Editor's note: The following editorial was written byPORK NetworkEditor JoAnn Alumbaugh and published in theJune issue ofPORK Network.
Like many of you reading this editorial, I grew up on a farm. I was sometimes jealous of my friends who went swimming while I baled, stacked and delivered hay all summer. During the school year, I had to be careful not to go into the barns before school, since there were only about three kids in my class of 700 who had anything to do with agriculture.
I was proud of what our family did for a living and I still am, but modern agriculture is under attack. Activists and sensationalist media reports plant seeds of doubt in consumers' minds, and they're skeptical about the U.S. food supply. Ironically, consumers have a high opinion of farmers, but they seem to think the term applies only to someone in coveralls with a straw hat, a toothpick in his mouth and a few pigs in the pasture out back. Any farm family with a modern operation is considered part of "big ag" and theirs must be a "factory farm."
A recent consumer focus group from Arlington, Va., confirmed my fears. They didn't know the group they faced encompassed U.S. animal agriculture as they answered questions about their buying decisions and opinions about food. It was a real eye-opener.
Paul shops at Mom's Organic and the local farmers' market because he supports local food. He says, "It comes down to nutrition. I want organic, locally sourced milk and I don't want additives. Basically, I avoid any ingredient I can't pronounce." He gets much of his food information from Clean Eating magazine and his sister, who is in vet school.
Bridgett, a high school English teacher, says she shops at whatever grocery store she drives by. She likes to buy organic milk because "it lasts longer." She doesn't buy the most economical brands, saying, "I don't want the cheap one because that can't be good." She says she devotes a lot of my time to teaching her students to get information from multiple sources but admits she gets her information from Facebook.
Shanika gets her information from Facebook and is more of a value shopper. But she won't buy "fat chickens - I'll get the skinnier chickens because the fat chickens have been pumped with stuff."
Scary, isn't it? And this is just a microcosm of similar opinions around the country.
Unless animal agriculture has a coordinated, well-designed approach to educating the public about the safety and quality of foods produced through modern agricultural practices, we'll lose this battle. We need believable, knowledgeable third-party experts from academia, industry and maybe even entertainment, who can tell agriculture's story. It's time for encouraging words, and lots of them.