"Consumers don't necessarily want to know how their food is made until they have a reason to doubt us, but once doubt creeps in, you have lost trust," said Alan Sterling, director of marketing, Wayne Farms. "We have lost some of consumers' trust because we chose to back off or stay away from difficult to discuss topics."
No topics were out of bounds during the WATT Global Media webcast panel discussion, Consumer trust and poultry: Bridging the gap between where we are and need to be, which was sponsored by Zoetis. An important component of building and keeping consumer trust mentioned by several panelists was transparency in the poultry industry.
Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president, food safety, quality and live operations, Perdue Farms, said that his company is trying to be as transparent as possible in an effort to build trust. "We have more people in to our facilities than ever to see what we do," Stewart-Brown said. "We have embraced having third-party groups in to see our operations, like the government, through our USDA process verified programs."
Dr. Carl Heeder, senior technical service veterinarian, Zoetis, said, "It is important to have transparency. We have to work around the biosecurity issues and let people see in our farms." He explained that access today can be expanded greatly just by employing available technology like webcams in houses.
How important is science?
The panelists were asked if science be trusted to guide stakeholders - poultry producers, governmental regulators and consumers - in their decision making, policies and choices? Dr. Michael Doyle, director, Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia, said, "Science is very important, but we have to let the science speak for itself. We can't let the political science decide the issue."
Science has its limitations when it comes to consumers already persuaded, according to Rich Kottmeyer, managing director of Strategic, a food, agricultural and retail consultancy. "Consumers don't like science being barfed on them," he said. Kottmeyer provided an analogy of your grandmother using ham hocks to make soup to get value of little scraps of meat that otherwise would have been wasted. Those scraps weren't pretty, but they sure tasted good in the soup. He said that this type of story should have been used to communicate how lean finely textured beef (LFTB) was just like what grandma would have done to get value out of scraps of beef at a processing plant.
Judicious use of antibiotics
Panelists were asked how influential the Veterinary Feed Directive proposed by FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which has veterinarians responsible for prescribing antibiotics, will be in gaining consumer trust regarding antibiotic use in poultry? Kottmeyer said that his research has shown this will only matter to consumers if the veterinarian is viewed in the same manner as the veterinarian who takes care of their pets rater than as the poultry company veterinarian.
Heeder explained that the new Veterinary Feed Directive doesn't remove antibiotics of importance in human medicine from use in food producing animals; it just eliminates use of these drugs from use for growth promotion or feed efficiency.