Dairy industry must react to disconnected consumers, conference panel says

March 11, 2009 07:00 PM

RENO – The dairy industry must proactively communicate the positive aspects of agriculture to today's disconnected consumers, a panel of industry representatives told attendees today at the 9th annual Western Dairy Management Conference.


Growing consumer interest in animal welfare and dairies' carbon footprint – fueled by well-funded activist groups -- means dairy producers must work to promote and protect their industry's image, the panel said during today's major session, "Assuring Dairy's Viability in a Changing World.”


"Consumers don't understand the great improvements agriculture has made, which creates opportunity for activists and detractors,” said panel member Charlie Arnot, CEO with the Center for Food Integrity.


"Activist groups are perceived to be driven by a commitment to principles, not self interest, which gives them credibility,” Arnot said. "The dairy industry is not perceived that way, which puts us at a disadvantage.”


To maintain what Arnot calls "social license” and freedom to operate, the dairy industry must articulate its commitment to doing what's right. It can build long-term consumer trust and confidence by balancing scientific verification of its practices, economic viability and ongoing communication with the public that shows the industry understands consumers' values.


"Failure to do so will result in the revocation of our social license and freedom to operate,” said Arnot.


Panel members Dr. Jan Shearer of the University of Florida and Dr. Gatz Ridell of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners urged producers to reevaluate all animal well-being aspects of their dairy, including housing, non-ambulatory animals, euthanasia and carcass disposal. Shearer pressed producers to remind employees that animal welfare is important on the dairy and that inappropriate handling and care of animals won't be tolerated.


Other panel members included:

·         Stan Erwine, Dairy Management Inc.

·         Rick Naczi, Dairy Management

·         Jorge Estrada, Leadership Coaching International


The three-day conference, which ends tomorrow, has drawn more than 1,400 dairy producers, researchers and industry representatives from across the nation.


Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at cmerlo@farmjournal.com.


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