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Be advocates, educate on food safety

Karen Morrison attended the Advancing Women In Agriculture Conference in Calgary and filed this report.

CALGARY — Scientific evidence alone is not sufficient to sway the minds of increasingly skeptical consumers about food safety.

Jennifer Henderson, director of food safety with Cargill, reminded those attending the Advancing Women in Agriculture conference March 7 in Calgary that people were once unaware of the dangers of drinking and smoking while pregnant or working with asbestos.

It’s this imperfect nature of research that often creates fear, uncertainty and a lack of trust.

“Science is not going to bring everyone around,” she said.

“It’s only as good as it is today, and tomorrow it will be better.”

Instead, Henderson told the more than 400 women in attendance to use their passion to advocate for agriculture.

“If you can articulate why you care so much, we will have better luck with the message,” she said.

“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” she said, quoting a colleague.

Theresa Bolton, who works in human resources for Parrish & Heimbecker, and Tracey Shelton of Richardson International said women are in a unique position to correct misconceptions and faulty facts.

That can start at home.

“What are you serving your family?” said Shelton, who expressed full confidence in the safety of the Canadian products she buys.

She said others need to think about whether people know what they are talking about or are just following trends and why some products are being restricted in schools and shops.

She used the example of finding only organic mushrooms stocked at a store. When the grocer was asked to explain, he called them healthier than conventionally produced ones.

Shelton used her knowledge and background in agriculture to tell him what she knew.

“I think I left him with something to think about,” she said.

“Those that are entrenched, we’re not likely to change what they think, but it’s our duty to bring the information to the table.… If we don’t speak up, who will?”

Bolton said the goal is to get people to open their minds, question if their point of view makes sense and rethink what they thought they knew.

She cited a conversation about genetic modification that gave her child the confidence to relay that information to others.

“Knowledge is power, but you don’t need to win. Get the message out to people to educate themselves,” said Bolton, who also uses social media to share information and advocate for agriculture.

Monitor the information that children receive in schools and direct teachers to sources such as Agriculture in the Classroom and Ag More Than Ever.

“Agriculture is not part of the curriculum, yet it touches on science, mathematics and social studies,” said Bolton.

She questioned why those seeking information don’t consult agrologists, the experts in agriculture.

“I don’t go to the hairdresser with a medical issue,” she said.

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