The many factors that influence decision-making at the farm and throughout the food system related to animal welfare and responsible production practices were dominant themes at the 2013 Ohio Livestock Coalition (OLC) Annual Meeting and Industry Symposium, held today in Columbus, Ohio.   

“Ohio’s farming community is committed to ongoing innovation and improvement, so understanding the needs of today’s consumers and customers, and tomorrow’s agricultural leaders, is vital to our continued success,” said David White, OLC executive director. “The annual meeting provides farm organization leaders and farmers from across Ohio with a venue to hear from state and national agriculture leaders on key issues, and provides an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue and education that help us plan for the future.”

The meeting opened with Dr. Bruce McPheron, vice president of agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University, who discussed the goals and vision for the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and ways to strengthen the college experience to produce career-ready graduates.

Dr. McPheron’s presentation was followed by national and Ohio-based experts who discussed the diverse factors that influence animal welfare decisions by farmers and consumers.  Speakers covered the important topics of social responsibility, consumer engagement and developing the next generation of agricultural leaders.

David Fikes, vice president of consumer/community affairs and communications for the Food Marketing Institute, discussed the role of the farm community in helping food industry stakeholders achieve their social responsibility goals to meet consumer expectations.

“The amount of information consumers feel entitled to know about products they purchase is now moving at the speed of the internet and is dramatically changing the nature of the relationships between producers, manufacturers, retailers and customers,” said Fikes.  “The frequent result is a collision of consumers’ right-to-know and expectation of transparency on one hand and a supplier’s proprietary information and operational standards on the other.”

In addition to Fikes’ presentation, Erika Poppelreiter, account supervisor for Ketchum North American Corporate Practice, discussed ways that the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has built consumer trust in American agriculture.

“Consumers have questions about how their food is grown and raised, and it’s our jobs as farmers and ranchers to share that information. For far too long, the conversation about food production has been driven by those not directly involved in the process,” Poppelreiter says. “That’s why U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance works with those in the agriculture industry to share our research and tools to lead and drive an accurate dialogue with consumers about food production.”

Dr. Glynn Tonsor, associate professor at Kansas State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, discussed the growing consumer interest in animal welfare practices and how public perceptions and expectations impact animal agriculture and the food system.

"The economic implications of growing public interest in animal welfare and subsequent responses by the meat and livestock supply chain are growing and diverse," he said. "Growing public interest is appearing in the form of meat demand impacts, growing product differentiation efforts, and production restrictions following regulatory and legislative adjustments. Understanding the economic impact of animal welfare discussions on individual firms as well as global comparative advantages is imperative for sound decision making of today's meat and livestock industry operators and managers."

The OLC, formed in 1997, is a statewide trade organization consisting of diverse agriculture organizations and individual farmers committed to advancing environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable livestock farming practices.