small camera

Legislation to curtail on-farm hidden camera investigations . . . often dubbed ag-gag legislation . . . can be counterproductive. That's according to research spearheaded by the University of British Columbia. While the legislative intent aims to limit videos captured under false pretenses - such as when people use false identification to gain employment or access to farms - consumers believe that the law limits whistle-blower activity. That perception causes consumers to think that farmers just might have something to hide.

To document these reactions to ag-gag laws, scientists at the University of British Columbia's Animal Welfare Program interviewed 700-plus individuals. The sample base was 49 percent female and 51 percent male with 78 percent of those interviewed falling between 18 and 44 years of age. All the responses for the entire group were recorded on a seven-point scale: 1 corresponded with "strongly disagree" and 7 indicated "strongly agree."

The ag-gag concept backfired.

Most people surveyed were unaware of "ag-gag" laws. Before learning about ag-gag laws, the groups that initially had higher levels of trust in farmers tended to live in rural areas, had conservative values and politics, and were not vegetarian. In contrast, those less trusting of farmers lived in urban areas, had more liberal viewpoints, and were vegetarians.

Those value systems may not come as a surprise. However, time after time, when consumers learned of the full intent of ag-gag legislation, their trust of farmers dropped substantially and there was a significant rise in support for animal welfare regulations. This change in perceptions occurred regardless of demographic factors.

In other words, ag-gag laws also reduced trust in those who were initially most trusting: rural residents, with conservative values and meat eaters. All constituents believed farmers had something to hide!

These thoughts came to mind:
Why would farmers block access to information?
Why would farmers limit whistle-blowers?
Why aren't farmers being transparent?

"These findings indicate that restricting access to information can have negative reputational consequences for the farmer," stated Dr. Marina von Keyserlingk on their recent paper published in Food Policy.

"Indeed, it is possible that the intention to reduce transparency erodes trust more than awareness of the negative events they seek to inhibit," wrote Jesse Robbins, the Ph.D. student who led the study. "The relevance of this dynamic becomes especially important when one considers that the majority of legislation introduced in the U.S. never becomes law, yet can still receive significant public attention."

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
March 21, 2016
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