Report Synopsis

The consequences of negative publicity and scandals on the reputation of dairy farming in the Netherlands

Rick Baats

This report examines the consequences of negative publicity and scandals on the reputation of dairy farming in the Netherlands. In this report we zoom in on a number of practical examples of such publicity; calf fraud, calf mortality and the melamine scandal. At the same time, aspects that contribute to the reputation are also discussed; image of the sector, involvement with outsiders and trust towards the sector.

The agricultural sector in the Netherlands, including dairy farming, has strongly developed in recent decades. Not only the primary sector, with all its supply and processing companies, has taken major steps in terms of efficiency and production scale. However, this strong growth has also entailed limitations. More and more often, these (social) limits are reached and exceeded. Themes such as the longer maintaining of the calf with the mother and the amount of meadow birds are increasingly receiving media attention. Such publicity can have major consequences for the reputation of dairy farming in the Netherlands.

In addition to negative publicity, scandals play an important role in the reputation of the sector. We speak of a scandal when accusations or suspicions are made that may have an impact on reputation and bring a lot of public attention with it. Often, serious conducts lead to such attention. Recent examples in dairy farming include calf fraud, reporting on the high calf mortality rate and the melamine scandal with Chinese baby milk powder. What is striking here is that in the most recent cases, are mainly about calves who appear to be the Achilles heel of dairy farming.

In recent years, (social) online media have played an increasingly important role in the perception of the sector. Although such media are regularly used to highlight the positive stories, it is also frequently used to spread incorrect and incorrect messages. Research suggests, that although such attention may contribute to the development of scandals, the impact is fairly limited. Traditional media, such as newspapers and -media, have a far greater and more important role to play.

Due to the growing urbanization, consumers are becoming less and less connected with the agricultural sector and therefore also in dairy farming. Partly because of this, scandals and negative publicity have a major impact on the reputation of the sector. Although farmers are increasingly being used on packaging of products in the supermarket, it appears to be very difficult to communicate the "farmer's story" openly and transparently towards outsiders. In the worst case, there is no communication at all, which only frustrates the discussion even more.

On the other hand, dairy farming, compared to other agricultural sectors, has the advantage that citizens can more easily identify itself with the sector, in contrast to the other, often more intensive sectors. To be assured of this advantage in the future, it is important to keep investing in things like pasture grazing and -birds to benefit the reputation.

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