News thrives on conflict — it always has and always will. But that tendency to emphasize the negative — or in the case of agriculture, every criticism of farmers and U.S. food production imaginable — can feed feelings that agriculture is under siege when it isn’t. And that’s not good either, since that encourages overreactions and “us-versus-them” attitudes that are already too common in America today and prevent industries from moving forward.

Here’s a reality check: A survey last year from Dairy Management Inc. talked to consumers aged 13 and over and asked them whether they agreed with a series of statements about dairy. This is what they found.

Source: DMI Consumer Perceptions Tracker, September 2021 Agreement: Rating scale: 1= disagree completely and 7 is agree completely, neutral = rating of 5, 6 or 7 is agreement, rating of 4 is neutral, disagreement is rating of 1, 2, or 3. A 'don’t know' response is also provided to the consumer.

Don’t believe fringe blogs or well-funded misinformation campaigns; the public remains solidly behind dairy farmers. Nearly two-thirds agree with the statement “I trust dairy farmers,” and barely more than one-tenth disagree. Two-thirds isn’t everyone, of course — but in today’s highly divided nation, the nearly six-to-one advantage of agree versus disagree is pretty overwhelming.

Dairy is also held in high regard in trust that it provides affordable nutrition and takes consumer health seriously. Consumers agreed with those statements by margins of roughly five-to-one over those who disagreed.

It’s also important to note that, in both of those statements as well as two others covering whether consumers agree that dairy cows are treated well and whether dairy products are produced in an environmentally responsible way, public trust rose in 2021 from when consumers were asked the same question in 2020. That’s a credit to dairy farmer and industry efforts not only to keep up the good work, but to let the world know of that work through effective storytelling.

All of this is an encouraging antidote to doom and gloom. Still, it’s also important to acknowledge the areas where trust in dairy is at its weakest — animal care and environmental responsibility. The majorities that stand behind dairy are slimmer in both those areas; the “disagrees,” while small, are a larger percentage — and as we all know, they are vocal.

This only underscores the wisdom of the wide suite of efforts dairy is making both to reassure consumers of dairy’s integrity and improve the actual performance of the sector on sustainability and animal care, ranging from the National Dairy FARM Program to the Net Zero Initiative and other industry commitments.

Farmers and U.S. food producers do their work mostly outside the direct experience of largely urban and suburban consumers. That makes them easy targets for naysayers and a fertile source for “clickbait” criticisms in media outlets. But the greater truth is that most consumers trust farmers and see dairy’s benefits. That trust is growing, and dairy, working together, can build on that trust. Keep all of that in mind the next time something you see in media makes your blood boil. Cooler heads are the ones that prevail. And dairy, as farmers and (most) consumers already know, is pretty darn cool.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2022
September 5, 2022
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