Values drive trust in food production

Farm Forum

With all the noise about food safety, there are some sources of information out there that create a lot of confusion for consumers.

One of the toughest to explain is biotechnology. At its simplest, it involves technology based on biology – harnessing processes to develop know-hows and products that improve our lives and the health of our planet. (From

Charlie Arnot, Center for Food Integrity, noted that most don’t know what biotech means. When he spoke at the Livestock BioTech Summit in Sioux Falls he emphasized the benefits and that the unknown scares many.

Arnot, a writer and speaker with 25 years in the food system, seeks to dispel many of the myths shared by sites such as FoodBabe. Arnot said he’s not as funny as the fellow on the Food Dude web-based TV show but is serious about getting his message across in building trust in biotech.

Arnot noted that 1968 is when the social consciousness of the United States changed with the erosion of confidence in everything. That led to why we love to hate “big food” and why sustainable intensification has become important.

The truth is, the faming/ranching community is producing more food with less negative impact. The last 45 years have included a series of trust-eroding events which has led to skepticism of cultural norms, Arnot said. Incidences of meat recalls, E. coli in alfalfa sprouts and pink slime have eroded the confidence in the products we feed our family. And it’s not just in the U.S. The interruption of food supplies is the basis for many global conflicts.

Our lives revolve around food. We gather for holidays with friends and family. We have office parties. We stop for a cup of coffee and a treat with friends. Consuming food is an integral part of our lives.

What drives trust? Arnot said it’s not FoodBabe, who claims she is ‘Hot on the trail to investigate what’s really in your food.’ As food producers, Arnot said we gain authority by creating a relationship with others rather than by simply being a person of authority. Shared values are extremely important to building trust and confidence in the food system.

Arnot shared the goals of the Center for Food Integrity. The group wants to insert technical info into conversations without overwhelming consumers. CFI wants to share how to communicate in ways that appeal to the senses of the consumer so they understand why certain practices are followed in producing food. Engaging people means much of the understanding depends on questions being asked.

Returning to the mistrust issue, we need to know that values drive trust. As the general public is further removed from local farms, they believe mass production has more of a likelihood for error and big companies put profit before the public interest.

Trust is needed to build transparency; the public has a bias against size. Arnot said, “Many believe that small farmers will put my interest ahead of that of big corporations. Anything strongly local will put my interest first. The bias against big is very real.”

“We need to identify our audience and engage them in the conversation, embrace their concerns and correct information if that is needed,” Arnot said. Sometimes that means translating what a person with a doctorate degree says down to what a person with an attention deficient disorder can understand.

Arnot encouraged engaging young leaders and give them the tools to do that. Groups are interested in learning more and it’s up to those in the ag industry to support that effort. He encouraged people in the industry to use social media, to tweet and to post. Sharing in this way is sometimes as important to spending time in the lab.

Too many times the independent groups in agriculture give off the vibe, “We have nothing to hide, but it’s none of your business.” Arnot said we need to change this and to take the time to help others understand ag.

Arnot suggested that we look at developing a 3-year vision and then work on a 25-year vision. He suggested that the first people that will be attracted will be the attackers, and it’s important to provide them with information they can trust. He said few want to be educated; people want to be engaged and challenged.

“We can make a difference,” Arnot said. “We can choose if we want our work to make a difference or if we just want to leave the stage empty, which is not good for anyone.”