It should be evident after reading our cover feature this month that agriculture has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of Canadian consumers with respect to methods of production and the food products produced.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the agriculture business that consumers are confused about food, just how confused they really are is perhaps worse than originally thought.
In early June, Farm & Food Care Canada held a “Public Trust Summit” in Ottawa, Ont., with the intention of “encouraging continuous collaborative discussions amongst farm and food system leaders, while developing concrete actions for earning public trust.” Participants included representatives covered the gamut of food production, including all livestock sectors, crop and seed production, to government and academia.
Farm & Food Care Canada launched a new division at the event known as the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). It’s an international affiliate of the U.S. Center for Food Integrity, which has been assisting the food system “meaningfully engage with their most important audiences on issues that matter” for nearly 10 years, and was the first organization to introduce the concept of building public trust.
Before its launch the CCFI conducted a web-based survey earlier in 2016 of approximately 2500 Canadians to get a benchmark on the trust the average Canadian has in Canadian food and food production. The respondents were then segmented into three groups - “Moms”, “Foodies”, and “Millenials” – to gain additional insight, as these groups are considered the most influential, and interested, in information about food.
93 per cent of consumers in the survey indicated they knew little, or nothing, about farming. However, compared to a similar survey conducted by Farm & Food Care in 2006, Canadians’ positive impressions of agriculture have increased by 20 per cent. This, combined with the fact that 60 per cent of respondents indicated they would like to know more about farming, is an opportunity for Canadian agriculture to make a connection with consumers, Farm & Food Care Canada CEO Crystal Mackay said at the event.
What will be the challenge moving forward is how to make this connection. The CCFI and Farm & Food Care are working on five action points, but made it clear that “re-gaining public trust must be everyone’s responsibility.”
Opportunity exists for farmers and farm organizations to help regain trust as the CCFI survey results showed that 69 per cent of respondents favourably viewed farmers as credible sources of information, and 52 per cent of respondents felt farmer associations were credible sources.
Unfortunately, results indicated that animal rights organizations are also viewed with some credibility, so it will be paramount moving forward that farmers and farm groups try to engage with consumers in more effective ways. It’s the clear the old methods of reaching consumers aren’t hitting the mark, but Mackay says the entire industry needs to share successes and failures in engagement with each other and “commit to making mistakes”, reminding attendees that the whole concept of public trust is new territory.
But she stressed that fear of failure can’t hold an organization back. As she said at the Summit, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing enough.”