Defending agricultural practices called ineffective

Many farmers and commodity groups use social media to explain and defend agricultural practices.

The goal is typically to clear up misperceptions about farming and food production.

The communication may be changing a few minds, but defending farming practices isn’t going to build consumer trust, says a new report on the future of Canada’s agri-food sector.

“If we don’t (share) the facts, then opponents of modern agriculture, or social advocates, or even consumers who are questioning it … will continue to undermine the credibility of the sector,” said David McInnes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

“(But) if we are merely trying to just better communicate, it’s a proposition that we will not win.”

CAPI, which hosted an Ottawa forum in November about Canada’s agri-food future, released a Feb. 1 report based on those discussions called Achieving What’s Possible for Canada’s Agri-Food Sector.

The report attempts to answer a significant problem: how to restore and enhance consumer trust in agriculture and food?

“Trust is now the defining issue facing nearly everyone involved in food production and supply, both in Canada and among competitors and customers abroad,” the report said.

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According to CAPI, data and openness are critical for social licence.

“Securing trust requires greater transparency about food practices and their impacts, as well as credible national metrics that measure and demonstrate performance. This is the route to attain the sector’s ‘social licence’ to operate.”

The topic of social licence now comes up at most agricultural conferences in Canada. Keith Currie, an Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice-president, said the industry is working on a cohesive strategy around consumer trust.

“Some commodity leaders and the CFA (Canadian Federation of Agriculture are) starting down that road of formulating a process of how we can organize,” he said in the fall.

“I think the aim, right now, is hopefully have some sort of roundtable discussion (on social licence) next summer … to gather everybody and put our heads together.”

In its report, CAPI said justifying agri-food practices will not create trust because many consumers have lost faith in the food system.

“It is becoming clear that a growing number of people will give no licence for the appropriation or destruction of natural capital, as they see that as an existential threat,” the report said.

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“Other matters of confidence include issues relating to human health, animal care and ethics.”

Canada’s food industry needs greater transparency and more measurement of practices to demonstrate how it produces safe food in a way that “enhances ecoystems and improves nutritional quality,” the report said.

As an example, reducing chemical residues is good for the environment and will help the ag industry connect with consumers.

“Valuing and managing natural capital must be at the forefront of every business strategy,” the report said.

“Demonstrating ecological services … circles back and helps the sector win consumer and societal support and reinforce the national brand.”

In an ideal scenario, Canada’s ag industry has an opportunity to be part of the solution, McInnes said.

“It (agri-food) is one of the (few) sectors that can make a concerted positive impact on ecosystems and human health.”

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Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

  • Sofa king

    Hmmmm….no mention of the fact that corporations with limited liability might not be telling the whole truth about “how” they go about raising the food…could make a concerted difference on ecosystems and Health…if the bottom line shows that that is profitable…not “will” because that is the right thing to do.

    Consumers are savvy to the don’t ask…don’t tell mentality of corporations

  • neil

    I understand your distrust of corporations. There are examples of where profit drives decisions no matter what the cost to something else. A recent survey shows that 98% of Canadian farms are still family run and controlled. Our farm is a good example-we are a corporation of myself, my wife and our son who farms with us. We incorporated recently to help with transferring the farm to the next generation over a number of years. We also decide what companies (corporations) we want to do business with and buy products from. We are an independent farm business that strives to make a living (profit) while also trying to protect our soil and water resources as well as bush, wildlife, nature etc. on our farm. We also use farm practices that protect food quality and quantity for consumers. We are not perfect but a balance between being successful as a business AND protecting our environment and the food we produce is very important to us. We would be crazy not to because the environment provides us a living and consumers are our customers.

    • Sofa King

      Yes I realize that some farmers realize this and have incorporated their family farms. You are part of the choir. Now when your hyper corporate neocon neighbor looks down his nose at you and says “there’s only one way to do things” it is your responsibility to speak up and say no ! No matter how much distain that may conjure up. Your comment is true and I agree with you. Not all farmers are wrecking it.
      The one who are wrecking it are doing an extremely effective job of wrecking it

  • lazylarry

    well consumers don’t want gmo or pesticides on their food, so that would be a great place to start,, less pesticides and chemicals = a healthier environment for everything

  • richard

    Why dont they just tell it like it is…… Dear consumer….We know that all you really want is cheap food, but for that to happen requires an all out war on nature……Ninety nine cent burgers , sugar drinks and wrinkle chips dont happen by accident….. If you want to pretend you care about the environment, its a lot of work for all of us… and the costs will be higher food prices and taking responsibility for your own health and well being……a price most of you are not willing to pay.

    • Denise

      It’s a small price to pay a bit more for nutritious, good quality food which your body needs to function normally. Compare that to being unhealthy, often over weight and not feeling all that good, followed by visits to the doctor to find out why you don’t feel good, then followed by prescription drugs to mask the problems, compliments the pharmaceutical industry. Your doctor is not trained nor has he the time to teach you to eat “real” food and Big Pharma loves this arrangement.

      • richard

        Sadly, food literacy like financial literacy is not being taught to our children in schools or at home…..its as if they were “dirty” subjects….. When I learned at twelve that Hippocrates said “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food”, I thought he was serious…..my bad….. Today Big Farma is producing nutritionally vapid foods based on NPK and agritoxins and the delusion of abundance……as if our “buddha bellies” somehow symbolize health and vitality?…..And youve pretty much nailed where that fairy tale ends….

      • Happy Farmer

        Once again you try to put incorrect information out. I am referring to the nutritional qualities of food. It is well documented and proven that organic food is no more nutritious than any other food.

        • Denise

          Gylphosate residues on genetically engineered, herbicide, and insecticide tolerant plants do not make for healthful eating, be it human being or animal.
          Ironically, after the carpet bombing Mother Nature with poisonous chemicals for so long, she may be the one who saves us from self destruction.
          Superweeds adapting to Roundup and insects adapting to insecticide coated seeds (Bt toxins) may bring about life saving changes in agricultural food production. Unfortunately, beneficial insects like the bees and Monarch butterflies haven’t adapted to these poisons in the environment.
          sustainablepulse.com/2016/02/09/portuguese-medical-association-president-calls-for-global-ban-on-glyphosate/#.VroLHIKwkYV

    • Lostmymarbles

      All out war on nature? The organic guy beside me plowed, disced, cultivated, harrowed, cultivated again then planted. He raised dust every time. The creek was brown with runoff from a heavy rain. His tractor burns just as much diesel as mine. But my no-till wheat is so much worse for the environment?

      • richard

        Kill a bacteria, kill a fungus, kill a bug, kill animals, kill a crop, fight antibiotic resistance, fight e coli, fight herbicide resistance, fight the roads, fight the neighbours……sounds like war to me…. And all in the name of feeding the planet…. when it is really more about cheap food.