A new survey on public attitudes towards pork production has found Manitobans still have concerns about construction of new hog barns — but public opinion is going in a positive direction.
“We see the public as somewhat more sympathetic towards the industry now, I’m not saying they’re 100 per cent supportive, they still have questions, they still have concerns, but it’s definitely better now than it was,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.
Probe Research conducted the survey on behalf of the Manitoba Pork Council this spring, asking an in-depth series of questions on topics ranging from environmental stewardship and animal care, to media penetration.
Dickson said it’s the first time such a wide-reaching survey has been done. A previous poll only focused on the issue surrounding new hog barns.
Council chairman George Matheson also sees improvement in how the province’s pork producers are perceived by the public.
“We’re generally pleased with the public’s opinion on how we’re operating when it comes to the environment and animal care, which are the two greatest concerns the public seems to have,” he said. “We’re also encouraged by how the public felt about the industry and, for the mostly positive allowances given to producers to construct new facilities.”
Current numbers show that 56 per cent of the 1,000 adults polled by phone supported lifting the highly restrictive requirements around hog barns construction, commonly referred to as a “hog barn moratorium” by both industry and government. One-third of those surveyed, or 32 per cent, believed the so-called hog barn moratorium should remain in place.
Unsurprisingly, the results indicated that people living in rural areas were more likely to support the expansion of hog barns than those living in urban centres, Dickson said. Individuals who had attended college or university were more likely to support a moratorium.
Dickson said advertisements sharing producers’ environmental practices have helped improve the image of pork producers, as have campaigns showing the family side of farming. He said that producers are doing good things, but that they need to get that message to consumers.
However, the survey also indicated that the traditional advertising campaigns used by the council aren’t reaching all Manitobans, specifically younger Manitobans. Only 34 per cent of those polled remembered seeing media related to the pork industry, and the majority of those individuals was over the age of 55.
“There is a lot of focus on young people, and it’s something any organization or business has to think about, how do you target that group? How do you engage them appropriately and get them better informed… that is something we are going to look at, how do we reach out to this demographic? But they’re not an easy audience to get to, because they don’t use the traditional ways of communicating,” said Dickson. “It’s a bit of a conundrum. People say, well they use Twitter and all those things, but they resent any sort of corporate influence there, so we have to be careful about how we message these things.”
The pork council also uses community events, like the annual BBQ and Blues Festival in Winnipeg, to get both their message and their products in the public eye.
“We know one thing, if people feel good about the product, they tend to feel good about the producers of the product, and so one of our main tasks is to make sure the product they’re getting in the stores is of high quality, it’s well presented and well priced,” said the general manager.
Being open and transparent is also important, said Dickson, adding that is the reason the results of the survey have been posted online for the public to see.
But public opinion still does’t trump the financial realities faced by the producer, adds Matheson.
“It’s always a good thing to have the public on your side, but at the end of the day it’s economics that will drive expansion,” he said. “And we’re hoping that between positive public opinion and hopefully positive future economic returns that we’ll see new facilities constructed in this province.”