Gaining trust difficult when public lacks information

Consumers are always right, even when their views make no sense at all.

Among farmers, there’s a growing tendency to despise the nonsensical opinions that are gaining strength among consumers, but maybe we should just pity them for all the conflicting information they receive.

A couple years ago, this issue was called social licence. Agriculture needed to earn a licence from society to operate.

The agriculture industry now prefers to use the term public trust, and all sorts of projects are underway about how to enhance public trust in the food system.

The marketing gurus say that using science to make arguments is far less effective than using empathy. There’s no use explaining why genetically modified crops are safe. It’s better to tell consumers that you’re a consumer, too, and that you have no qualms feeding them to your family.

Trouble is, even from within agriculture, consumers are getting mixed messages. Even Cargill has succumbed to the pressure and is labelling some of its food products as verified GMO-free. While Cargill is obviously a big GMO supporter, the company still couldn’t resist the marketing opportunity of a non-GMO label on products that would qualify.

Some observers argue that this diversity isn’t a problem. If some consumers want non-GMO or organic or free range or all-natural, whatever that means, let someone fill that market demand.

Unfortunately, each one of these “niches” is predicated on the perception of problems with how regular stream agriculture operates. And the niches have a way of becoming mainstream. You can hardly avoid organic produce in supermarkets anymore.

A recent trend is to vilify glyphosate, thereby encouraging a number of food companies to demand grain produced on land where glyphosate hasn’t been used.

Consumers don’t readily differentiate between residue levels in parts per million, billion or even trillion. They believe any residue has to be bad, even if it’s well below acceptable levels as determined by a very large safety factor.

As scientific testing advances, it has become easier to find minute traces of almost anything.

Most consumers have no idea what GMO really means. All they understand is that it sounds scary and involves corporate agriculture. Therefore, it must be bad.

And they don’t understand the trade-offs. Organic agriculture often involves more tillage, which is bad for the soil and bad for carbon emissions. GMO crops can naturally resist pests.

While some of the food trend push comes from environmental organizations and consumer groups, a lot of it originates within agriculture. Sometimes it’s a heartfelt conviction that GM crops or crop protection products are inherently bad. Other times, it has more to do with a marketing tactic and making money.

For those of us in mainstream agriculture, there’s a tendency to shake our heads at the nonsense and just go about our business.

While that live-and-let-live attitude sounds nice, it isn’t that easy. Niches grow and when major crop protection products are pulled from the market because of public pressure rather than scientific assessment, conventional production practices are threatened.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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Comments

  • WeGotta

    Gaining trust is nearly impossible when the public is lied to.
    Ticking off tired false PR firm talking points isn’t helping and neither will pretending you actually care about your customers.

    Name any other consumer choice we make that gets vilified so intensely as when someone chooses something “other than gmo”.

    Here are some examples of things “against scientific advice” that are, apparently, perfectly okay for consumers to choose:
    -Eating junk food all day.
    -Using plastic things once and throwing them in the trash.
    -A huge house they don’t need so they can fill it with junk that won’t make them happy.
    -Watch cars go round and round a track for hours at a time

    Next time you choose the red dress over the brown one because you think it makes you look better I’m going to alert the proper authorities in fashion, clothing, color, and finance that you are not consulting the science.

    • Harold

      The bottom line is that it is not trust that they are seeking. If it were, after 25 years they would already have have it. Time has a way of finding things out.

      • Harold

        I understand English language and I am offended that I should have to accept the word and thought bastardization techniques that are used in this article and that are also used by other enthusiasts and activists of the GMO industries. They see us as an audience provided for the indoctrination of their teachings. Through their mindless repetitions they hope to create a fact without providing evidence or proof or consumers asking for such. They use these techniques to foster the thought that GMO is a RIGHT and Organic the PRIVILEGE. When two people exchange organic product and just walk away contented, the GMO camp in their impotent brilliance, are left on the sidelines and this enrages them believing that they are ignored as being the visions of the anointed. Who is the judge and by his decision decides what we shall believe and that what we believe is not worth thinking about. Nothing is a substitute for what people think other that their vulgar urge for power. Their words and phrases are deliberately designed to close the doors of the discussion for evidence and facts.
        They are not seeking trust.

