The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2020 Stakeholder Summit, themed “Primed & Prepared,” equipped food and agriculture stakeholders with the tools needed to bridge the gap between farm and fork. The Alliance hit an attendance record with 515 attendees registering for the first-ever virtual Summit, held May 7-8.
Sustainability leaders in animal agriculture provided their thoughts on where the industry is headed in the future as environmental stewardship continues to be a top-of-mind concern for many stakeholders.
“We want to get better, and we want to talk about it,” said Claire Masker-King, director of sustainability communications with the National Pork Board, during a preconference webinar leading up to the Virtual Summit. Other speakers noted that most sectors along the food supply chain realize they have a part to play and an opinion to share in sustainability discussions, but they need to work collaboratively to achieve their goals. There are more things in common between stakeholders outside of the animal ag industry than not, added Eric Mittenthal, vice president of sustainability at the North American Meat Institute.
Groundbreaking findings were shared as researchers detailed their work in measuring consumer opinions through the use of biometrics including functional neuroimaging and eye movement tracking. “How people answer questions in surveys and what they buy aren’t necessarily the same,” said Jessica Meisinger, PhD, North American sustainability lead of Merck Animal Health, a partner in the study explained to Virtual Summit attendees.
“When you look at brain and eye movement information, you can definitively tell what consumers feel,” Meisinger said. Research findings suggest that items perceived as “riskier,” such as antibiotics and hormones, have greater potential for perception changes due to the increased time spent thinking about these items.
In another Virtual Summit session, three registered dietitians provided insight into cultivating trust in our food and staking a claim on the plant-based plate. “Agriculturally, you work together, and on the plate, you work together too,” said Nicole Rodriguez, RDN at Enjoy Food, Enjoy Life. “We’re looking to eat more fruits and vegetables, and we’re enjoying those meat products.” When engaging with the public about food choices, speakers recommended advocates share their story, know where they stand on issues, and be clear about what common buzz words mean to them since everyone defines them differently.
Animal welfare was also a recurring discussion throughout the Virtual Summit. In one session, Candace Croney, PhD, director for the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University, shared that animal agriculture can better communicate about animal welfare by leading with vision and values, rather than the facts.
“People don’t care how much you know about the topic until they know how much you care,” Croney said. According to Croney, animal welfare discussions are usually centered around showing how animals are cared for rather than the animals being cared about. She provided some food for thought when she asked, “Are we talking about food or are we talking about animals?” Farmers need to show that how animals are treated matters, outside of production practices and benefits.
A panel of farmers who are on the front lines of discussions surrounding food and farming was also featured at the Virtual Summit, and they emphasized that it’s vital to work together to reach consumers to build common ground. “We don’t all have to agree, but we need to stand united,” said Tara Vander Dussen, a New Mexico dairy farmer also known on social media as New Mexico Milkmaid.
The panel of social media superstars agreed that products should be marketed without bashing others – if your product is good and you believe in it, you should only have to talk about your brand. They also pointed out that farmers need to be mindful of what is said on social media and the implications that could come from it.
Steve Lerch, former Google executive and founder and president of Story Arc Consulting, wrapped up this year’s Virtual Summit identifying ways to build trust. “Trust is almost as important to consumers as quality and value,” he said. According to Lerch, the consumers the farming community is trying to reach – the moveable middle – are often the ones that are paying the least attention to outreach efforts. He suggested leading with an entertaining story to grab someone’s attention before diving into the facts. He also noted, “You can’t be all things to all people.” Brands should stay focused on their core product instead of trying to deliver everything.
To read more of the intriguing insights shared at the Virtual Summit, check out the highlights report released today by the Alliance: https://animalagalliance.org/resource/2020-stakeholders-summit-highlights-report.
The 2021 Summit is set for May 5-6 at the InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. Stay tuned to summit.animalagalliance.org and #AAA21 for event updates.
Thank you to our 2020 Summit sponsors for helping to make this event possible: Watt Global Media, Farm Journal, Meatingplace, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Smithfield, National Pork Board, American Feed Industry Association, United Soybean Board, The National Provisioner, Elanco, Country Folks, Dairy MAX, Farm Credit, National Biodiesel Board, United Egg Producers, Zoetis, Cobb Vantress, Inc., Protect the Harvest, Progressive Dairyman, Agri Beef, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Veal Association, Empirical, Kemin, National Chicken Council, Trans Ova Genetics, Vivayic, Mountaire Farms, North Carolina Farm Bureau, Brakke Consulting, Food Industry Environmental Network and Eggland’s Best.
The Alliance also thanks the following members for their continued support of Summit and other Alliance programs: U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, Alltech, Inc., Cattle Empire, LLC, Charleston|Orwig, Diamond V, Genus PLC – PIC/ABS, Hy-Line North America LLC, Iowa Soybean Association, Merck Animal Health, National Turkey Federation, Nutrien, Aviagen Group, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cargill