Speakers at the 12th Annual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit held May 1-2 in Arlington, Va., encouraged producers to open up to consumers, tell the story of food production and strive for transparency in the food chain.
"The era of 'don't ask, don't tell' in agriculture is over,'" remarked Dallas Hockman, to attendees. Hockman, Vice President of Industry Relations for the National Pork Producers Council adamantly told Summit attendees that we [the industry] can no longer afford to stay quiet; we must communicate.
More crucially, however, Hockman emphasized that we don't just need to "communicate" but instead, form relationships with consumers and recognize their concerns.
"This is about transparency, and transparency means that it's our job to go and inform our customers, it's not our customer's job to come and ask us about something," said Hockman. "We all know what we're against, but the challenge is: what are you for? It's not what you say, it's what people hear."
Numerous speakers throughout the day put the responsibility on the industry to communicate to consumers, instead of the other way around.
David Wescott, Director of Digital Strategy for APCO Worldwide, told attendees that they must identify their true stakeholders, ask those stakeholders what they want, and then give it to them.
"The consumer has a right to know anything he wants to know about where he's spending his wholly earned, almighty dollar. That's a reality," added Andy Vance, editor of Feedstuffs magazine. "Consumers increasingly want to know more about their food and they increasingly are more and more skeptical about companies and industries that don't give them what they want to know."

Efforts Underway
The American Meat Institute is addressing the issue of transparency with a "glass walls" approach. Janet Riley, AMI's senior VP for public affairs and professional development, spoke at the Summit and offered examples of their efforts to enhance transparency and consumer trust.
AMI launched their "Glass Walls Project" in 2012. Noting that public trust in large corporations has plummeted in recent years and that consumers increasingly demand more information about food production, Riley says AMI approached Colorado State University professor and animal-handling expert Temple Grandin, PhD, to record videos of the entire livestock-slaughter process.
Last year, AMI taped the unscripted video tour of a beef-processing plant, narrated by Grandin. They left it to Grandin to select a representative plant at which to film. AMI tested the initial video with consumer focus groups. Most of the test viewers were surprised by the safety measures for workers, efficiency of operation and the humane treatment of animals. There were a few points of confusion, which the producers addressed by expanding the explanations in the video, which they released in August 2012.
Since then, more than 45,000 people have viewed the video, and feedback from consumers, teachers and media has been mostly positive. This month, AMI will release another video tour, this time of pork slaughter.
Riley previewed part of the video for the Summit audience, showing the process from loading pigs at the farm, unloading at the plant, stunning and bleeding, all narrated and explained by Grandin. The video explains biosecurity measures at the farm, followed by processes and features at the plant such as non-slip floors, water in holding pens, rest periods and audit points.
Additionally, AMI also has produced a brochure titled "If meat plants had glass walls ... What would happen?" The publication, which will be available online and in print, provides more detail, photos and questions and answers on beef and pork slaughter with Dr. Grandin.
In her remarks, Riley noted that the demand for transparency will continue to intensify, and that packers must show the public how their business works, rather than letting anti-meat organizations monopolize that discussion.
The Summit closed with a half-day workshop focused on crisis communications, employee hiring strategies and the intersection of the environmental and animal rights movements and how those partnerships affect agriculture.
In addition to panel discussion and workshops, the summit was also an opportunity to highlight winners of the group's College Aggies Online competition. The winners each received a scholarship: Tiffany Swanson (North Dakota State University), Zachary Frazier (Purdue University) and Karoline Rose (Montana State University).
About 200 leaders from across the food chain attended the 12th annual Stakeholders Summit, themed "Activists at the Door: Protecting Animals, Farms, Food and Consumer Confidence." Event sponsors included Alltech Ag Network, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, Murphy-Brown LLC, Farm Credit, Provimi North America, Merck Animal Health, Zoetis, Hy-Line, American Feed Industry Association, Bayer Animal Health, United Soybean Board, Alltech, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, Diamond V, Aviagen, Genus/PIC/ABS, United Egg Producers, WATTPublishing Co., Cactus Feeders, BrakkeConsulting, Kemin, AgriBeef Co., Seaboard Foods, National Association of Farm Broadcasting, Protect the Harvest, Elanco Animal Health and the Potash Corp.