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Can U.S. Animal Ag Overcome its Trust Deficit?

America’s livestock and poultry farmers have some work to do.

More than half the people (55 percent) in the latest trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) strongly agree with the statement, “If farm animals are treated decently and humanely, I have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.” But only one in four people strongly agree with the statement, “U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals.”

See the gap? It’s a trust deficit that can’t be ignored. The price is just too high.

In a society increasingly curious about the way food is produced, plenty has happened to foster skepticism toward farmers who may have taken for granted the public trust they’ve historically enjoyed.

Undercover video investigations showing an uncaring attitude cause people to question today’s farm animal caretakers. The debate over gestation stalls and egg-laying hen battery cages, for example, cause people to question the technology used in today’s agriculture.

Consumers have traditionally trusted farmers because they believe farmers share their values. But consumers aren’t sure today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming.

There’s a “big is bad” mindset that today’s farmers are more concerned about profit than animal well-being and consumer interests, as heard in our CFI Street Talk video series when we posed the question “How are animals treated on farms today?”

Among the comments:

“Just watching documentaries you can see how animals are treated in those big factory plants. I don’t think animals are well-treated unless you’re getting your food from a farm that has a small amount of animals.”

“I think the bigger farms, not so well. Smaller farms, family-owned farms are far better.”

While there’s significant concern that animals raised for food are being treated humanely, much is happening that might show consumers today’s farmers are closer to meeting their expectations than they might realize.

Innovation helps today’s farmers provide high-quality animal care. Collaborative research is addressing not only animal welfare, but worker safety, environmental impact and food safety. Third-party verification ensures farms are doing the right things.

Precision care systems use online communications to monitor animals. Real-time video monitoring detects problems with climate control or malfunctioning water and feed lines to keep animals free from hunger, thirst and discomfort. Raising pigs and chickens indoors protects them from predators and weather extremes.

The key to overcoming the trust gap is proactive and long-term engagement with consumers to tell the story.

CFI research proves that increased transparency and communicating that you value the same things consumers do – quality animal care, food safety, environmental stewardship – is critical to the process. Healthy strides in demonstrating transparency are as important as technology and innovation advancements in building consumer trust. Some farms and food companies have embraced this reality and are pulling back the curtain.

Are you doing what you can?

It would be our privilege to partner with you to evaluate and enhance your outreach as we all work toward a common goal to bridge the trust gap.

Learn more about our latest research A Dangerous Disconnect: New CFI Research IDs Food and Ag Trust Gaps and our A Clear View of Transparency and Engage shared-values workshops. Reach out to us at learnmore@foodintegrity.org.

Charlie Arnot
CEO of The Center for Food Integrity