What consumers want on food labels that's not available now

Jim Evans
Agricultural Documentation Center
University of Illinois
A research team at the University of Milano, Italy reported an unusual two-part consumer research project involving information on food labels. One part examined what label information gets top consideration (e.g., vitamins, energy, and fat).

Part 2 examined interest in information currently not available on food labels. On a Likert scale (7 highest; 1 lowest), consumers expressed greatest interest in information about animal welfare (6.0) and type of breeding (5.5). Next came:

•    food miles (5.3)
•    packaging material (5.1)
•    food knowledge (4.3)
•    carbon footprint (4.0)
•    water saving during the production process (3.5).

You can read this article in the International Journal on Food System Dynamics at: http://centmapress.ilb.uni-bonn.de/ojs/index.php/fsd/article/view/275/259

Who tells the true story?

Arno de Snoo
The Netherlands

In the April edition of IFAJ News, Riitta Mustonen, IFAJ Secretary General, provided the article, “Who tells the true story?” In her article, she told about discussions in Finland, questioning whose duty is it to tell consumers about modern agriculture? Is it the agriculture journalist?

In response to Riitta’s column, Arno de Snoo of The Netherlands, wrote this:

In The Netherlands we have very strong opposition against farming and especially intensive farming. We even have the only political party in world that has improvement of animal welfare as its main goal. 

It is absolutely true that almost all negative side-effects of modern day farming are brought to the surface by non-agricultural organisations. And by non-agricultural journalists.

I surely believe that agricultural journalist are often used to the common day practices and for example it is believed to be normal that the life-expectancy of a dairy cow is only a few years. Some will question it but we are by far not ruthless enough.

Interestingly, I think many farmers feel that current day practices have major downfalls. And journalists recognize them too. So why are we so hesitant?

I think it has a lot to do with time. As you (Riitta) also mention in your column there is hardly room for investigative journalism. And to write a good story about these difficult and controversial times is needed.

I can only speak for myself, but if I want to address an issue that will affect farmers and their way of farming I want to be sure I have done my homework.

But there is another side to this. The animal welfare front has very strong opinions and will use whatever in their power to reach their goals. That includes twisting information for their own benefit.

I think it is also our job to put their evidence to the test. Every good farmer will look at pictures of animal in pain with great disgust. Excesses will always be there but the majority of farmers take good care of their animals and their land.

To be objective is the key. And to have time to be objective.

IFAJ News- May 2013

IFAJ and sustainability

James Campbell

During my 30 years as an agricultural journalist, I’ve seen the emphasis shift in various ways. An example is the increasing recognition of the importance of biodiversity. Farmers are being urged to produce in ways that help to sustain the natural environment. We saw many examples of this at the IFAJ congress in Sweden last year.

With the changes, particular words gain new prominence in the vocabulary of agricultural journalists. Examples are ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecosystem services’. Sustainability was one of the aspects of the work of British American Tobacco (BAT) to which the attention of the IFAJ sponsorship committee was drawn, when we were first introduced to BAT by our colleagues from Argentina.

BAT sources its supplies from around 200,000 directly contracted farmers. They have long experience of providing extension services to the tobacco growers. Some of their work with these farmers is in conjunction with conservation organizations such as ‘Earthwatch’ and ‘Fauna and Flora International’.

All forms of agriculture can affect biodiversity. It was news to me that other forms of agriculture could learn from BAT when it comes to sustainability and ecosystem services. You can find out more about the BAT commitment to biodiversity and conservation at - http://www.bat.com/leaf   and http://www.bat.com/thedebate   
The sustainability of IFAJ outreach work and the increased opportunities that we have made available to agricultural journalists in recent years depend on support from sponsors. 
If you wish to introduce a sponsor to IFAJ, I ask that you contact any member of the presidium or the co-chair of the finance and sponsorship committee, Steve Werblow. We are keen to hear from any national Guild representatives who may be able to assist. You can contact us by email tosecretary(at)ifaj.org or directly using the contact details in the website   www.ifaj.org.

Register for IFAJ 2013 Congress in Argentina

Register now to participate in a unique opportunity to set foot on Argentine lands, meet producers, land owners, business people and fellow ag journalists and get a first-hand chance to learn about this agricultural world leader once referred to as “the world´s granary”.

