those of us in agriculture to reframe the entire discussion, to spend more time talking about our values and help consumers understand that yes, how we farm has changed, but our commitment to do what’s right on the farm has never been stronger.”
Certainly there have been vocal opponents of production agriculture, but CFI research suggests the percentages concerned about the direction of ag are high enough that many not so vocal consumers are latching onto that message. Arnot agrees.
“In fact when we ask consumers if the food system is headed in the right direction or the wrong track 42% of women say they believe say they believe it’s headed in the wrong track. That’s a problem for those of us in agriculture and food because women are core consumers and also core influencers on these issues.”
Arnot says talking about agriculture’s values, not scientific data, is the way to build trust with consumers.
“To engage with consumers what they want to know is can I trust you to do what’s right? What we hear from consumers is I trust farmers but I’m not sure farming. And so we have to help them understand that yes, the practices have changed, but the men and women involved in agriculture are still as trustworthy as they’ve ever been.”
He says it’s a tough battle but “a battle we can win and a battle we should win. The ethical high ground, the moral high ground, belongs to farmers. It really does. We need to reclaim that and talk more about our values and talk less about science to reclaim that level of public trust we’ve historically enjoyed.”
He says the long road of erosion of public trust started over 50 years ago.