All stakeholders in animal agriculture need to be aware of the critical role they play in representing the industry to consumers. J.J. Jones with the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) knows consumers are asking more questions about food, and very often, people in agriculture don’t know how to respond.

“Curiosity is not a bad thing but how we, as food system leaders, respond is extremely crucial,” Jones said.

While some influential voices would have you believe that the values of consumers and the values of food system leaders are vastly different when it comes to the food system, Jones said research has shown collective values are not that different. What creates the perceived chasm is the way those in agriculture communicate and engage.

There’s a desire to know and trust farmers, and CFI has demonstrated that shared values drive trust.

“Facts alone don’t drive the decision-making process,” Jones said. “Confidence (shared values) is three to five times more important than demonstrating skills and competency (skills and knowledge) in building trust. Research by CFI has also shown there is an inverse relationship between the size of a company or organization and the perception of shared values.”

CFI has identified seven attributes that constitute trust-building:

1.  Motivation – actions are ethical and consistent

2.  Disclosure – all information, both positive and negative

3.  Stakeholder Participation – engaging those interested in your activities or impact

4.  Relevance – based on your background and shared interests

5.  Clarity – information that is easily understood and accessed

6.  Credibility – sharing positive and negative information that supports decision-making

7.  Accuracy – sharing information that is truthful, objective, reliable and complete

“Transparency is no longer optional – it’s a basic consumer expectation for the entire food system,” Jones said. “There’s heightened interest about what’s in food, who’s producing it, how it’s produced and how it impacts health. Don’t expect to ‘fly under the radar’ – access to information makes that impossible.”

Lead with shared values and trust, Jones suggested. Don’t forget about science and facts, but lead with the shared values.

He said there are three things you can do:

1.  Begin your public engagement using shared values

2.  Open the digital door to today’s veterinary practice – find ways to make what you do transparent

3.  Commit to engaging early, often and consistently

Remember that who you are is very important. Think about the words and phrases you’re using. This is true for anyone involved in agriculture.