Through social media and blogs today, we have the opportunity to do more than ever before in the way of educating the public. The trick is that it is not all about simply telling them what we do. That doesn't do much. In my animal science course this semester, my professor discussed some of what we termed the "grand challenges" of animal agriculture. One of these is animal wellbeing. I producing food, we must focus on producing a safe, healthy, and wholesome food supply. In defining "wholesome," there is another aspect that is being considered today that was less-considered in ages past. People want a food that they feel good eating. This does not just mean something that's tasty, but something that people do not feel bad about eating. We are touching a values issue now. For ages people just ate meat, and now they are taking an approach looking at the animal and questioning how they felt about that animal.
How do we address value issues? The answer is very delicately. When I talk to folks about swine production, since it is one thing I'm better versed in, they often hold certain convictions about how their Christmas ham has been raised. We as an industry often will tell consumers some of the same things. We talk about the fact that in the United States, we have the world's largest and most affordable food supply in the entire world. We talk about how we produce more today than ever before thanks to technology and evolving genetics. Consumers are growing increasingly bored with this, and this is in part due to the fact that we live in a world that has grocery stores and supermarkets on every corner. The shelves are always stocked, and there is more there than you could ever imagine! This is also in part due to the large number of organizations in the nation alone that are spending billions of dollars to try and make agriculture look bad. So, what do we as an industry have to do to help consumers feel confident in our products? We must show and tell the real truth behind production in the United States.
There are farms across the United States that are now designed for the special purpose of educating the public. Here in Indiana, we have Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks Indiana. What they have done is built a dairy and now a swine farm that do tours and educational experiences to show the public the truth of production. I have not visited either of these farms yet myself, but hope to do so soon. This is one way to show consumers how things happen on farms. Check out Fair Oaks Farms here. Rumor has it that there are plans for building a poultry facility soon. It does need to be noted that all farms are not show-farms, and for animal health reasons, cannot welcome the public in to see their animals without taking proper bio-security precautions before.
What is truly important to the consumer? This is hard to tell as every consumer is different. I would appreciate if I could get some feedback (email, Facebook inbox, and Tweets are great methods for doing this) so that we can address some of these issues. Many consumers I have spoken with previously want to talk about housing. What kind of housing is used? Do the animals have adequate space? Do they get to go outside? They want to talk about feed. What do the animals eat? Is it healthy? Do we still slop hogs (no we do not - per federal law)? They want to talk about slaughter. Is it humane? Does the animal suffer? Are these awful videos of processing plants reality, or is it staged? People want to talk about animal treatment. Do we keep a close eye on the animals? Do we know if an animal has gotten sick? What do we do when animals get hurt? Do we hurt the animals? Are we nice to them? This is just some of what I have spoken about before. I will later go into further details about some of these animal agriculture issues and the answers behind them. Again, please submit your questions to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org, my Facebook inbox, or Tweet me (@ebenkamp2013).
To follow with some of the animal treatment questions, I want to share a blog post and video from Carrie Mess. Her post is titled, Sometimes I am 'mean' to my cattle. Check it out here.
I appreciate all of you who read my blog, and hope that you can learn something. Maybe you'll teach me something! If you have topics you would like addressed, let me know, and I will gladly address them for you, or call in for more expert help!
Have a great rest of the week!