Communication of animal welfare key to consumer trust

2009-01-31T00:00:00Z 2011-01-11T20:36:32Z Communication of animal welfare key to consumer trustBy Lori Weddle-Schott, University of Minnesota Beef Team Minnesota Farm Guide

After spending time at the 2009 National Western Stock Show (NWSS) and Rodeo in Denver my hat is off to the NWSS staff, volunteers, cattle producers and industry representatives who communicate and educate the image and lifestyle of our great American cattle industry.

Growing up in the cattle business, I have a deep seeded devotion to protect our lifestyle and a passion for our industry and people I trust. But what about our urban consumers, who are void of agricultural backgrounds, who lack the understanding of our industry and management practices? What level of trust do they have for our industry and the products we produce?

Consumer trust is essential to help sustain growth of our cattle industry. So why at times is consumer trust both overlooked and under measured by our industry? The very people who can have the most impact are at times the most silent. Our industry, now more than ever before needs to promote and educate our consumers, we need to build the trust.

While the discussion of consumer trust often focuses on the most visible events, we all, as an industry, react to everyday events and opportunities to build consumer trust and loyalty for our cattle production practices and beef products.

Perception matters! Reputation matters! I have always told my children that they have one reputation that reflects them, who they are and who they will become. It takes years to build your reputation and seconds to destroy it. Same is true for our industry.

Consumer trust is built with all the great stories about your way of life, beef's nutritional value and consumer's overall enjoyment of our product. But what about those rare occasions when one negative story about beef is in the news? We crack our reputation as an industry and the rebuilding process of consumer trust begins.

Today consumers are in control of how they live their lives and spend their money. Even with a recession facing our country, consumers want control of their choices.

Did you know that 97 percent of consumers support raising animals for food if they are treated humanely? Consumers associate humane animal treatment with food safety.

The consumer beef index research shows that food safety is second only to taste in importance to consumers when making food purchasing decisions. So animal welfare equals food safety in the eyes of our consumers.

Remember the isolated incident at Hallmark/Westling in California? Consumers' perception of animal welfare in our industry decreased as did our consumers' perception of beef safety. So how do we build consumer trust when unfavorable issues surface like animal welfare?

An important distinction to make when dealing with animal issues is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. After learning the difference between the two philosophies, it is easier to distinguish between organizations that directly help animals and those who wish to end the use of animals.

Animal welfare - based on principles of humane care and use. Organizations who support animal welfare principles seek to improve the treatment and well-being of animals. Supporting animal welfare premises means believing humans have the right to use animals, but along with that right comes the responsibility to provide proper and humane care and treatment.

Animal rights - organizations that support animal rights philosophies seek to end the use and ownership of animals. Animal rights organizations seek to abolish by law the raising of farm animals for food and clothing, rodeos, circuses, zoos, hunting, trapping, fishing, the use of animals in life-saving biomedical research, the use of animals in education and the breeding of pets. The largest groups that support these ideas are the Humane Society of the United States and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Many organizations that in the past have been considered animal welfare organizations have made the move toward animal rights. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has shifted resources from serving animals directly to educational programs against farming, fur wearing, fishing, hunting, animals in entertainment and other staples of American life.

The most dangerous trend is the focus of these organizations to step into the legislative field and promote legislation to ban these and other activities that involve animals, like in recent rulings in Arizona, California and Colorado.

Fortunately veterinarians, farmers and ranchers are very credible in the eyes of our consumers when issues regarding animal rights and welfare surface.

According to a recent survey by the Colorado Farm Bureau, consumers view veterinarian's credibility at a positive 82 percent and farmers and ranchers with a credibility score of 68 percent. As an industry, we have good principles and practices of livestock production which we need to communicate to our consumers.

When you tell our story, whether at the local school, county fair, farm-city day or something as large as the National Western Stock Show, we communicate to our consumers our ability to produce safe and wholesome beef to feed the world in a humane manner.

Producers need to show a passion for the industry and your way of life. Don't stand by the way side and let misinformation about your business saturate our consumers. Make yourself seen and heard. Give interviews, presentations, watch the online media statements and respond. Tell your story of why you produce beef, keep it simple and keep it passionate and keep it real. That is building consumer trust.

It starts with each and every one of us. It starts with industry actions and reactions that address consumers concerns and outlines what we are going to do, our response and our actions. The more good news that consumers hear about our industry, the more they see our commitment to the production of a wholesome and safe product the more it leads to favorable opinions and builds our consumers trust.

Remember there are over 10 million members of an affluent animal rights organization focusing on our industry production practices. That means the 800,000 beef producers in the United States who have to work 10 times as hard to get our positive message to consumers. Be one of them!

Copyright 2015 Minnesota Farm Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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