Getting information on their smartphones
Getty Images/Atsushi Tomura
The topic of antibiotics is everywhere, and much of the dialog is taking place in the media — social and otherwise. Vernon notes, “That is where consumers are getting their information — correct or incorrect. That is where they are getting it. So, their depth of understanding is waning.”
What do they want?
Getty Images/Scott Olson
What the consumer wants is always a moving target, explains J. Scott Vernon, agriculture communication professor from California Polytechnic State University, to the National Institute for Animal Agriculture Antibiotic Symposium. He says, “We know they do not want antibiotics in their food. We see from the animal health side they want no antibiotics, but when we take them to the physicians that want antibiotics.”
Consumers and retailers get confused over the contradicting labels, and frustration exists. While food production is ground in science, the majority of consumers do not understand the science, but yet drive the food movement.
Consumer role is HUGE!
Getty Image/Jeff J. Mitchell
Consumers play a mammoth role in the antibiotic-use equation.
Antibiotics are just a talking point
Consumers do not understand what agriculture is talking about mainly because agriculture has different objectives in food production. There is a portion of the consumer market that wants organic, and they are very serious about the organic nature of their food. Also, we have a conversation about big and small farms or where the food is grown local and international. “That provides us some challenges because we have to understand what that conversation circles,” explains Vernon.
He continues, “It is not about antibiotics when you peel it back because we are dealing with a very vocal minority. It is a talking point to promote vegan or vegetarian agenda.”
So, when we look at animal proteins, the dialog with the consumer about antibiotic stewardship is diluted by an agenda that wants to end eating meat entirely.
Getty Images/Scott Olson
Farmers and ranchers are caught in the middle. They do not only have to deal with the consumer demands, but also the regulatory side. As a result, the pressure causes a market shift. Throughout history, farmers and ranchers have done a tremendous job in responding to market shift without fail.
Although the vegan and vegetarian is less than 1% of the population, they are very vocal. Vernon explains that a quick Google search on antibiotics illustrates their aggressive agenda as they dominate the list. Unfortunately, the information from agriculture is lost.
Consumer and retailer confusion over antibiotics
Getty Image/Scott Olson
The question at hand is, does the consumer want “no antibiotics ever” or meat free of antibiotic residue. The majority of consumers wants farmers and ranchers to treat sick animals but says they want “no antibiotic ever” meat. It comes down to not understanding the difference between antibiotic-free meat and no antibiotic ever.
Food is emotional
There is no bigger emotional issue than food. Vernon says for today’s consumers emotions will trump science any day of the week.
The confusion over antibiotics will continue, warns Vernon. However, he strongly believes the future will contain more collaborative effort between private industry and government, increased oversight, innovations in science and more confusion in the marketplace.
“It is a ‘No’ Society — no fat, no sugar, no antibiotics,” state Vernon. “Pretty soon, I am not sure we could be feeding them cardboard, and they would be happy with that because there is nothing there.”