I had the privilege this week to speak to a group from Georgia comprised of leaders in agriculture. After I was done with my little schpeal, a very astute gentleman asked me pointedly, “Emily, don’t you just think we’re overreacting?”
It’s a good question—are these questions from consumers, this turmoil about food, and the activist group campaigns against animal ag just a trend that will soon fall by the wayside? Golly, I hope so. Do I think that’s likely? No.
So are we overreacting? I don’t think so.
Granted, I overreact to things probably 20 times a day. From a misplaced article in a reputable publication (Yes, Kansas City Star, I’m looking at you) to an offhanded comment about “meat being pumped full of chemicals” on a television show completely unrelated to agriculture; I huff and puff and storm around my office (or living room, as the case may be) in a complete and utter state of overreaction.
But then I claw my way back from the ledge and realize a few things. First, we as an industry have to separate the legitimate questions from the activist propaganda. Consumers, being at least three generations removed from the farm, have no point of reference for what “good” looks like. What does a properly cared-for animal look like? What does safe, wholesome food look like? What does a reputable farm look like?
Because most consumers have no idea where their food comes from, they have questions. And they’re entitled. Everyone should know as much as they want about something as personal as food. Has the volume of questions about meat, milk and eggs increased over the past several years? Yes.
Ag has been sticking its head in the sand and pretending those legitimate consumer questions don’t exist for too long—and now we’re playing catch up.
There’s a lot of turmoil surrounding food right now: what’s healthy, what’s sustainable, what’s humane, what’s safe. Everyone has a different opinion, and unfortunately, the groups that scream the loudest are the ones that are given the most credence.
For activist groups, consumers’ general lack of knowledge about food, combined with an industry that has historically been “mums the word” about livestock production and animal agriculture have combined to create a perfect storm—and a perfect opportunity—for activists to target consumers and spread fear and misinformation.
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