Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Participate in the Food Dialogue

In an effort to engage farmers and consumers in a dialogue about the future of farming and food, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) hosted a national town hall meeting called Food Dialogues on September 22nd. See Town Hall Highlights  for an overview of the meeting.


The event included panel discussions in Washington D.C., New York, Indiana and California. Each location included a diverse panel of experts representing farmers, chefs, government officials, professors, nutritionists, retail store managers, animal welfare groups and consumers.

This event was broadcast online via the Food Dialogues website and Facebook page. Participants watching could comment and ask questions via these outlets and Twitter. I watched the majority of Food Dialogues on the website and found it to be very interesting. I enjoyed interacting with others by reading their comments and posting my own comments.

The presentation included results of a survey that polled 2,417 consumers and 1,002 farmers in August 2011. The study discovered that farmers and ranchers share the same values as consumers. Farmers know a divide exists between consumers and their food and consumers are divided on the direction of modern agriculture. 

Click on this graphic to view and print the survey results

The purpose of the consumer survey was to ask Americans what information they want about how food is grown and raised in the U.S. According to the findings;
  • 72% of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching
  • 69% of consumers think about food production at least somewhat often
  • 70% say purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, with three-quarters (72%) of Americans saying they think about this topic while purchasing groceries
  • 42% Americans say the way that food is grown and raised has improved in the last 10 years, while a slightly smaller group say it has worsened (37%)
  • Those who say the way that food is grown and raised has improved cite food safety (22%) and food quality (17%), whereas respondents who said the way food is grown and raised has worsened also cite food safety (21%) and food quality (21%)
  • Of all the aspects of how food is grown and raised, Americans are most satisfied with the availability of healthy foods (73%) and food safety standards (66%)
  • One in five consumers who say food production has worsened in the last 10 years cite environmental impact as the top area of demise
  • 79% of consumers say producing healthy choices for all consumers is very important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning farming and ranching practices
Consumers were asked to identify the top 5 topics they want more information about:
  1. How chemicals are used in farming/ranching
  2. How pesticides are used in farming/ranching
  3. Food safety standards
  4. Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
  5. How antibiotics are used and genetic engineering in crops
The goal of the farmer/rancher survey was to identify topics that farmers and ranchers wished Americans had more information about when it comes to food and how it is grown and raised in the U.S. According to the survey, farmers and ranchers said the top misconception they need to overcome as an industry is that a few "bad actors" are representative of the entire industry. Additionally, farmers and ranchers identified the effect of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers on food as the most important priorities they should address when communicating with consumers. Findings included;
  • 86% of farmers/ranchers responded that the average consumer has little to no knowledge about modern farming/ranching
  • 58% of respondents in this survey felt consumers have a completely inaccurate perception of farming and ranching
  • Nearly all farmers and ranchers say that protecting the environment (99%) and practicing humane animal care (96%) are very or somewhat important goals or practices related to their business
  • 80% of farmers/ranchers say that consumers have little to no knowledge about proper care of livestock or poultry
  • 83% of farmers/ranchers responded that new ways of improving yields with fewer environmental inputs will have a major impact on farming/ranching in the future
Farmers and ranchers were asked which top five topics were most important to educate consumers about:
  1. The effect of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics on food
  2. Where food comes from in general
  3. Proper care of livestock and poultry
  4. Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
  5. Economic value of agriculture
So what does all this data mean? Consumers are hungry for information about farming and how animals are raised. We in agriculture must make it a priority to share information about what we do with consumers.

I encourage consumers to seek out information from farmers. There are groups eager to spread an anti-agriculture message by encouraging you to reject meat, milk and eggs. So it’s important to get information about farming and livestock care from farmers, not groups who have never been to a farm.

Many farmers are making an effort to dialogue with consumers via social media through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These links will take you to blogs written by farmers.

Farmer Bloggers
Dairy Blogs
Ohio Farm Blogs (scroll to the bottom of the page)
Know a California Farmer

If you know of other resources for farmer blogs, please share them in the comments section.

The Food Dialogues town hall started the conversation; let’s continue it in person and online.

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Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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