Hormone Free. Antibiotic Free. GMO Free. Added Hormone Free. Cage Free. Cruelty Free. Gluten Free. Grain Free. Lactose Free. Is there even anything in food anymore?
The majority of us in the agriculture industry know what these labels all mean when we see them in the grocery store shelves, but what about the average consumer just trying to eat?
In agriculture, there are so many buzz words and phrases that can quickly confuse just about everyone. As agriculturalists, we need to be able to communicate with consumers what these labels mean, as well as let them know about other agriculture practices.
Instead of questioning those consumers who purchase all organic, or don’t buy food with GMO’s, or won’t eat meat, put yourself in their position.
They see a blog online saying that their food is now engineered and can cause cancer or other health issues. They hear from a friend that their conventional fruit is covered in pesticides. They see a video online showing a sad looking cow falling repeatedly.
Someone who doesn’t know that a GMO is a breeding process not an ingredient – want to feed their families the healthiest way possible, so they avoid them. They buy the organic apples because they don’t want to eat pesticide on conventional. They feel horrible for how cows are treated so they avoid buying beef and dairy.
What can agriculturalists do to better communicate what labels and farming practices actually are?
We’ve all seen someone on twitter or social media posting something that is mis-information about agriculture, and then a farmer/agriculturalist in the comment section calling them dumb, un-informed and then further the image of farmers who don’t care about the public.
Of course there are the advocates who do try to start a meaningful conversation about agriculture, and genuinely want to share their passion and love for their industry with others. However if you were scared about something that you think would endanger your family, and then someone in agriculture is now dragging you online, how likely will that person be to listen to a farmer in the future?
Be understanding of their viewpoint and concerns. Even if their concern is so outlandish that they think GMO’s will cause you to grow an extra limb. Listen to what they have to say, and ensure you are answering what they ask or discuss.
One thing that it seems agriculturalists do is use terminology that most of the general public won’t fully understand. We know that not every bovine equals a cow in the proper sense. But just call it a cow for the purpose of understanding, unless you’re explaining something relevant that would require the proper usage of steer, cow, heifer, bull, etc.
In short, when explaining agriculture to a consumer that is actually wanting to learn and understand about their food supply:
This doesn’t need to turn into a full-on lecture about how USDA meat labeling and inspection regulations and law mean that no antibiotics are in the meat that is on the shelves. Give them a brief run-down on the basics.
See if they have questions
While you’re through with your brief synopsis of an industry or food product, ask if they have other questions or concerns you can answer. Once a conversation has been started, it’s likely that the explanation will lead to other questions. Roll with it!
KNOW what you’re telling them
It helps no one for agriculturalists to mistakenly share wrong information about a part of the industry they don’t know much about. If you grew up on a cattle ranch, and aren’t exactly sure what BT corn is for, look it up, or call a friend who grows more crops. Most people would appreciate the fact that you’re ensuring they find out the right information about a subject you’re not as skilled at. With so many facets to the agriculture industry, its very likely that you cannot know everything about everything.
Help them help themselves
With the entire internet being carried with us all day everyday, there are many opportunities to find out both correct, and wrong information about agriculture. Let them know where is a trusted source to find correct information about agriculture (Extension websites or social media, scientific research, USDA, etc.) and what does NOT count as an informed agriculture source (Most blogs, someone on Facebook sharing a meme, and even some media sources) If you’re comfortable, get them one of your business cards, or even give them your social media profiles so they can stay in touch with future questions.
With the prevalence we can have online and in person, especially in more urban areas or having friends in the “movable middle” agriculturalists can truly make an impact for people who are concerned or questioning the safety of their food.