Why Do Consumers Believe HSUS and Not You?

I know you care what your customers think, because one of the most-read stories on the National Hog Farmer Web site the past few weeks reports on a consumer perception survey conducted by Purdue University last summer. Here’s what else I know, you are doing a good job caring for your animals and producing a safe, affordable pork product. But are consumers aware of the real story behind how pork is produced? 

I know you care what your customers think, because one of the most-read stories on the National Hog Farmer Web site the past few weeks reports on a consumer perception survey conducted  by Purdue University last summer.

Here’s what else I know, you are doing a good job caring for your animals and producing a safe, affordable pork product. But are consumers aware of the real story behind how pork is produced?

Here’s an alarming revelation - when consumers were looking for that very information about pork production, and when asked which sources they frequented most to find answers, survey participants most often cited the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).  In fact, more people turned to HSUS and PETA for animal welfare information about your industry than all pork industry groups, government agencies and scientific sources combined!  How do you feel about that?

The Purdue survey involved 798 participants from a nationally representative sample. Researchers collected information regarding product purchasing, perceptions about pig welfare and sources of animal welfare information. Survey participants were also asked when they last visited a farm that raised animals for meat, milk or egg production. Only 31% had visited such a farm within the last five years. Nearly one-third had never visited such a farm at all.

More and nore, pork producers are recognizing the importance of reaching out to their urban consumers. For example, the Minnesota Pork Board (MPB) and Minnesota Pork Producers Association recently introduced “Oink Outings” as a way to listen and respond to consumer questions and concerns about how pigs are raised and cared for.

The primary Oink Outings components are farm tours and booth events that are designed to bridge the farmer-consumer knowledge gap. Farm tour participants are metro-area moms and the booth events take place at Twin Cities’ venues, such as farmer’s markets and community events. The program was developed after research showed that a vast majority of Minnesotans trust livestock farmers and veterinarians to make the appropriate decisions on livestock care, but consumers had modest  concerns about the treatment of farm animals.

A similar collaborative outreach program is coordinated by the Ag United for South Dakota group, comprised of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, South Dakota Cattleman’s Association, South Dakota Corn Growers Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Soybean Association, South Dakota Dairy Producers and South Dakota Poultry Industries Association. Ag United organizes “Mom’s Day Out on the Farm” and “Farms After Five” bus tours. Producers and livestock veterinarians accompany urban dwellers to answer questions and share perspectives during farm visits.

Another worthy outreach effort was unveiled this week with the formation of the Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition (IFAC). This newest entity is designed to answer Iowans’ questions about farm animal care and to providefarm animal care resources to help ensure all Iowa farm animals benefit from the latest science-based animal care standards. IFAC is a collaborative effort that includes farmers from the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa State University Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

As we’ve learned from consumer comments on the National Hog Farmer Web site and our related Facebook page, lots of people are having their say, both through social media and in cyberspace. It sure would be nice if they had accurate information to share. Are you working to reach out to your consumers? What outreach efforts do you think the pork industry needs to pursue?

The Purdue researchers noted that the alarming statistics about where consumers are getting their information should lead to questions about the effectiveness of communication between agricultural industries and consumers.  Why are the animal protection groups more successful at connecting with consumers?”

Let us know what you think by posting your comments or email your thoughts to lora.berg@penton.com.

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