Charlie Arnot

(Eric) Here is the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Food Integrity, Charlie Arnot. (Charlie) The Center for Food Integrity is a not-for-profit organization, with a, primarily focused in the U.S. with affiliates in Canada and Australia as well. And our mission is to build trust in today’s food system. And we work with a number of different stakeholders, over 150 different members and project partners, ranging from farmers and farm organizations, to food processors, retailers, restaurants and their various associations. All working collectively on finding strategies to built trust in today’s food. (Eric) What inspired this initiative? (Charlie) A group of organizations came together in 2007 and were increasingly concerned about the growing lack of trust in today’s agriculture and in today’s farming, and began to look at different approaches and different strategies. And historically in ag we’d always relied on kind of science and attacking our attackers and traditional public relations to protect our interests. This group was trying to focus on, rather than trying to defend an interest, how do we go about building trust in who we are and what we do? And so that really was the genesis for creating the Center for Food Integrity, was a desire to take a different approach. And instead of defending who we are and what we do, how do we go about building trust in today’s food and agriculture. (Eric) I want to reiterate and stress the breadth of entities that are represented by this Center throughout all aspects of agriculture. (Charlie) Yes, it’s incredibly diverse and that’s by design. I mean, one of the strengths of the Center is we have no natural constituents, we don’t defend or protect or speak on behalf of any particular sector or brand. That enables us to bring a very diverse group of stakeholders together. We think there’s plenty of room for everyone in the marketplace. So, whether you produce organic or conventional or natural or whatever it happens to be, there’s plenty of room. And we think that giving consumers the information they need to make informed choices can be very helpful in building trust in the entire system. We surveyed 6,000 U.S. consumers over three years, asking them questions about on-farm animal care, sustainability, food safety, nutrition, a whole range of different topics. And what we found was that confidence, or the perception of shared values is three to five times more important than demonstrating technical competency in building trust. It’s helping people make a connection with the men and women involved in agriculture and farming. What’s interesting today, we’ve gone from mass communication to masses of communicators with social media. It’s really important that we understand the importance of being engaged in the conversation. So, it’s less about telling. It’s less about sharing information and it’s more about listening. It’s about embracing skepticism and then participating in a dialogue in a way, so that people understand that you appreciate their concerns, you’re willing to listen and then you have information that’s relevant to them.

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