Sustainability, consumer perceptions and building consumer trust discussed during first day of Summit.

“It’s about having a dialogue, not just telling a story,” said Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, Inc. at the 2015 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.  “We have this huge modern disconnect with agriculture; most of the consumers’ interaction with agriculture is the grocery store.”
 
A disconnect with consumers was a common talking point for all of the first-day Summit speakers noting that the agriculture industry has a great story to tell, but there is a lack of engagement with the audience that couldn’t survive without the farmers and producers. When there is no dialogue and engagement, consumers’ perceptions about our food supply will hinder the move towards a more sustainable and efficient future for everyone.
 
Another overarching topic was defining what sustainability actually means. “Sustainability means something different for whoever is talking about it,” Bruett said.
 
“Simply defined, sustainability is responsibility meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to responsibly meet their own needs,” Bruett said. He added that it’s more about finding a balance between three things: social responsibility, economically viable and environmentally sound.
 
John Graettinger, director of food chain affairs at Merck Animal Health discussed the topic of consumer trust on a panel alongside Mandy Hagan, vice president of state of affairs at Grocery Manufactures Association.
 
“We need to show our face because people like people,” Graettinger said. “If you put that face on our production facilities, we are going to go far.”
 
Hagan followed by introducing the notion that the agricultural industry needs to make the conversation about the consumers and show how agriculture benefits them, not just the companies, especially when talking about technology in agriculture. Hagan gave the example of GM crops and how adding vitamin A to a developing world’s staple food could save lives.
 
“Our side of the story is much more complicated,” Hagan said. “If it’s a benefit for the consumer then the dialogue will change. I don’t think it’s too late.”
 
To close out the first day, two bloggers from the Alliance’s blogger tour took the stage and shared their personal experiences as well as how their new role in the industry can have a positive impact for farmers and consumers.
 
Ilina Ewen, writer for the blog Dirt & Noise, said that the experience for her was very “eye-opening” and said the agriculture is really about family, people and culture. “Food in this country is something we take for granted and [the tour] made me value our food system,” Ewen said. “The passion that is demonstrated in ag is unparalleled to any other industry.”
 
Lisa Frame, writer for the blog A Daily Pinch, shared that she came from a farming family and that agriculture is really about “becoming part of a family” and that her experience made her and Ewen a part of the family. “We are vested in your fishbowl now,” Frame said.
 
The Summit continues today through noon in Kansas City, Mo. To learn more about the event sessions, please visit www.animalagalliance.org/summit. You can also follow along with the live Twitter feed at #AAA15.