Public opinion polls can be misleading, but it’s hard to ignore a survey that produces the same result year after year.
For instance, a majority of Canadians consistently say they are worried about hormones in food.
“We’ve known since 2006 that almost two-thirds of Canadians have concerns about hormones in their food. That’s not just beef. That’s hormones in all foods,” said Crystal Mackay, chief executive officer for Farm & Food Care Canada, a non-profit organization with a mandate of building trust in agriculture and food. “We haven’t changed that number in 10 years…. It hasn’t moved one percent. So obviously our existing communications efforts are either too small, or not being heard or not being believed.”
Later this month, Farm & Food Care Canada will launch the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. The centre will be a division of Farm & Food Care, specializing in research studying consumer opinions and developing strategies that build trust in agriculture and food.
“The big categories would be food safety, environment, animal care… and affordability…. The centre will focus on strategy and research to help inform. Farm & Food Care is the public facing brand, which will take the messages to the Canadian public.”
The centre will be an affiliate of the U.S. Center for Food Integrity, a Missouri based organization.
Mackay is hoping to attract a roster of diverse members for the Canadian centre.
So far 18 organizations and companies have signed on.
“There’s hundreds of companies and associations across the country, but it’s a great first step,” Mackay said. “This is a 25 year game plan, this isn’t a six month ad campaign.”
Mackay said the Centre is taking a value chain approach, where the ‘agri’ side and ‘food’ side of the agri-food sector collaborate.
That sort of partnership may be needed, given the recent and public battle between beef producers and Earls Restaurants.
In late April, Earls announced it would buy only humanely certified beef, but the product would come from Kansas because there wasn’t a sufficient supply in Canada.
The Earls decision exploded in the media, as thousands of farmers and other Canadians vowed to never dine at the restaurant again. Earls quickly backed away from its plan but the episode exposed divisions within the agri-food sector, where a restaurant had a strategy to build consumer trust, but farmers had a different perspective.
Mackay said the Centre for Food Integrity will research issues like humane treatment of livestock, so everyone in the chain has the necessary information to improve messaging or bring about change.
The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity will be officially launched May 31 at its inaugural Public Trust summit in Ottawa.