New ways needed to bridge communication gap in animal ag

Speakers at Animal Ag Alliance summit discuss how to earn trust, engage with the media and share agriculture's story.

Engaging consumers is very crucial for animal agriculture as shared by several speakers at a recent Animal Agriculture Alliance 2016 Stakeholders Summit.

“People don’t seem to understand the food system and they are getting their information from everyone but farmers,” said Yvette D’Entremont, blogger and science advocate also known as the “Sci Babe.”

D’Entremont encouraged the attendees to bridge the gap by reminding consumers that farmers are also consumers, show photos when possible because “seeing is believing and connecting with people is essential,” and lastly, incorporate humor in things you want people to read.

“Trust is the most important thing,” said Jay Byrne, CEO of V-Fluence as he discussed how to get agriculture’s story heard in the media. The key to being heard is to be clear and concise, avoiding negative language and convey to people that they have choices, Byrne said.

Phil Keiser, president and CEO of Culver’s and Leah McGrath, RD, LDN, corporate dietitian at Ingles Markets joined Jenny Schweigert, executive director of the AgChat Foundation.

“It is important to maintain a connection to agriculture. We can’t do business without agriculture,” said Keiser. Culver’s supports The National FFA Organization and encourages their customers to support FFA members and the future of agriculture by giving all customers who donate one dollar to the FFA organization a free custard cone. “We understand the pride in the blue jacket,” he said.

Keiser encouraged the audience to not only reach out to consumers about animal agriculture, but executives as well because he hears “more from the activists than the farmers.”

McGrath expressed the importance of being active on social media to share farmers’ stories and said, “what consumers really want to know is if their food is safe and where it comes from.” One way McGrath connects consumers with farmers is to bring farmers into the grocery stores to talk with people about how they raise and produce food.

Schweigert tasked the audience to get involved on the legislative level, be proactive rather than reactive and focus on a target audience within the “moveable middle.” While all people involved in animal agriculture should tell their story, it is important to “find what best fits into your farm style and lifestyle.”

The next group of panelists, Leah Dorman, DVM, director of food integrity and consumer engagement at Phibro Animal Health, Richard Raymond, MD, food safety and public health consultant and former undersecretary for food safety at the USDA and Christopher Doering, reporter with USA Today, discussed how to change the narrative surrounding antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

“I took an oath to prevent and treat animal suffering,” said Dorman. “Treating a sick animal is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Dorman is not only a veterinarian, but also a mom and motivated the audience to “lead with values and gain trust, then that will give you permission to share the science.”

Raymond took the stage next and emphasized “there is very little crossover between antibiotics used in both animals and humans,” as he tackled the myth claiming that 80% of antibiotics are used in animal agriculture. He said the real number should be 18% because 82% of antibiotics used in animal agriculture are never or very rarely used in human medicine.

Doering said the announcements from restaurants and retailers to decrease antibiotic may be losing their impact as they become more frequent and the interest has shifted to how the companies will follow through on their commitments.

“The changing communication landscape gives the opportunity for agriculture to be up front and more transparent,” said Doering. “Being transparent makes journalists’ jobs easier to share your side of the story.”

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