‘Social licence’ needs transparency
From the June 2012 edition of Agriculture Today.
When consumers and welfare groups criticise agriculture with arguments based on feelings and values, and agriculture defends its practices with arguments based on science alone, the level of trust necessary to maintain the social licence to farm will not be maintained.
This is the crux of a message from consultant Charlie Arnot, CEO of the US Centre for Food Integrity.
Mr Arnot (pictured) gave presentations in Australia earlier in the year at several functions, including the Animal Welfare Science Centre seminar in Melbourne and the Australasia Pacific Extension Network (APEN) conference in Armidale, NSW.
The main focus of his work is to find better ways for farmers to communicate with consumers.
He says farmers need to show the values of animal care, welfare and community wellbeing are important and are major tenets of the ethics of operation.
Maintaining the social licence is important because it is akin to having permission to manage your farming operation in a way that best suits your management style and the environment unhindered by excessive government controls.
According to Mr Arnot, consumers don’t feel modern agriculture is farming – it is corporate, mechanised, production line and to the outsider, clinical and profit motivated.
There is a strong feeling among consumers that corporate farming does not share the same set of values as family run farms.
Research has shown that the perception of shared values is three to five times more important than scientific facts for the formation of consumer opinion.
A large part of this has resulted from the lack of contact between farmers and consumers.
Restoration of this contact and understanding is being tackled in the US via the smart use of modern technology such as real time webcam in the sheds with websites available to consumers and visits by consumers to real farms.
There needs to be a move to more transparent operation.
One benefit of sharing your operation with outsiders is that you begin to see it yourself with fresh perspective.
There are lots of science, biosecurity and security reasons why many pig farmers, for example, choose not to have visitors - but all those good reasons just widen the breach and lessen the understanding of modern farming.
Another of Mr Arnot’s comments was that if you are not prepared to show what you do, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.
Visit vimeo.com/awsc to view Mr Arnot’s presentation and www.farmersfeedus.org for Farmers Feed US campaign initiatives.