Effective Ag Communications Need to Connect Producers and Consumers Ethically and MorallyFri, 16 Aug 2013 21:55:43 CDT
According to Kevin Murphy, owner and founder of Food Chain Communications, agricultural producers are losing the battle. They are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans. Murphy was in Oklahoma City Friday to speak to the International Leadership Alumni Conference. He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network’s Ron Hays after his presentation.
He says the communications world has changed dramatically and the agricultural industry needs to change with it. While such campaigns as “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” may have worked in the past, they aren’t working now. Opponents of the modern food industry have understood the change in the communications paradigm and have been using that knowledge successfully to turn the public against such practices as gestation crates in the pork sector and genetically-modified grains in the farming sector.
Even before those more recent attacks, Murphy saw an opportunity to help agricultural producers.
“I started Food-Chain Communications in 2007 with the idea of helping people in food communicate. Now, the reason I did that was there was a study done in the late 1990s by Phillip Morris Corporation and it had a graph that showed everybody in our food system communicated to the person they sold to. And then, after that, all communication ceased. My job was to then seize that opportunity and to see that there was now a chance for me to connect farmers to, say, grocers because those people are not speaking to each other in our normal food system enough.”
In 2009, Murphy launched Truth in Food www.truthinfood.com a web site devoted to addressing the political, social, philosophical and theological issues that often cascade around food. And that was just the beginning. From building bridges where there were none to fighting misinformation, Murphy has been engaged in helping the food industry stand up deliver the truth.
“There are people who come to conclusions about agriculture that have no relationship with agriculture. And that’s the goal—to connect them.”
At its root, Murphy says, effective communication is about morality and ethics. While emotion and knowledge may play their parts in swaying opinion, deep down at their core, people respond to ethical principles. And the opponents of modern agricultural methods understand this and are using it very effectively to their advantage.
“If you look at the criticism that’s being leveled against agriculture, whether it be the absence claims of no hormones, no antibiotics, no whatever it is, and then the taking away of certain technologies, at its root it is an ethical criticism. It is criticizing the farmer for using certain tools and processes in his management and calling him unethical by employing those.
“Unfortunately our response has been through science or some other vehicle, most often scientifically. The problem is most people don’t speak scientific language so we have to convert and we have to understand that the criticism is lobbed at us from a moral perspective and be ready to answer from a moral perspective.”
The food system’s opponents have been very effective in using principles similar to those set forth in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. By singling out individual segments of the industry, like pork producers, the activists criticize their technology and then characterize the people who employ it as somehow being immoral or unethical. In so doing it renders those who were stigmatized as being unethical almost incapable of mounting an effective defense.
“There are three areas to an effective argument. There’s logos, pathos and ethos. Logos is the reason part. Usually we translate that to scientific reasoning which most people would say agriculture does well. There’s pathos, which is emotion which, everybody would agree, the activists do well. The final component is ethos and that is being able to make your argument on a moral, ethical basis. And that is the great, untapped region of making an argument for agriculture.”
Murphy says the arguments mounted by agriculture for the adoption of GMOs is a case in point. With European countries and some Asian countries already rejecting the technology, he says the battle is largely lost. He says the only defense mounted by producers so far is talk of increased yields. That has been insufficient to turn the tide, he says. The food industry must adopt a whole new process of communication.
“Start speaking, number one, from an ethical perspective. Why—to those people who are using GMO seeds—tell me why you use GMO seeds from a moral or ethical perspective. Why do you do that? And if you can explain that morally and ethically, share that with people. Make that your front-line defense. You can follow it with science. You can follow it with whatever else you feel you need to bolster that case, but first and foremost start with that argument. And if you can do that, if you can show people that you are caring for the land and caring for people through the use of this GMO product, suddenly the terminology GMO becomes a lot less frightening.”
Armed with that moral and ethical underpinning, Murphy says, agricultural producers then need to become as passionate as their opponents in delivering their message effectively.
Murphy also told the ILAC group that the activists have been very successful in nullifying solid religious arguments for the adoption of modern agricultural practices. He says activists have been successful in demeaning the concept of man and his relationship to animals and his responsibility to be a good steward.
“Number one, what I see as the greatest and ultimate threat of the food morality movement is the degrading of man. I don’t believe that man himself understands the significance of being made in the image and likeness of God. We don’t pay attention to that. Years ago they would say “Man is the glory of God.” How far have we come from that idea of man to today?”
A proper understanding of man and his responsibility to exercise dominion over the world in responsible and creative ways, Murphy says, is the ultimate solution—however difficult that may prove to be.
You can read more from Kevin Murphy online at: http://www.truthinfood.com/.
Click on the LISTEN BAR below to hear Ron Hays’s full conversation with Kevin Murphy.
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