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Our Food Has a Story ... but is Anybody Listening?

By Shelley Jones, Manager, Agriculture Awareness, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

We know maintaining the public’s trust in modern agriculture is vital to achieving long-term growth of the industry and we all share responsibility in telling our story. But, building that trust is difficult without understanding what society’s concerns are with farming and food production. Our stories will fall on deaf ears if we fail to address them.  

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture has participated in omnibus surveys since 2013, to help gain insight into what the public thinks, assess the impact of awareness initiatives, and establish benchmarks for future efforts. The 2016 survey, completed in June, asked 800 Saskatchewan residents their opinions on agricultural technologies (including genetic modification), livestock welfare, food safety, farm management and the impact agriculture has on society and the environment. It also gauged the public’s knowledge of credible sources of agriculture information and their overall trust of farmers and ranchers.

It’s encouraging to see the majority of respondents recognize the benefits of agriculture (96 per cent), strongly support farmers and ranchers’ use of modern technology (93 per cent), and have a positive perception of the industry (89 per cent).

But despite this support for farmers, responses illustrate there is still plenty of work to do to build awareness around and trust in production practices and Canada’s robust regulatory system, especially with women. Only 38 per cent of respondents believe that all food in the grocery store is safe and just 48 per cent trust food made from genetically modified technologies.

We’ll improve our chances of having our food stories heard when we tell them by connecting the practices and protocols in question to shared values. As parents, and food producers, we all value safe, healthy and nutritious food – let’s share the story of how we feed the food we produce to our own families and why we feel confident doing so. As a society, we all want to protect the soil, air, water and biodiversity for future generations – let’s talk about how we produce food sustainably. As animal owners, we all take care to ensure livestock are treated humanely – let’s chat about the codes we follow to safeguard that. We all value the quality of life we enjoy in Saskatchewan – let’s have a dialogue on how modern technology allows us to make food affordable, leaving about 90 per cent of our disposable income to be spent on other things important to us.   

Consumers want to hear the food story from you. According to the 2016 Canadian Public Trust Research from The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, Canadian’s impressions of farmers (69 per cent) are more favorable than doctors/nurses, friends/family, humane societies and scientists!  So this Ag Month, tell them how you produce safe, nutritious, affordable food, sustainably.  Listen to consumers’ concerns, and answer them honestly, with transparency, passion and pride!  Food connects all of us, we just need to do a better job of explaining how, and why!

For more information, read the full omnibus report.

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