This year’s IFAJ Congress that will take place in Argentina, September 1-5.

This year, the IFAJ will live a congress like no other… A unique opportunity to travel to a far corner of the earth. To discover a rich culture in a country that stretches to one of the southernmost points of the world. 

Argentina has tripled its production in the last 30 years and feeds more than  400 million people annually. Its economy is propelled by advanced technologies and sustainable agricultural practices. It is the world’s leading exporter of soy oil and flour, the world’s second highest exporter of corn and sorghum, the fifth largest producer of wine in the world,  the tenth largest producer of milk and the fourth highest exporter of beef.

IFAJ 2013 Congress in Argentina offers the chance to spend four nights in Argentina, enjoying the culture and the country while getting a once-in-a-lifetime adventure visiting the farms and industry hubs where everything happens. Don’t miss your chance. Visit  www.ifajargentina.com for more information.

Swiss growers between political stability and market pressure

Adrian Krebs

IFAJ colleague Adrian Krebs of Switzerland details agriculture issues plaguing his country—

Swiss agriculture is one of the most highly subsidized primary sectors in the world. Only Norway and Japan traditionally beat us in the respective rankings of state intervention.
This tradition has recently been confirmed yet another time by the Swiss parliament who has approved the new "Four-year-plan". It assures the Swiss farmers roughly 3 Billion Swiss Francs a year in state subsidies further on.

The clear vote in favor of the new package is due to three main factors. First there is the very strong political lobby of the farm sector. Although they don’t even represent 2 percent of the total population anymore, more than 10 percent of the parliament's members are farmers.

These politicians are often the leaders – second point - of a densely knitted network of agricultural organizations that can intervene anytime at any level, be it national or local, to influence decision making in favor of the primary sector.

The third pillar of support is the general population who sympathizes strongly with the farm sector in its majority. Switzerland used to be a very rural society, so everybody had, and many still have family relations with farmers.

The broad support for the farmers needs doesn’t mean, that life is easy. As the country has become more and more suburban, the younger generation often loses the above mentioned tight connection to agriculture.

Complaints about food prices are growing, although retail prices have fallen continuously over the past decades. Still, there is a whole industry of importers and a retail sector, that is keen on making a good buck with the margin between cheap import prices and high storefront-prices in one of the richest countries in the world.

These people successfully spread the opinion, that Swiss farmers produce too expensively, without mentioning, that they have much higher costs than their competitors on the EU side of the borders (not talking of the rest of the world) where tractors, fertilizers, etc. cost much less than in Switzerland.

The market pressure in a formerly very protected sector is increasing, and it's not only a bad thing. Farmers start to realize, that to survive, they have to get more active in marketing and processing their products, to vertically integrate a larger part of the profits, that normally go to processors, traders and retailers.

This pressure helps to make farmers more innovative and creative, more cost-conscious and efficient, and bottom line: More competitive. This is crucial for a future, that will bring more pressure, more globalization etc., but also, a consumer, that is more conscience about the need for local production in a sustainable way. So no doubt, there is a future for Swiss farming, we agvocates just have to work hard, that is a bright one.

Canadian Farm Writers Federation Plan Conference

The Canadian Farm Writers Federation (CFWF) is planning the conference, Big Agriculture in a small setting for CFWF members this fall. The conference is October 3-6, 2013, at the world-famous Harrison Hot Springs Resort.
The Fraser Valley is one of the most densely cultivated areas in Canada. This compact region boasts the highest blueberry production in North America, Canada’s largest dairy farm, and a poultry sector leads the country in both population density and adoption of biosecurity. The Circle Farm Tours also make this area a leader in direct farm marketing and agri-tourism.
The bus tours will feature agriculture in and around Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Agassiz, as well as the first ever CFWF Cycle Farm Tour of farms, processors and research facilities in the Agassiz-Harrison area. Attendees can arrive early for the Thursday pre-tours: ‘Up the Creek’, a boat tour up the Fraser River, or ‘Round the Mountain’, a bus tour to the ranchlands of the Nicola Valley.
More details will be coming soon. Watch the CFWF Facebook Page for breaking news. Registration opens May 15, 2013. Questions? Contact Tamara Leigh, tamara(at)shinybird.ca, 778-232-4036.