    • richard

      Mince no words…. take no prisoners…..I like the way you think! But its not science we are hypnotized by….its technology…..applied science with a bias….If only we can grow more, we can waste more, debase food, ourselves, the environment……and hold our “wastelines” out as a measure of our “success” ?

  • ed

    Gaining trust is much more difficult when you inform the public, so you best keep them in the dark if you are going to succeed in selling substandard wares.

    • Happy Farmer

      Ed, If it were possible to get everybody into the same room for whatever the issue is and let presenters have equal time to give their case, and rebut others’, would that solve anything? NOPE. If you don’t believe me, re-read a bunch of WP posts. Or watch a couple of archived national leadership debates. All Humans are corrupt by nature, and there is only One solution for solving it.

      • Harold

        You left us hanging; “there is only one solution for solving it”. What is the solution?

        Further, are young children human and corrupt? I know that young children become corrupt starting the first day of school.

        In a hope to resolve issues I am sure that If you placed just anybody in a room that the outcome would be just as you predict. However, what has always been missing in a debate are the yellow bellied scientists working for Monsanto and opposing scientists of the same peer groups. If this were to occur you would see empty chairs on Monsanto’s side because he would not have all of the peers to match.

      • ed

        Eduration, right! It does not ensure that some people will not get screwed some of the time by what you have pointed out is a totally corrupt system, but it does inch us farther away from all people getting screwed all of the time by it.

  • Happy Farmer

    Can’t or won’t trust? All of your not to be trusted organizations are made up of individuals. Guess we better not trust anyone other than ourselves(and our own opinions). Lots of talk from everyone, still no solution!!

    • WeGotta

      I guess it’s “won’t”.

      I won’t trust until trust is earned. There’s no reason to even trust ourselves (who we think we are).

      What I mean is that there’s a voice in our heads that we mistake for ourselves.

      • richard

        Trust your instincts my friend…. they may deceive you but they will never lie to you….. Be skeptical of all opinions including mine……Tune out advertising…..it is all based on fear and inadequacy….. agriculture is living proof of this……

      • Harold

        The voice inside….. is yourself (you) ,,,,, and searching for what is in our “memory files”. When nothing of value is found in the “files” the little voice inside becomes audible or we become prone to adventure which is afterward added to the “filing cabinet”. We trust ourselves when the “file” is found and are untrustworthy when the file is not found. Trust in ourselves is indeed earned.
        Others must earn trust the same way and trust in others is the knowledge of what is in their “filing cabinet” and their “adventures” (actions) and trust is again earned.
        A conversation or an action is the opening of “filing cabinets”. You cannot know what you do not know and this opens the door to mistrust. This is where the “little man” or “little woman” (what ever the case) is running around inside your head franticly. The voice is you. The voice (you) is seeking a file of the good and a corresponding file of the bad in an attempt to find the wisdom of the matter. There is good and bad and wisdom is the complete understanding of both and the job of the voice inside. (you)
        This has been illustrated in the past by an angel being on one shoulder and a devil on the other and wisdom the head in the center knowing the difference. In this case what you don’t know is the shoulder that you lean toward and because all good is dependent on bad being there first, the devil gets his due one way or the other. Devil spelled backwards is lived.

  • Denise

    Monsanto’s propaganda pitch about farmers “feeding the world” ,using their products, is a collapsing house of cards.
    http://www.gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17566-monsanto-isn-t-feeding-the-world-it-s-damaging-food-security-monsanto-tribunal-judges

    • ed

      Ah ha! Ah ha! You got it. Ah ha!

    • Stephen Daniels

      But farmers lap that patronizing BS up.Everybody from FCC to politicians tell farmers the same BS .

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