Transparency in the livestock industry is increasingly becoming a priority for consumers and retailers are following suit, creating a tight squeeze for farmers.
The best way to tackle that is to increase transparency of farm operations, says Charlie Arnot, CEO, the Center for Food Integrity. He was the keynote speaker at a conference called Social License in Agriculture Thursday, March 12 in Leduc.
Hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the conference’s goal was to educate producers on social trends and how they could help educate consumers.
What does Social License mean for livestock producers?
Arnot said there is an increased desire from consumers for transparency and rather than fight it, he suggests producers embrace it. “There’s significant economic value with maintaining social license.”
While farmers may already be following safety and personal ethics standards with regards to operations and animal treatment, he suggests one mistake could make or break a farmer. Arnot suggests there is a tipping point between social license and social control.
Social control usually comes into play when there is some sort of disaster in an industry and when that happens, the public will demand more rigid regulations, which becomes costly for producers. However, if they follow a strong social license, farmers will have more flexibility in their work.
“There’s no premium for doing what’s right but there’s a significant cost for doing it wrong,” suggested Arnot.
He says four key values will cost less and have less regulation:
These values are important because consumers are looking for answers to their health questions, they have a greater social awareness and information is easily created. Arnot suggests farmers and producers must assume that everyone has a camera and can make a video and if they are already conducting their business with the four key values, then they have nothing to fear.
Farmers trusted the most
Consumers trust farmers the most, says Arnot, which is why he advocates they engage buyers and welcome questions and doubts rather than inundate them with data. “We’ve always assumed the public doesn’t have enough information.”
However, research has found that people are more likely to trust a producer if they have core values in place. “Values are three to five times more important in building trust.”
“If you’re already doing the right things for the right reasons, it costs you nothing to go to the top,” said Arnot.
When a producer faces criticism or questions, Arnot suggests the best thing to do is to welcome them. This goes a long way in alleviating concerns.
Consumers crowd-source knowledge
In today’s digital age, it is easy for a person to search out information that is in line with their moral standpoint, whether or not the information is right.
Arnot says the reality is that people are using peer groups to gather information, but throwing scientific data at them is not going to help, and it is not going to work. A farmer should speak up and engage with comments like, “How can we be a resource to you?”
“Not being an expert doesn’t preclude people from having a strong opinion,” he added.
The challenge farmers and producers face is letting go of their independent nature, which will help consumers overcome their doubts. “Increasing transparency has the most impact on skeptical people,” Arnot stressed.
There will always be detractors and people who cannot be swayed, but Arnot said the engagement is for the individuals who are looking for answers.
“Who you are is as important, if not more important, than what you know,” stated Arnot.
He recommends seven elements in building trust in consumers:
Motivations: act in an ethical manner.
Disclosure: share important information such as risks and how they are being tackled.
Stakeholder participation: acknowledge people’s concerns. “Even if you make decisions they don’t agree with, involve them in the process.”
Relevance: share information stakeholders feel is relevant.
Clarity: ensure information is easy to understand.
Credibility: admit mistakes, apologize and accept responsibility.
Accuracy: information shared should be truthful and accurate.
“It’s not personal folks,” said Arnot, referring to questions consumers ask. He recommends livestock producers make their process available to the public to help alleviate doubts.