Story and photos by Melissa Poet
According to Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI), the agriculture industry has been losing consumer trust, not through government legislation, but by social control. In early March, he informed the public of the effects social media and a misinformed society is now having on the industry. As a part of the Upson Lecture Series hosted by the K-State student group Food for Thought, Arnot presented “Size Matters: Why We Love to Hate ‘Big Food’” where he addressed this very challenge.
Big Food is the consolidation, integration, industrialization and adaptation of technology in food, which creates the same skepticism people have on other issues today.
Today food is safer, more available and affordable, but consumers are more worried. Why should they be worried? The cause of worry, Arnot explained, is due to the change in communication technology. He drew a comparison between the loss of trust in the agriculture industry today to that of the decrease in social optimism due to the media coverage of our nation’s events starting in 1968. Now people are questioning everything they see or hear because the cultural norm is to be skeptical.
In the past 45 years there has been a social shift in authority, social consensus, communication and progress. Social control has affected the way people are informed. The loss of trust in the industry leads people to trust information from opinions, not science. Through social media platforms and other questionable sources, the agriculture industry has been taking hits. One incident Arnot highlighted was lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or “pink slime” as the media named it. He encouraged those in the industry to hold each other accountable, because if someone messes up, it hurts the industry as a whole.
The CFI and Arnot have taken on the task of figuring out why society wants to be more knowledgeable and how to overcome the bias of “Big Food.” To do this, they want to build trust by becoming transparent to society. In their efforts to build trust through transparency, the CFI recommends the following seven steps to overcome bias and misinformation:
3. Stakeholder Participation
Arnot explained this process is difficult.
“If you are going to be transparent, you need to have a backbone,” he said. “It will most likely get worse at first.”
The industry is going to need to be strong and supportive in tough times. These seven steps will help the public to have more trust in the industry and give them a reason to fight for it. By doing this, all sizes of industry big and small, are likely to be supported.
After all, an industry that feeds you is an industry worth fighting for.