NEW CENTRE HOPES TO BUILD PUBLIC TRUST IN CANADA’S FOOD SYSTEM
BY KARIN OLAFSON
There’s a disconnect between what’s happening in Canadian agriculture and what Canadians think is happening in Canadian agriculture. To help Canadians better understand what’s going on in the fields and what ends up on their plates, a new food centre was launched this spring.
The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) is a division of Farm & Food Care, an Ottawa-based national organization that aims to build public trust in food and farming. Crystal Mackay, the CEO of Farm & Food Care, was personally involved in the creation of the new centre. According to Mackay, the centre collects data to get a true understanding of Canadian consumers and their perceptions of Canadian food and agriculture. Farm & Food Care then uses that data to connect with Canadians and have an honest, transparent conversation about agriculture and food. In a nutshell, the CCFI works together with Farm & Food Care to dispel food and agriculture myths, and to let Canadians know what’s actually happening and why.
The CCFI surveyed 2,510 Canadians in February and March to provide benchmark data for its report, 2016 Canadian Public Trust Research. The survey measured consumer concerns, gauged their attitudes toward Canadian agriculture and food, and identified Canadians’ main sources of information.
The survey found that Canadian consumers’ overall impression of agriculture is at a record high since 2006, but there are concerns that need to be addressed.Canadians are highly concerned about humane treatment of animals, environmental protection and food safety. Top food concerns included the use of hormones and antibiotics in farm animals, and the use of pesticides in crop production. Interestingly, 93 per cent of survey respondents self-assessed as knowing little or nothing about farming practices.
More than 90 per cent of respondents said their top three information sources were websites, Google and social media. Because credible information on food and agriculture isn’t always easy to find, Mackay said the first step to improving public trust is improving the online presence of credible information. “We are populating three websites with credible content: Best Food Facts, Virtual Farm Tour and The Real Dirt on Farming,” Mackay said. “Between those three resources, there is literally an answer to every question every Canadian should ever have about the food on their plate.”
The CCFI will conduct this research every year and continue to measure the benchmark data to monitor progress and re-evaluate Canadians’ opinions of food and agriculture.
Another way the Centre is beginning to improve trust is through direct engagement with key target audiences, including dieticians, food bloggers and science writers.
Rob McNabb, general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, believes that the CCFI will do a great service for Canadian agriculture’s perception among consumers.
“The public is much more removed from the farm than at any other time in our history,” said McNabb. “The public doesn’t necessarily understand what all is done to produce the food that is so abundant. We need to demonstrate that what we do—and why we do it—is both safe and sustainable.”
Mackay is also optimistic about the impact the centre could have on the Canadian agriculture industry: “I think, before now, there wasn’t the co-ordinated effort we really needed to have a conversation with Canadians who had questions,” she said. “Now, working together, we can truly make a bigger difference and help shape food for the future.”
David Smith has been brought on board as the business development lead for the CCFI. Smith’s extensive food industry experience includes management roles with Sobeys and McDonald’s in Canada, and Whole Foods Market in the United States. He is currently working to build the CCFI brand and membership base by meeting with potential funding partners in the food industry and helping current CCFI members to make the most of the centre’s resources.