"We have to connect the dots for consumers," says Leah Dorman, a panelist at the upcoming 2019 NIAA Antibiotic Symposium. "That's one of the challenges in agriculture. We have knowledge that over 98 percent of the population doesn't have."
The symposium, coming up October 15-17 at Iowa State University, is built around the theme of "Communicating the Science of Responsible Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture."
Michael Dahlstrom, interim director of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, who is leading the communications segment at the 9th annual symposium, said sometimes being an expert in a scientific or technical field can lead to frustration when it comes to communicating what they know.
"Experts receive years of training in their respective field," he said, "but often receive little training in how to communicate their knowledge to a nonexpert audience."
That can be true whether the expertise is in research, animal or human medicine, animal sciences or production.
"We know the lengths we go to take care of our animals," he added, "and we assume the rest of the population knows, too, but that is just not the case. We need to communicate not just what we do, but why we do it."
"The need for effective communication becomes obvious when it fails," he said. "As we see, when reporting of the animal agriculture industry being responsive to consumer and governmental concerns by decreasing the use of antibiotics becomes an erroneous assumption that animal ag is in some way responsible for antimicrobial resistance, or the assumption that eating 'no antibiotics ever' meat will give the consumer protection from antimicrobial resistance, we appreciate that our communication on the subject needs to be better understood going forward."
In surveys, the SciComm@ISU Project, an interdisciplinary research team aiming to enhance the practice of public science communication, finds the biggest challenge is articulating what is blocking information from being understood.
Once the obstacle can be identified, the communications professionals can pass along best practices and helpful tips on how to explain the "why" more effectively, and even more importantly, to also communicate the "why we care."
"We have designed the science communication components of the upcoming NIAA conference to offer both some practical and big-picture guidance on how to better approach communication with nonexpert audiences," Dahlstrom said.
The conference will also include a panel of animal agriculture professionals consisting of Dorman, DVM and Director of Food Integrity and Consumer Engagement at Phibro Animal Health Corporation, who blogs about food and agriculture; Don Ritter, DVM and Director of Technical Marketing for Mountaire Farms; and Andy Bishop, a beef producer and chairman of the Kentucky State Beef Council, who tells his beef story daily on Facebook. They will discuss the successes and challenges they've faced in communicating effectively with "non-ag" audiences.
In addition, Paul J. Plummer, DVM and Executive Director of the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education, the co-host of the symposium, will moderate a panel of closing remarks entitled "getting our message across and making a difference."
The National Institute for Animal Agriculture is based in Colorado Springs. More information about the upcoming conference can be found online at AnimalAgriculture.org.