Per-capita consumption of milk has declined steadily over the past 40 years. People now consume two and a half times more soda pop than they do milk (52 gallons of soda pop compared to approximately 20 gallons of milk).

“Bottom-line, it’s a competitive market out there,” says Mike Lormore, director of dairy veterinary operations for Pfizer Animal Health.

At the Pfizer Dairy Wellness Summit in May 2011, Lormore offered some ideas on what the dairy industry can do to improve the situation. He referenced a survey that his company conducted in November 2008, involving 704 dairy consumers. The consumers were the primary shoppers in their households and represented a cross-section of the U.S. population.

Initially, the consumers had pretty good confidence in the wholesomeness of dairy products, with 61 percent giving dairy a score of 7 to 10 on a 10-point scale. In terms of quality, 63 percent gave dairy a score of 7 to 10.

But those scores went up when the consumers were presented with a brief message that began: “Cows are raised by a team of people committed to the animals’ health and creating wholesome, high-quality food for consumers. From the beginning of cows’ lives, veterinarians have a very important role in overseeing their health…” The message went on to describe responsible use of vaccines and antibiotics.

After seeing that message, the number of people who gave dairy a high confidence rating for wholesomeness — again, a 7 to 10 score on a 10-point scale — rose to 68 percent. And, 72 percent now expressed high confidence in the quality of dairy.

“These are significant moves with just a brief, 60-second narrative… we dramatically increased their trust in what we are doing,” Lormore said.

Consumers were also asked which groups they trust to provide accurate information about the health of farm animals and how farm animals are raised. It turned out that associations representing veterinarians had the highest trust.

Based on the survey findings, the following messages may be helpful when addressing consumers:

• Animals are under the care of licensed veterinarians.

• Sick animals should be treated with medicines, such as antibiotics, to restore their health as long as protections are in place to ensure that their meat or milk is safe for people.

• If medicine, such as an antibiotic, is administered to help sick animals, then their meat or dairy products are not allowed to enter the food supply until the medicine has sufficiently cleared the animal’s system.

• Milk is tested and withdrawn from the human food supply if tests are positive for antibiotic residues.

• Vaccines are used to protect animals from various illnesses.