Industry challenged to build up trust

Industry challenged to build up trust

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Building trust with consumers is a challenge that agriculture industry has faced for some time now, but it has become most apparent with the rise of animal activism.

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 AgCommunicators managing director Deanna Lush.

AgCommunicators managing director Deanna Lush.

BUILDING trust with consumers is a challenge that agriculture industry has faced for some time now, but it has become most apparent with the rise of animal activism.

AgCommunicators managing director and South Australian farmer Deanna Lush spoke at The University of Western Australia's recent Industry Forum, when she shared some insights on how the industry can build trust with people outside of the industry.

Throughout her travels to the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, Ms Lush has seen how other countries have struggled with and built trust in the industry among the public.

"When you look at what drives consumer trust, shared values are three to four times more important in building trust than sharing facts or demonstrating technical skills or expertise," Ms Lush said.

"This is quite a mindset shift for our industry.

"It means that to build trust, we in the ag industry need to demonstrate that we share their values (people outside the ag industry) when it comes to the topics that they care about, which could be food safety, quality nutrition, outstanding animal care, environmental sustainability and so on."

Ms Lush said the Canadian agriculture industry has quite a succinct framework for trust.

At the base is a foundation, which has them building trust in a way that involves transparency and continuous improvement.

Then there are three pillars; doing the right thing which involves industry standards about what that looks like in a particular industry and value chain roundtables who meet and discuss what doing the right thing is; a trusted assurance and verification system, which is the mechanism for measuring doing the right thing; and communication, which proves and communicates to people that the right thing is being done.

The roof of the framework or the hub is a co-ordination of support with a role that works between the different industries, fostering collaboration and helping them learn the strategies that are most successful.

"Trust is about doing the right thing - we all have a role to play to ensure that that happens," she said.

Ms Lush said building shared values provides some common ground with people, based on a mutual understanding, but "we have to get used to communicating in a landscape of emotion and confusion of whose science is right".

"We have to get used to leading with values to open the door with communicating our message," she said.

"And we have to be prepared that we might be asked to change - we might have to acknowledge that there might be behaviour in our farming community that is inconsistent with doing the right thing and our shared values.

"It is going to take time, effort and possibly some dollars.

"There is no silver bullet because at the end of the day, society does have the right not to buy what we produce if they don't feel that we are listening to them and producing products that meet their standards."

Ms Lush said there was not enough being done to engage with the general public as the industry had focussed on combatting anti-agriculture messages.

"I guess us in the ag industry consider a standard bell curve - you have the pro-ag people on one end and the anti-ag people on the other," she said.

"We spend a lot of time defending, pushing back and thinking about what the anti-ag movement is doing.

"But what are we doing about that big group in the middle?"

Referencing research for the Centre for Food Innovation, Ms Lush said that 65 per cent of people ("big group in the middle") had genuine questions about food and agriculture.

"I think we would say that the anti-ag end is doing a better job at engaging the 65pc in the middle," she said.

"Building trust is about engaging, being on the frontline and a taking leadership role, having a commitment to food and fibre production, evolving transparency and sustainability, engaging with consumers and the broader community to become aligned with their values and like that Canadian framework - doing the right thing, measuring it and communicating it, underpinned by transparency and continuous improvement."

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