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The problem with public trust and traceability in farming

The president of Bayer CropScience Canada, Al Driver, had just finished talking about why his company decided to purchase Monsanto — and how that would affect farmers — when the question of public trust came up.
“It’s the No. 1 issue facing agriculture,” said a farmer attending the keynote at Farm Forum in Calgary. “We need to get through to consumers. We need to change their minds about agriculture.”
And it’s here that I’m going to berate my own industry. The value of me doing so is to show you, the consumer, that we’re capable of being critical of ourselves and our own industry.
Farmers are not going to get the positive attention of lawmakers with incessant messaging to those that don’t happen to farm that they need to change their attitude towards GMOs, glyphosate or neonics.
‘If we just show them the science, they’ll change their minds,’ is something I hear often. It bothers me.
Science is great and I agree that we need to find ways to better expose the public to the monumental amount of research being conducted in the agriculture industry. But of those farmers calling for a science-based approach to policy and legislation, how many are also ignoring mainstream science on issues such as climate change, relying instead on “wingnuts” or disgraced pundits?
Go ahead. This column isn’t about climate change. But people are watching. They’re always watching. And people are perceptive. When you yell at them to listen to science, but then you yourself are choosy about the reports you read or expose yourself to, don’t be surprised when your audience dwindles and your impact lessens.
I was sitting in the audience at the Calgary event. The farmer had just asked the question about public trust and Mr. Driver was responding. I was struck by the magnitude of agriculture’s desire to secure the trust of the entire public.
It’s a big ask. It’d be nice, but is it necessary? Does the industry need to cripple itself getting through to lobby groups and fringe groups whose attitudes value opposition over truth? I was also struck by the notion that the answer to the question of how to change someone’s mind is one every farmer should be asking him or herself. When was the last time your mind was changed? How did that happen?
Farmers need to apply logic and intellectual rigour to their own industry, their own operations and their own positions. Those who are outspoken in the industry need to be mindful of the positions they take. They need to draw inward and analyze exactly what it is they’re asking of the public when they call for its trust — when farmers back trends such as “eat local.”
The U.S. Farm Bill has almost received all the needed approvals, after having been stripped naked and walked through multiple stages of hecklers, supports and partisan rock-throwers.
Some beef and pork producers in the U.S. were hoping that this bill, which includes nearly US$900 billion of agricultural subsidies, would mandate Country-of-Origin-Labelling (COOL) on some imported products. Canadian producers have opposed this move, arguing in part that such legislation will negatively affect exports and only exacerbate the U.S.’s already protectionist marketplace.
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