Another Chapter in the Cage-Free, Crate-Free Debate
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare groups have identified another state in the effort to get rid of egg-layer battery cages, sow gestation stalls and veal crates. Having already conducted successful initiative petition drives in Florida, Arizona and California, Massachusetts is the target for 2016.
HSUS and others staged a news conference at the statehouse to make the announcement, according to the Boston Globe and other local media outlets. HSUS Public Policy Manager Matt Dominguez tweeted the news to his 148,000 Twitter followers using the #StopCrueltyMA hashtag.
According to the Globe report, the National Pork Producers Council called it an effort to advance a "national vegan agenda" while the United Egg Producers' Chad Gregory said it would "absolutely 100 percent guaranteed" mean higher egg prices.
GloucesterTimes.com, in an article last weekend in advance of the public announcement, reported the measure could mean higher egg prices because there aren't enough cage-free products on the market to meet the demands of the state's 6.7 million people.
Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation said, "What's significant about this ballot question is it not only would ban practices in the state of Massachusetts which largely don't even exist [here] ...what's significant about it is it bans products produced outside the state using those practices."
"It's questionable as to whether this would even be allowed under interstate commerce laws," said the president of the Massachusetts Food Association. A Boston Herald editorial concluded, "Enforcing unnecessary restrictions in a state where confinement is not a problem merely punishes consumers."
What the ballot measure doesn't take into consideration is the research that has taken place on the subject of animal housing systems. Scientific studies have consistently concluded that there are pros and cons associated with different animal housing systems.
The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), a group comprised of animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, restaurants and food companies, recently concluded a study of three hen housing systems - conventional cage, enriched colony and cage-free aviary.
Among the findings—researchers noted that cage-free aviary provided hens with the most freedom of movement, opportunity to perform natural behaviors and was also associated with some hen health benefits. But cage-free birds also were more prone to die prematurely, their eggs were the most expensive to produce and the system had the worst air quality for hen house workers, the greatest dust emissions, the highest carbon footprint, and the greatest potential for egg contamination that could lead to food safety issues.
Similarly, the American Veterinary Medical Association examined the advantages and disadvantages of gestation stalls, group pens and free-range systems for pregnant sows and concluded, "... there is no clear consensus as to which is the superior system across all situations."
Virtually every sector of society has undergone significant change over the past 40 years and animal agriculture is no exception. Today's farms look and operate much differently today and when less than one percent of the population is directly involved in farming, there will be confusion, misunderstanding and a communication gap.
Americans have a right to expect farmers and others in the food system to act responsibly and those who do not should be held accountable. Choosing to buy cage-free or crate-free products are great options and valued choices in our food system. But it is overly simplistic to assert that a certain type of housing system is inherently better than another.
Advancements in technology and structural changes in agriculture over the past two generations have radically altered how food animals are raised today. These changes have allowed Americans to enjoy a safe, nutritious and remarkably affordable supply of meat, milk and eggs. They have also raised questions about animal care on today's farms and animal agriculture needs to address those questions in a transparent and forthright manner.
-Insights from CFI's SignalsSM dashboard report.
Have We Tricked Ourselves into Obesity?
Food additives have come under fire recently. Some studies link various additives to myriad health issues, and some food safety advocates believe additives are harmful to human health because they have complicated, scary-sounding chemical names. Some additives used in food production in the United States, while Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are banned in other countries, giving pause to those who question the necessity of their use in food products.
A new book, The Dorito Effect, examines the use of artificial flavors and colors in modern food production. According to author Mark Schatzker, "Synthetic flavors in foods have heightened their desirability at the very same time that whole foods are losing flavor." Schatzker posits that our use of artificial flavors and colors to make foods look and taste better has led to a reduction in the consumption of healthy, natural foods because we've accidentally programmed ourselves into thinking all foods should have the same sensory signals. "Evolution did not program us to get fat - we've simply tricked ourselves into craving the wrong foods," said Schatzker.
While it's true that many food companies and restaurants are formulating products and menu offerings to eliminate some artificial ingredients based on consumer demand, the use of food additives can't be written off altogether.
Food additives are used in products to increase shelf life, add nutrients, aid in fermentation and processing, as well as to enhance flavor. Robert Gravani, PhD, food scientist professor at Cornell University, said in an interview with National Public Radio, "Companies don't just add products or substances just for the sake of adding. They have some functional purpose in the production or preparation or the appeal of that particular product to consumers." In fact, many nutritional diseases have been eliminated and the nutritional value of some foods has been enhanced due to the use of food additives.
Consumers have choices and have the right to ask questions about how their food is made. Food companies are working to simplify labels and scientific terms when possible to help consumers better understand why particular ingredients are included in foods.
CFI's consumer trust research, "Cracking the Code on Food Issues: Insights from Moms, Millennials and Foodies," shows us that buildilng relationships based on shared values is the first step in introducing technical information, and that just presenting facts and information doesn't aid in consumer understanding.
Science may tell us that we can create/grow/build something, but society is asking whether we should. Those are two very different questions. Authentic transparency and continued engagement will encourage objective evaluation of information that supports informed decision making, which requires meeting people on their turf, embracing their skepticism, and committing to engaging over the long haul.
-Insights from CFI's SignalsSM dashboard report.
Ag-Gag Challenged: Opening Barn Doors Best Approach to Building Trust
The use of undercover video investigations has been an effective strategy used by animal welfare groups to bring more public attention to their cause and influence food company policies as they relate to housing systems for pigs, chickens and cows. Eight states responded by adopting so-called "ag-gag" laws that prohibit such investigations. Now, a federal judge in one of those states, Idaho, has stricken down such a law on grounds of constitutional free speech, which could put the other laws in jeopardy.
That may cause angst for some in the agriculture community.
