Perception of public trust in Canadian agriculture

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If you’re a farmer in Canada today, you’ve probably felt frustrated more than once about the way people perceive modern agriculture. It’s a little mind-boggling how we can accept technological advancements in all areas of our lives except when it comes to our food chain.

But the thing people don’t seem to understand is that the advancements in agtech are a great benefit to society, just like the other technological advancements. The improvements that have been made in agriculture create more stable and more sustainable food sources for the world.

With less than 2 per cent of Canadians directly operating a farm, the gap in consumer understanding of where their food comes from and how farmers grow food is widening. This article takes a closer look at the perception of and misconceptions about Canadian agriculture.

Farmers and agricultural scientists are getting bad publicity

The truth, as you likely already know, is that modern science has made food crops more readily available to more people so that they have access to healthy food, but scare tactics around food science have made some consumers nervous about agricultural techniques.

There’s no reason to believe though, that advancements in agricultural and food science would be to the detriment of humans. It’s really quite similar to advancements in medical science. The technology is made to improve people’s lives, not harm them. In fact, plant biochemist Dean Della Penna from Michigan State University believes that genetically engineered foods are the key to advancements in agriculture and human health.

The funny thing about this whole controversy is that we humans have been genetically altering our food for tens of thousands of years. Every time that humans have crossed two species or “cherry-picked” which plants to keep seeds from, we have altered the genetic future of those plant species.

In the same way that new breeds of dog are created by selecting for the characteristics we like, new varieties of plants are also created by selecting seeds from the plants with the characteristics we like. This is not Frankenstein science, like some people like to present agricultural technology; we’ve just found better and more efficient ways now to get the best results from our plants.

So, as agricultural professionals, what do we do to convince the public that modern agricultural techniques are safe, reliable, and trustworthy? It’s time to bring nutrition and agriculture conversations together as we can’t talk about one without talking about the other.

The good news about public perception of agriculture

Fortunately, our citizens are not fools. According to CCFI (Canadian Centre for Food Integrity) research, Canadians value affordable and healthy food over healthcare, economy, and energy. That is definitely a step in the right direction. The public simply needs more education about the food options made available to them.

Predictably, 93% of Canadians know nothing or little about food production, as the CCFI indicates. However, 60% are willing to rectify that lack of knowledge, which is closely tied to environmental concerns and animal welfare.

What this tells us is that the people who actually know about agriculture need to be the ones informing the public about it. After all, all Canadians deserve the opportunity to make informed choices about their food and be a part of Canada’s Farm Story. This opportunity requires credible information based on sound science, not scare tactics from critics of the food system or from corporate propaganda.

The bottom line

Farmers today are producing more food on less land and feeding more people, more cost-effectively, than ever before. Instead of celebrating innovations that make these efficiencies in agriculture possible, many consumers are fearful of them. There is clearly a disconnect from both sides and we must work collaboratively to effectively address this issue.

To learn more about what public trust means for your operation, be sure to attend the Quantified Farm Conference December 4th and 5th in Vancouver, BC. Visit www.quantifiedfarm.ca to register.

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