In the livestock sector, increasingly we approach January with a sense of trepidation. Why?
There is a belief that the month is now ‘owned’ by those who follow alternative lifestyle choices and set out to convert others while spreading misinformation and mischief around livestock farming. But we are looking at this the wrong way.
January should be seen as a huge opportunity to set the record straight, hold our heads high and shout about the positives of livestock farming in the UK. More eyes are on us than normal so let’s showcase what we do and how well we do it to keep this country eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Recent research from AHDB showed farmers are, by far, the most trusted link in the food supply chain, (71 per cent of consumers agree) with only six per cent disagreeing with the sentiment. Sixty-two per cent of people feel positive about British agriculture, with only five per cent of people negative towards it.
This is what our industry should be taking heart from and look towards the new year positively – not feeling under siege from the tiny minority of the population who cut out all animal products from their lives.
In the last year, 98 per cent of UK households bought red meat, while 99.8 per cent bought a dairy product. This is a higher number of households than bought loo roll! Our work with Kantar also reveals 78 per cent of food consumption decisions are based on taste and enjoyment, something both red meat and dairy offer in spades.
Throughout this month, and the next, and the next, AHDB will continue to use social media to push positive messages about our meat and dairy sectors, supported by advertorials in high-profile titles, and working behind the scenes social media influencers like Spencer Matthews, who had more than 5 million views on the recipe videos he did for AHDB before Christmas.
Spencer may not immediately resonate with the farming community, but he does with the audience we want to reach, those potentially being swayed by the non-evidence-based arguments against eating meat and dairy.
Alongside this, our high-profile advertising, like the pork TV campaign this month, will have nutrition messaging running through it to help set the record straight.
Disrupt the rhetoric
We have a great story to tell. We need to disrupt the rhetoric, like we did with the award-winning Department of Dairy Related Scrumptious Affairs dairy campaign, in partnership with DairyUK, reducing those in our target audience of young parents planning to switch to dairy alternatives by 14 per cent.
Beef and lamb produced in the UK needs few additional inputs. More than 90 per cent of the nutritional needs of cattle and sheep are met by grass or conserved sileage. Despite what others would say, we contribute only about three per cent of carbon emissions in the UK.
We also need better understanding that grazing livestock make best use of up to 60 per cent of UK agricultural land that cannot easily (or at all) be used to grow anything else for human consumption. Without it, we would be forced to import much more to feed the growing population.
It should also be clear that the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in the world. Some products sourced on the international markets lack the same levels of transparency within the supply chain.
The myth that farmers don’t take care of their animals needs to be busted. Livestock farmers do not follow this career because they don’t like animals any more than a mechanic chooses to fix cars if he hates engines. We need to call out though those who do not uphold the standards expected. The bad practices of the few reflect on the many but are not reflective of the agriculture sector more generally.
Present a united front
To coin a marketing term, all of those working in livestock farming need to act as brand leaders, which means pulling together, presenting a united front with consistent, evidence-based messaging. Throwing rocks at each other to score points only helps those who would seek to convert the bulk of the population to diets devoid of animal products.
We need not waste time worrying about what those who are promoting alternative lifestyle choices are doing. We can be guilty of being oversensitive, so feel every time a negative comment appears on Twitter, the whole world is against us. They are not.
Knee-jerk reactions to the noisy minority, chasing down anyone who tweets a half-truth about meat, is not best use of our energies. That is not to say we cannot do more to improve in our sector, nor ignore it every time the BBC decides to report on farming. A lack of balanced argument will continue to be challenged, as AHDB has done this year with the BBC, Cambridge University, the Advertising Standards Authority and other high-profile organisations.
However, we shouldn’t need to speak to the noisy minority. We need to speak to the silent majority who want to continue to enjoy our products as part of a healthy, balanced diet but need the permission to do so.
Through our work at AHDB and your work elsewhere, through highlighting all the good things about livestock production in the UK, we can do that and that is where our focus will be.To maintain trust, agriculture must review and sometimes adapt its practices to demonstrate where its values are shared with society’s. We can use our strengths as a springboard, use this month wisely and reclaim January.