It is understandably frustrating for livestock producers when undercover video investigations portray animal abuse as common practice on America's farms. It's not. And some of what is shown in these video investigations demonize practices that veterinary experts agree provide proper care. But ag-gag laws do not promote the transparency that research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) clearly shows consumers want, expect - and deserve - when it comes to food production.
Rather than promoting transparency, the message consumers might be getting from agriculture's support of such laws is, "We have nothing to hide but this is none of your business." This reality poses a challenge when it comes to assuring consumers that production practices on today's farms are humane and the people responsible for animal care are ethically committed to doing the right thing.
Those who commit animal abuse on farms should be held accountable. And, those who witness animal abuse and continue to record it instead of stopping it should, too. The public would be outraged if someone recorded willful elder or child abuse and chose not to stop it. We should expect the same when it comes to abuse of animals.
But using state laws to barricade the barn door doesn't build public trust. Some farms are making their operations more transparent by opening up their barns, either with farm tours or live video feeds. CFI and the U.S. pork and dairy industries launched an initiative called "See It? Stop It!" The program demands that if signs of animal abuse, neglect, mishandling or harm are witnessed, anyone working on a farm has an obligation to report it immediately.
Empowering animal caretakers and giving them responsibility to report animal abuse immediately will help assure the best care for animals. Being more open and transparent about today's production methods helps show that farmers are good stewards of the land and are producing safe, nutritious and affordable food, while providing animals with great care.
Video investigations remind us that the gap between agriculture and consumers continues to widen. Agriculture can do a better job of bridging the gap and assuring consumers that even though farming systems have changed, the commitment to responsible food production remains strong. Working toward increasing the transparency of today's farms will build trust between farmers and consumers and encourage a more informed conversation about food.
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity
Which Sources Have Star Power with Today's Food Consumers?
CFI Research Shows Us
With an estimated 2 million people tuning in to his syndicated television show each weekday, there's no doubting the clout Dr. Oz carries in the arena of public opinion. Add to that 3.78 million Twitter followers and more than 5.5 million Facebook page "likes," and the good doctor reaches a sizable audience with his opinions on everything from beating bad breath to cutting cancer risk.
But when consumers were asked whom they most trust on controversial food issues, the ratings for Dr. Oz fell flat, according to the latest U.S. consumer trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI).
In the survey, "Cracking the Code on Food Issues: Insights from Moms, Millennials and Foodies," respondents were asked to rate their level of trust with a number of sources when it comes to the issue of genetically modified foods. University scientist was the top-trusted source, followed by a scientist who is a mom, and then a farmer.
Dr. Oz came in second-to-last place on a list of 11 sources, edging out celebrity chefs.
When further segmented, Oz was dead last among millennials and foodies, and next to last among moms.
On the issue of antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans, family doctor was the most-trusted source, followed by university scientist and mom scientist. Once again. Dr. Oz came in last.
It goes to show that "celebrity" doesn't equal "credibility." You don't need a national TV show to be a trusted source when it comes to how food is produced today. The voices of farmers, mom scientists and university scientists matter. The research is clear: consumers are looking to credible sources for balanced information so they can make informed decisions.
As a trusted messenger, the first step to effective communication - particularly when it comes to controversial and scientific issues in agriculture and food - is building relationships based on shared values, according to CFI research.
Too often, the food system resorts to, 'If we just give consumers more information, they'll come to our side,' but that approach doesn't work. Our research clearly tells us that when consumers realize that the values of those in agriculture and food production are aligned with theirs - that each cares about the same things, like safe food, responsible production and quality animal care - they are more willing to consider information on an issue as personal as the food they feed their families.
In fact, the CFI consumer trust research shows that sharing values is three-to-five times more important to building trust than simply demonstrating technical expertise or sharing information.
Building trust is a process, focused on identifying important audiences and using values to engage in conversations with them where they are. CFI's research shows most consumers search for food system information online, so that engagement can and should take place both in person and online.
When you do engage, be a good neighbor when you 'move in' to their communities and remember that how you choose to engage will determine how your new neighbors respond. Don't be 'that guy' with the loudest voice and strongest opinions.
Research shows it's not the loudest voice, or the biggest celebrities, that have the most influence. Yes, consumers value credentials and expertise, but they most trust those who demonstrate that they care.
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity
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It’s Time to Change the Conversation. Here’s How.
“We’re feeding the world” is a mantra often used by those involved in farming and food to build support for modern food production systems. But the latest research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) tells us most consumers don’t care.
The global population is forecast to reach nine billion by 2050. Feeding the nine billion will require technology and innovation that will help farmers raise more animals for food and grow more crops on the land already in production. But the ‘feeding the world” message won’t generate public support for today’s agriculture technology.
In fact our latest CFI consumer trust research, “Cracking the Code on Food Issues: Insights from Moms, Millennials and Foodies,” shows that only 25 percent of consumers believe that the U.S. has a responsibility to provide food for the rest of the world.
It’s time to change the conversation.
What consumers care about most, according to the survey, is having access to healthy, affordable food. For the last two years, that’s been a top concern.
Farmers are more likely to build support for today’s farming by talking about how what they do on the farm helps keep healthy food affordable. That’s what matters to them.
For example, share how modern farming innovations like genetically modified seed and indoor animal handling systems allow farmers to produce safe food using fewer resources, with the added benefit of holding down costs.
Building trusting relationships with consumers is about making what you’re doing relevant to them and helping them understand that you share their values when it comes to important issues like animal care, the environment and providing healthy, affordable food.
Our peer-reviewed and published trust model tells us that communicating with shared values is three-to-five times more important to building consumer trust than simply providing information.
Helping consumers understand that you value what’s important to them goes a long way toward building trust.
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity
Click on the infographic below to download.