Consumers are asking questions about the food-production system they've never asked before, and agriculture needs to do a better job of answering those questions, panelists at a University of Nebraska-Lincoln lecture said last week.
The discussion, titled "What Does Agricultural Communication Mean in the 21st Century?," was the second lecture in the 2014-15 season for the Heuermann Lectures.
Moderated by Orion Samuelson, longtime agricultural broadcaster, panelists reflected on the challenges facing the agriculture industry in explaining the science of food production in an environment of low scientific literacy.
"People are looking at the food system and asking questions they've never asked before," said Kevin Murphy, owner and founder of Food-Chain Communication, a marketing organization devoted to helping food-chain stakeholders communicate more effectively.
Those questions often focus on the ethics and morality of food production and frame agriculture "as a problem, as a culprit in social ills," Murphy added.
Marcy Tessman, president of Charleston-Orwig, an integrated marketing business, said she encourages her clients in food production to "sit at the table with people with opposing views ... We need to be accessible, we need to be transparent," she says.
"Everybody should understand where their food comes from," said Barb Glenn, chief executive officer of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. "That's good for society, that's good for public health, that's good for stewardship of the environment."
Murphy noted that high school and college students are being taught the work of agriculture critics such as Michael Pollan and being shown slanted documentaries such as "Food Inc." but are not hearing voices speaking on behalf of agriculture.
Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of UNL's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said it makes good sense, especially in Nebraska, to integrate agricultural science into middle- and high-school curricula.
Green said, "Scientists are trained to not make value judgments," but rather to simply present their scientific findings. "I would argue we live in a world where we can't do that anymore."
The lecture will be archived on the Heuermann Lectures website.