Communication without bias
By Joe Horner, Economist
|Craig Payne, Ray Massey, Rex Ricketts, Chris Chinn of Chinn Hog Farms, and Wes Jamison of Palm Beach Atlantic University, prepare for a Harvest Public Media production, “Digest This: The Messages and Motives Behind Farm and Food Controversies”, co-sponsored by the Food Dialogue Center.|
In 2011, the University of Missouri Extension, Commercial Agriculture Program (CA) was awarded a Mizzou Advantage grant to develop a Center where consumers could receive unbiased information on food, primarily based on university researched science. The Food Dialogue Center (FDC) is a work in progress that will encourage communication between consumer and producer at a site where consumer demands are more efficiently met and producer actions are more completely understood.
Dr. Ray Massey, CA program economist and one of three co-principals on the grant said, "The systems oriented approach developed and disseminated by the CA Program focus teams over the last two decades will be expanded and repackaged to foster a more efficient communication system between consumer and producer. Both education and media outlets will be integrated into the program."
The two other co-principal investigators, Drs. Rex Ricketts, CA director, and Craig Payne, CA veterinarian, are working with the entire CA Program staff and outside advisers to develop a central source where consumers can access information to guide their choices.
When most Americans made a living off the land or were only a generation removed, the complexities of food production, processing and preparation were visible. "Today, with only two percent of the citizenry involved in agricultural production and most citizens three to five generations removed from farming, a disconnect exists," said Massey.
"Most American consumers have never experienced hunger and consume an abundant variety of fresh and processed foods purchased in grocery stores and mega-marts. Most Americans have limited awareness of processing steps between the farm and grocer, attendant environmental regulation by government agencies, or the financial investment required to produce and transform grains, fruits and vegetables, and livestock into food."
A multitude of interest groups promote their views of food and food production on websites and via social media outlets. These groups frequently address food from a single perspective. But producers have multiple objectives that they are trying to satisfy in their food choices - taste, nutrition, safety, price and relationship with producer to name a few. The Food Dialogue Center will provide research that allows consumers to understand how a food purchase addresses many objectives. Often their objectives are at odds with each other so that making a decision based on only one interest group will not help them make an informed choice.
The United Nation's FAO 2009 report stated the world's population is expected to double in size by 2050. Food production must increase correspondingly in order to feed the record setting global population. Educating consumers of the diverse food perspectives of consumers will allow U. S. farmers to produce that food.
High efficiency, modern production practices have the opportunity to produce the quantity of food necessary while improving natural resources, promoting animal welfare and increasing food safety. Local and specialty niche farms will provide many of the other food qualities that affluent U.S. consumers are demanding.
"The relative low cost of U.S. food disguises the full range of qualities inherent in our food," said Massey. "While we may consciously purchase food for convenience and taste, we are largely unaware of its wholesomeness and safety until a news story reveals a national breech of existing safety protocols.
"Behind each food item on the grocery shelves, multiple government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are joined by commodity organizations and individual businesses to insure U.S. consumers have a safe food supply."
The mission of The Food Dialogue Center will be to reconnect consumers to current food production systems and to formulate strategies that help consumers to participate effectively in dialogue about current production practices.
Agriculture will continue to undergo rapid change. The FDC will strive to provide consumers with knowledge needed to be an effective participant in directing choice. The FDC will collaborate with colleges of agriculture and veterinary medicine as well as colleges of journalism and education. Links to industry, commodity organizations and other independent organizations will give interested consumers an opportunity to make inquiries and receive the most current information or multiple viewpoints presented without bias.
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