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Consumers trust farmers — but not farming

Despite claims to the opposite, the increasing chances of Donald—“You’re fired!”—Trump changing to “I, Donald—do solemnly swear—Trump” is not a sign of the coming apocalypse.

Granted, the end could be closer than we think when any billionaire steps off his Boeing 757 airliner and declares, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

One sign that the apocalypse is near is the near-perfect dissidence on what the non-profit Center for Food Integrity (CFI) says consumers want in food labelling and what farm groups say consumers will get in food labelling.

“It’s simple”: noted the very first sentence of a 2015 CFI report that compiled three years of detailed consumer research, “if you increase transparency, you will increase trust.”

The two groups most responsible for that transparency are “food manufacturers” and “(f)armers,” explained Charlie Arnot, CFI’s chief executive officer, to members of the American Farm Bureau Federation at their convention in mid-January.

But while “consumers trust farmers,” Arnot told the AFBF crowd, “… they’re not sure they trust farming.”

That’s not clever doubletalk; it’s an insightful explanation to the ever-growing disconnect between farming America and consuming America. In short, eaters like farmers but, increasingly, they dislike how they farm.

That gap grew when farm and commodity groups successfully lobbied Congress last December to repeal country-of-origin labelling (COOL) for imported meat and poultry. No COOL means less transparency and, in turn, less trust of farmers by consumers. It’s exactly what CFI’s Arnot told Farm Bureau conventioneers not to do.

Now, just weeks later, a new U.S Department of Agriculture’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook forecasts that U.S. consumers will see more imported, unlabelled pork in American stores because “COOL repeal likely means a slow increase of live swine imports.”

Interestingly, slow to USDA means that “Imports of Canadian live swine in 2016 are expected to increase about nine per cent, from 5.6 million head in 2015 to 6.2 million head this year.”

A nine per cent, 600,000-head increase in Canadian hog imports may not be apocalyptic to USDA, but the decrease it brings to domestic hog prices will trim U.S. farm profits while it pads global meat packer profits.

That’s a terrible trade-off — for farmers, consumers, and the rural economy — now or in the best of times.

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