Blog post

BLOG - (Re)searching trust

Published on
October 17, 2013

Do you trust it? If trust is questioned, it means there is doubt. In fact, doubt is not so much the exception as the rule. All the same, we apparently find doubt hard to live with. Which is not so strange, because trust is the basis of relationships; the cement that makes connections, and makes them possible.

Ready audience

This explains why the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences is concerned about the issue of trust in science. It also explains why the Social and Cultural Planning Office of the Netherlands has for years been drawing the attention of politicians and policy-makers with its regular reports that the average Dutch person's trust in government is on the wane. And it explains why Statistics Netherlands finds a ready audience among Dutch people interested in the economy when it measures trust among consumers.

So it is no surprise that the agro and food industry wants to know what level of social trust it enjoys. To measure this, LEI has developed an Agrofood Monitor. Alongside this instrument, which measures trust in the entire agriculture and horticulture industry, researchers from LEI and the Public Administration and Policy Group of Wageningen University looked more specifically at the level of social trust in the pig farming sector. The results of these studies have now been published (in Dutch: Maatschappelijke waardering agrifoodsector voor het eerst gemeten and Agrifoodnieuws)

Citizens and country people

Based on the understanding that support from society is a basic condition for the continued existence – the licence to operate – of the agro and food sector, focusing on pig farming would appear to be the obvious choice. After all, recent years have seen social discontent, powerlessness and dissatisfaction surfacing, particularly in Brabant. The social question is a live issue at both ends of the chain. At one end, there are the pig farmers, who feel misunderstood and excluded and are regarded with suspicion or given the cold shoulder. At the other end are the outraged citizens and country people who do not feel heard or accuse pig farmers of poisoning the social and physical living environment (undermining social cohesion, ruining air quality, causing health risks and transport nuisance).

Social damage

In this situation, entrepreneurs and those around them are not in harmony. The idea that large-scale livestock farming would be able to gain support from within society by introducing new techniques or pig stock systems proved to be a miscalculation. Air cleaning systems do not solve social problems. An attentive observer would have long known this. Back at the start of the new millennium, repeated warnings were heard that the intensive pig farming sector needed to stay in touch with society. Increasing distance from society causes social as well as economic damage, as was foreseen at that time by the Pig Farming think tank in 1999 and the think tank led by Herman Wijffels in 2001. This message was subsequently forgotten by the pig farming sector, and social science researchers saw no reason to perform a bridging role between the sector and society.  

Participation society

After 2001, it took until 2011 before new research reports were published that looked seriously at societal dimensions and support for livestock farming and pig farming. In this light, the warning expressed in spring 2013 of a loss of contact between sociology and society is striking (NSV recommendation, in Dutch). The lack of applied social science research into social context and the problems of the intensive livestock farming and pig farming sector during the decade after 2000 confirms the existence of a chasm between research priorities and current social issues. Social scientists may have lots to say about the participation society, but in practice, the pressure to publish outweighs the pressure to deliver an intellectual contribution to basic issues such as connecting farmers and citizens.

Love from both sides

The search for trust between the sector and society will undoubtedly benefit from committed and participating researchers. Researchers, in turn, would benefit from having clients such as those who commissioned our studies into social trust. They take responsibility for enabling this kind of research, which can be sensitive and does not automatically offer ready-made and measurable solutions. As such, it proves what is universally valid when it comes to building trust: the love must come from both sides.