How farmers can keep building trust with the public

18 August 2021, 07:18 AM
  • Farmers were identified by innovation group EIT Food as the most trusted players in the food sector. Saskia Nuijten, director of communication and public engagement, explains how they can continue gaining support from the public
How farmers can keep building trust with the public

In June 2020, our largest ever TrustTracker study was conducted with 19,800 consumers across 18 European countries to measure trust in the food system and confidence in food products, and to investigate what has changed since the TrustTracker began in 2018 with a survey of just five countries. Across the board there was a significant increase in trust for the food system between 2019-2020, which could be associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and the gratitude felt by some to the sector for maintaining food supplies and access.

Of all players within the food sector, farmers were identified as the most trusted by the public in the EIT Food Trust Report 2020, with two-thirds (67%) of European consumers reporting that they trust farmers compared to just 13% that do not. Every year, consumers are asked about specific food system behaviours associated with the key trust determinants – competency, care and openness. In 2020, 64% of respondents said they felt farmers have necessary skills, 69% said farmers are doing a good job and 55% said farmers are honest about their role in the food system. Overall, 56% also stated that they felt farmers act in the public interest, this rises to 72% in the UK.

As part of our qualitative study, we also spoke to consumers across 12 European countries and almost all said they felt high levels of trust in small farms. Many had an idealised image of these farmers, calling them ‘custodians of the land’, ‘the backbone of the food industry’, ‘hardworking’, and ‘passionate’. They also felt sympathy for them as ‘the underdog’, ‘exploited’ and ‘underpaid’. There was, however, less trust in larger ‘industrial’ farms, with concerns voiced around intensive farming methods, animal welfare, GMO and the use of chemicals, pesticides and hormones – and a lack of information about these concerns.

Approachability and transparency

While there is no indication that trust will decrease, there are important factors farmers need to consider if they want to maintain, or grow, trust from the UK public. When asked for suggestions about what each part of the food system could do specifically to help build trust, consumers said that farmers need to be more approachable and get closer to the public.

People suggested public-facing web pages and more opportunities for them to visit or meet with farmers at markets could help. It was also stated that large farms in particular need to employ far more transparency and honesty about their processes and practices, and show what they are doing to minimise any negative impacts on animals and the environment. Consumers also highlighted that they find ‘organic’ a very useful trust signpost for ethical, sustainable and healthy farming practices.

Advancing net zero goals

In a bid to advance the farming industry and to better understand and build consumer trust for farmers, EIT Food works with farmers through a number of programmes and initiatives. The EIT Food North West Regional Office, for example, has started to work with stakeholders across the UK and Ireland to explore how the regional livestock industry may help countries to achieve net zero targets. Early indications suggest that rather than considering each company individually, a holistic, integrated approach to any targets would benefit the industry.

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