New ways needed to bridge communication gap in animal ag

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

Engaging consumers is very crucial for animal agriculture — a message 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, a blogger and science advocate also known as “Sci Babe.”

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

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

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

“It is important to maintain a connection to agriculture. We can’t do business without agriculture,” Keiser said. Culver’s supports The National FFA Organization and encourages its customers to support FFA members and the future of agriculture by giving all customers who donate $1 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 noted that “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 attendees with getting involved on the legislative level, being proactive rather than reactive and focusing 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,” she said.

The next group of panelists — Dr. Leah Dorman, director of food integrity and consumer engagement at Phibro Animal Health; Dr. Richard Raymond, food safety and public health consultant and former undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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,” Dorman said. “Treating a sick animal is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Dorman, a veterinarian but also a mom, encouraged the audience to “lead with values and gain trust; then, that will give you permission to share the science.”

Next, Raymond emphasized that “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 source antibiotic-free meats 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 upfront and more transparent,” Doering said. “Being transparent makes journalists’ jobs easier to share your side of the story.”

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