How do you define a “consumer movement?”

Posted: 8/1/2012

Posted By:  Kelly Nelson

When lobbying against modern agriculture, activist groups like HSUS often refer to “consumer movements” against certain practices or issues.  That term sounds impressive, but how exactly do you define a “consumer movement?”

Ongoing debates about gestation pens in pork production are a great example.  HSUS and other groups say decisions about retailers and food service companies phasing out gestation pens are the companies’ response to a consumer movement.  However, these issues aren’t even the radar for the majority of consumers. 

Each summer, Ag United for South Dakota, hosts a series of “Day Out on the Farm” tours to help consumers learn more about where their food comes from and how farmers care for livestock. 

Interested consumers commit a significant amount of time – often an entire day -- to spend driving around touring hog, beef cattle, dairy cow, and poultry barns.  (And, in this summer’s heat, that is quite a commitment. )

Tour participants are also a passionate group.  They sign up because they are truly interested in knowing where the food they feed their families is produced.  They often have a number of tough questions and many do their homework on livestock or other agriculture-related issues before coming on the tour.  Farmers at tour stops and on the bus have fielded questions about everything from livestock care in confinement barns to hormone/antibiotic use, and GM crops and pesticide use and farm subsidies.   More tour participants also consider themselves avid “label readers”  when they visit the grocery store.

At a recent Mom’s Day Out on the Farm stop at a hog farm, Hannah Wilkes from Pipestone Veterinary Clinic asked the group if anyone had heard of gestation pens.  No one in the group raised their hand.  Hannah and others explained what a gestation pen is and how it is used, and the women seemed to understand. 

Granted, this was a small sample.  But, if no one in an informed group of consumers in a rural state is aware of the issue, what is the knowledge level of the rest of the consumer population?  Probably not as high as groups like HSUS would have you believe. 

This is just another reason that we in agriculture need to work hard to generate a REAL consumer movement supporting farmers and modern agriculture production.  Every time we reach out to someone to answer questions honestly, address concerns, and put a face on livestock and crop production, it makes a difference. 


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