National Newswatch

Farm and food organizations have their own issues but maintaining public trust is one they must collaborate on.

 

Ottawa—When it comes to building and maintaining public trust in the food system, agriculture and processing organizations have to exit their silos and work together cooperatively, says Jean-Michel Couture of Groupe AGECO.

“We need a collective national approach to the issue and that includes ensuring we have the right ways to measure it,” he said in an interview about his presentation to a Public Trust Steering Committee (PTSC) workshop.

Developing public trust is “a long–haul project for the agrifood sector” he said. With the current level of interest in how food is produced, “it’s a challenge that’s here to stay. You have to make sure the message is being heard.”

Good is viewed as a public good and each part of the food system is being watched by the public, he said. “Agrifood is operating in a very unique system.

“We need a clear understanding of what’s already being done and how agrifood organizations are dealing with public views about the food system,” he said. “It’s not a matter where one size fits all but we have to discuss how we tell our story.”

It’s also important to have a reliable way of measuring public trust in food production practices that shows if progress is being made and why, he said.

As it currently stands, “there is no clear and consistent way to determine if, and to what extent, the activities undertaken by the overall industry and individual groups to build trust are effective.”

It’s necessary for agrifood to be able to prove its claims of food safety and sustainability and how the situation is steadily improving, he said. Then it must develop a strategy for communicating this information.

He also suggested that in addition to hard look at what’s working and what’s not in the agrifood industry, the sector should examine the steps the forestry and mining sectors are taking to develop public trust in their production practices and products. AGECO is a Quebec-based agrifood consulting firm that studies economic and social life cycle analysis and advises on corporate responsibility services.

Later this year, the PTSC will officially launch its program, which Couture said should set out an overall strategic plan along with one for every organization within the agrifood system and the way public trust will be measured. Organizations “will do their own business within the context of the Public Trust Framework. If everything is aligned, harmony is achievable.”

However the silos that dominate the agriculture sector need to be broken down, he said. “This is how pubic trust will work.”

The Framework will be able to use what works for one sector as an example for others to consider as part of their actions, he said.

PTSC was set up by the Canadian Centre for Public Integrity and Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Still to come is where the Public Trust Framework will be housed and who will run it.

 

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
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