As you have likely noticed, there has been an uptick in antibiotic free messaging in marketing campaigns. You've likely seen labels at your local grocery story, and how this line of marketing has spilled over into restaurants. Companies try to differentiate themselves to gain loyalty and ultimately improve profits.
Welcome to the world of upscale fast food where consumers at least perceive that they are eating healthier.
As I look at these companies' websites, it's interesting how they are trying to achieve a different level of marketing by drawing the customer into participatory activities to communicate their message. For example, Panera's marketing campaign is interesting and engaging, and the message is clearly negative towards farmers who use antibiotics.
The difficulty with these types of campaigns is that restaurants are taking a stance, and promoting production practices that they perceive to either be "good" or "bad."
As producers, we need do a better job communicating importance of administering antibiotics judiciously. If a person is not from a farm or ranch background, it might be difficult for them to understand how you deal with several head of livestock that might need treatment at any time. What are the signs that you look for in your herd to know if you might need to administer antibiotics? What does your city cousin look for in their dog or cat to know if they need to take them to the vet? If their dog or cat needs antibiotics, would they treat them? It's similar with livestock.
Acknowledge the difference that livestock is being raised to eventually be consumed. Explaining that you must adhere to a withdrawal period and maintain records on your farm is probably information that most consumers aren't familiar with.
Frequently, you'll hear a seemingly shocking statistic that nearly 80% of antibiotics are given to animals. This article that I referenced in my Explaining Livestock Antibiotic Use to Consumers blog provides some context to the numbers, for example, considering the weight of an animal compared to a person and how many animals there are compared to humans. I would like to know what the breakdown is for antibiotic usage for livestock compared to pets considering the animals' body weight.
These numbers aside, what are real concerns of consumers? There are diseases that seem to be more prevalent today than in history, and a lot of people are just trying to figure out how this might impact their family.
On a Twitter chat about antibiotic usage, one rancher expressed the hope that as we seek the source of these diseases we're not solely focusing on antibiotic usage, but other potential areas as well.
Consumers have a lot of information thrown at them, and it's difficult to know where to spend dollars. Labeling offers peace of mind to some, but what do they really offer?
To review what various food labels mean, check out the CommonGround website for Label Lessons.