Protecting and maintaining agriculture’s social license is everyone’s job and is essential to the industry’s long-term success.
Agriculture and food have been popular discussion topics lately – online, in the media and at the dinner table. People are concerned about their health and making positive choices about what they eat. However, too often not enough of us in the agriculture and food industry are part of these discussions. When our voice is missing, one negative story can dominate the news and social media and leave the public with the perception ‘that’s just the way it is’ in agriculture.
In fact, groups outside of agriculture are already telling our story – a story that doesn’t reflect the reality that we care about our animals, the land, and producing safe, healthy food. We can’t afford to let others tell our story. We need to speak up to ensure our industry attracts the trust, people and resources it needs to be successful in the future.
The good news is that we’re starting these conversations from a position of strength. National surveys continue to show that farmers and others involved in agriculture are some of the most trusted professionals in the country. That means when we talk, people will listen. We just have to make sure we’re all talking, sharing our point of view and participating in the food conversation.
Protecting our social license
The term “social license” refers to the privilege of operating with minimal formalized restrictions based on maintaining public trust by doing what’s right. For agriculture, this includes trust of consumers regarding how their food is produced. We need to let consumers know that we care about these things too and connect with them on shared values and create common ground.
Social license is created through timely and effective communication, meaningful dialogue and ethical, responsible behavior. On the flip side, consumers can revoke that social license when there is a real or perceived disconnect between their values and the values of the company or industry. An industry cannot operate to its full potential until its social license is restored.
Social license isn’t static. As opinions change and issues arise, our ability to engage and respond impacts consumers’ level of confidence and our overall credibility. By being open and proactively communicating with the public about how we grow food and why we operate in the ways we do, we can protect our social license to continue producing high-quality, nutritious food in ways that are efficient and sustainable.
Maintaining social license is everyone’s responsibility. We can’t stand on the sidelines. We need to seize the opportunity and steer negative and inaccurate conversations back to the real story – the story of an industry that provides an abundant and safe source of food to an ever-growing global population. And that’s your story. Your story is powerful. It makes the conversation real. And you have a voice as both a producer and a consumer in the food conversation. You are the common ground.
If enough of us speak up, we can ensure the one-off issues take a back seat to the overall real image of agriculture as a diverse, vibrant and important industry. And, if we can help shape the dialogue in a real, positive way, we can take Canadian agriculture to even greater heights.