2015 Spring - Will consumers stop agricultural technology?

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FPJ1203B - Arnot, C (2015), Building Trust When Science and Consumers Collide

FPJ1203B - Arnot, C (2015), Building Trust When Science and Consumers Collide, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 12, no. 3, Spring 2015, pp. 1-9, Surry Hills, Australia.

Fortified by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on scientific consensus in food production. How can the food system connect with consumers who reject science? The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) 2014 consumer trust research provides a model for making complex and controversial technical information relevant and meaningful – particularly to mums, millennials and foodies – bringing balance to the conversation, while helping consumers make informed decisions about food and building trust in today’s food system.

Technological advances in food and agriculture have provided countless benefits to society, but more must be done. Increased technology and innovation are needed in food production if there is to be enough food for a planet of 9 billion people by mid-century. Finding better ways to support the informed public evaluation of technologies and the food production system is a challenge. The goal should not be to win a scientific or social argument, but to find more meaningful and relevant methods to introduce science in a way that encourages thoughtful consideration and informed decision-making. How technical and scientific information is introduced is key to supporting informed decision-making.

CFI’s peer-reviewed and published model for building trust in today’s food system shows ‘confidence’ (shared values) is three-to-five times more important than ‘competence’ (skills and technical expertise or science) in building consumer trust. In other words, an increasingly sceptical public doesn’t care how much experts know until they know how much they care. A clear theme in CFI’s latest survey results is that food system experts can make a difference when they choose to engage by first establishing shared values and then providing factual, technical information that is relevant and meaningful. After confidence has been established, people are more willing to consider technical information, or competence, in their decision-making process.

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The availability and suitability of labour in the Australian agriculture sector is an issue that has been of concern for a number of decades, but appears to have become more significant recently, for a number of reasons. These include the continual migration of young persons from rural to urban areas, an apparent decline in the number of persons opting for a career in agriculture, and competition for labour from
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