Trust, transparency and communication are key for the agriculture industry in order to win over consumers and inform them that their food is safe and healthy. This was the takeaway from Dr. Christine Daugherty, vice president of sustainability for Tyson Foods, who spoke at the Women in Production & Processing Leadership Luncheon at the 2016 International Production and Processing Expo in Atlanta on January 27.

Dr. Daugherty, who leads Tyson’s sustainable food production efforts including farm animal well-being, responsible sourcing and natural resource conservation, spoke to the group of women about her own path into the poultry industry, as well as about why everyone in the industry – especially women – need to be advocates for the meat and poultry industry.

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Dr. Christine Daugherty advised women in the agribusiness industry to reach out to consumers in order to create trust in those who produce their food.

Dr. Daugherty, who holds numerous degrees and has previously worked for NASA, explained that she loved her job researching how to grow plants for long-term space exploration, until a mentor steered her off that “safe path” and, eventually, into the poultry industry. Likewise, she said the poultry industry needs to get comfortable leaving the safe path, or talking in jargon among other industry members, and opt for the “narrow or crooked” path. By that, Daugherty meant that the poultry industry needs to reach out to consumers and those outside of the industry to communicate its message and understand skeptics’ concerns.

She pointed to a poll that found just 22 percent of Americans surveyed trust that the agriculture industry is transparent about its food production practices, and only 19 percent believe that food manufacturers are being transparent with their policies. She went on to say that 53 percent of people surveyed believe the majority of today’s farms are large, corporate-owned entities; while in reality, 91 percent of all farms are considered “small farms.”

Industry must reach out

Dr. Daugherty cited many examples of consumer mistrust or misinformation, saying the average consumer is so far removed from the farm that they don’t know what to think – making it critical for the industry to step in and bridge the gap.

“We must be willing to show and communicate that agriculture is trustworthy, transparent and sustainable,” Dr. Daugherty told the audience, continuing that this communication must change drastically from what has been done in the past decade.

One way of the most effective ways of doing this is by communicating shared values, which the Center for Food Integrity says are three to five times more important than competence, skills or expertise in building consumer trust. She said that consumers are more likely to trust information from “the scientist mom” and friends and family than government agencies, trade groups and academia. So, in order to change the conversation, it is especially important that women in the agriculture industry engage with their friends, family, community leaders and others in their circle to communicate that the industry and consumers are, indeed, on the same path – everyone desires safe food for themselves and their families.

The Women in Production & Processing Leadership Luncheon was presented by WATT Global Media and sponsored by Zoetis.

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