By Tom Collins
ALVINSTON — Farm & Food Care Ontario’s champion says farmers aren’t losing the battle against animal activists even though the activists are changing the agricultural landscape.
Carolynne Griffith, a 74-year-old Alvinston egg farmer in Lambton County, says activists have forced farmers to step up and tell their story in a way they’ve never needed to before. As former chair of the Egg Farmers of Ontario and now a director on the Farm & Food Care Canada board of directors, she has answered thousands of questions from consumers over the years. She was presented with Farm & Food Care Ontario’s champion award in April.
She argues that farmers need to work at keeping their good reputation because when you lose that, it’s extremely hard to get back.
“Once you’re defined as mean and inhumane and cruel to your animals, it’s really hard to find the words from your industry to say that you aren’t,” she says. “You know you aren’t but how can you say it in a soundbite that resonates with consumers that have no idea what you do, or why you do it or how you do it?”
Griffith knew egg farmers needed to be better self-promoters about 12 years ago when she was the chair of the Egg Farmers of Ontario and conducted focus groups. They consisted mainly of university-educated women between the ages of 25 and 45. Not only had none of them ever met a farmer but they believed that farmers didn’t live on farms.
“They thought, (farmers) were like everybody else,” she says. “They went to work from 9 to 5 in the factory. We knew whatever we had been saying up to that point had no connection at all to who we were or what we did. They thought factory farm. We did six focus groups and that theme came through every one.”
Those focus groups were the genesis of the ‘who made your eggs today’ marketing strategy, a campaign designed to show consumers that eggs are produced by farmers, not large factory farms.
“We never thought about telling our story,” says Griffith. “We never had a message because we assumed everyone knew where our food came from.”
Griffith says activists haven’t created a volatile relationship between consumers and farmers. And studies back her up on that. A Canada-wide poll last year showed farming was the second-most respected job in the country. Farmers were more respected than doctors and teachers. Ninety-one percent of respondents had a positive impression of farmers. Nurses came first at 92 per cent.
But the public admits it barely has a clue about how a farm operates and farmers need to step up their public relations efforts or animal activists will control the agenda. The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s web-based survey in March, 2016, shows 93 per cent of respondents say they know a little, very little or nothing about Canadian farming practices in general.
While the end goal of animal activism is to appeal to the consumers’ emotions to try to ban all animal agriculture, Griffith says public relations is key to combating activists’ claims. Talking to the consumer and holding events like Breakfast on the Farm helps get the agricultural story out.
“In the past, we haven’t said what we’ve done and why we do it,” she says. “It’s never wrong to do the right thing, and as far as I’m concerned, at the moment we’re doing the right thing to ensure people they don’t need to be afraid of the food they eat.”