Farm organizations must stress industry values when fighting back against growing criticism over issues as diverse as subsidies, animal welfare and food safety, says an American dairy industry player.
Stan Erwine, vice-president of Dairy Management Inc., told the annual Dairy Farmers of Canada conference Feb. 7 that it isn’t good enough for the industry to defend farm practices as science based.
“Don’t lead with science,” he said.
“If you use science or business records, you lose your audience. Media like to demonize farmers. We need to humanize them.”
It is advice that Egg Farmers of Canada is already heeding.
Judi Bundrock of EFC said an agency campaign highlights the faces of egg producers and stresses the industry’s record in producing safe food, including a traceability system.
“The egg farmer is our brand,” she said.
Bundrock said the industry once faced little criticism, but attacks on supply management and food safety have become more common.
“It is safe to say the tide has changed,” she said.
If farmers don’t take the lead in changing industry practices and image, she added, “then changes will be forced upon us by others.… Consumers and interest groups are becoming more influential.”
Erwine said the agricultural industry does not always deal well with criticism, considering it either ill-informed or ideologically based.
“We tend to anger easily.”
He said a better approach is to have a conversation with critics to inform them of the values that farmers hold. If the issue is concern about how animals are treated, “give people examples of how you care for your animals on the farm.”
He said farmers too often engage their critics only to prove them wrong rather than to educate them about the industry.
“Too often, farmers enter a conversation to win an argument.”