This week’s guest commentary comes from Don McCabe, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
The growing public pressure that is impacting farming practices has more people talking about agriculture’s social license these days. Social license has been defined by some as the privilege to operate with minimal restrictions by maintaining the public’s trust for doing what is right.
In agriculture, social license has the potential to be taking a bigger role with the segment of society that has a growing mistrust of science and technology. The reliance of the agricultural community on science and innovative technology means we must seriously look at social license to engage our consumers.
When the majority of Canadian citizens had a direct connection to the land, there was inherent trust and understanding about how we grow and produce food. And now, with the vast majority of Canadians completely disconnected from food production, there are challenges being raised about agriculture’s social license.
Because it is so easy for anyone to publicize information today, the opportunity for a disconnect between farms and consumers or misinformation about food and farming is greater than ever. Greater access to information doesn’t always help tell the good stories of agriculture.
Information masquerading as science creates confusion and fuels a growing mistrust of some of the science and technology used to produce food. And that’s where social license comes in. Unregulated activities operate under social license. That is, as long as the public trusts farmers to do what is right in their operations, we have the social license to continue. But when public mistrust grows – whether it is based in fact or emotion – we are at risk of losing the license to operate with minimal restrictions. And that’s when new regulations get imposed.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) devoted time at a recent board meeting, and subsequent roundtable with Canada’s agriculture ministers to talk about agriculture’s social license. Discussions included the relationships between consumers and the agricultural industry, and ideas to build greater trust and transparency to strengthen our social license.
Influencing public opinion about the value of modern agriculture is a tough job. It’s our job to help strengthen and maintain the public’s trust in how we raise our animals, grow our crops and care for the land.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will be following the continued CFA discussion about social license. And we all have an important role in advocating for our industry to demonstrate the benefits our farming operations bring to society.