Exploring Food Safety
New study benchmarks consumer confidence in U.S. food system.
September 9, 2008
New research shows consumers hold farmers and producers most responsible for ensuring the safety of their food but have only a moderate level of trust that they are doing so. The findings are part of a recently released study providing a current snapshot of consumer attitudes toward a number of key food system issues, including food safety, nutrition, environmental protection, and the humane treatment of animals.
The research was commissioned by the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) to better understand who consumers trust and where they place the most responsibility within each of these areas. Conducted annually, it will provide the food system with a benchmark of consumer concerns that it can use to develop and promote practices that result in greater consumer trust.
Not surprisingly, food safety remains a primary concern of most consumers, followed by nutrition, environmental protection, and humane treatment of animals (see Figure 1). While consumers place the highest level of responsibility for ensuring food safety with farmers and producers, they have only a moderate level of trust in farmers for ensuring the safety of their food, and even lower levels of trust in food companies, processors and, surprisingly, federal regulatory agencies.
Only 16% of consumers strongly believed that today's food supply is safer than it was when they were growing up.
According to Andy Miller, Indiana agriculture director and CFI board member, the study will help the entire food system better understand what issues need to be addressed in order to maintain consumer trust of food produced in the U.S.
"Our goal is to implement programs and conduct dialogue with industry stakeholders so we can build trust in the food system," Miller says. "We'll use this study to benchmark our progress each year."
Trust In Moderation
The study revealed the following attitudes toward trust and responsibilities among the remaining issue areas:
• While consumers primarily held themselves responsible for ensuring good nutrition, they also held farmers and producers, food companies and processors, and federal regulatory agencies responsible. Consumers trust themselves most to ensure good nutrition from the food they eat, followed by doctors and dieticians, growers and producers, grocery stores, and restaurants. Twenty-eight percent of consumers strongly feel there is more nutritious food available today than when they were growing up.
• Consumers hold themselves, federal regulatory agencies, and growers and producers most responsible for ensuring environmental protection. However, they have only moderate levels of trust in any of these groups.
• Consumers hold growers and producers primarily responsible for the humane treatment of farm animals, yet have only moderate trust in their ability to do a good job and act in a manner consistent with consumer values and ethics. Sixty-three percent of respondents strongly agreed that if farm animals were treated decently and humanely, they would have no problem consuming meat, milk, and eggs.
• Consumers hold federal regulatory agencies, employees themselves, and food companies and processors responsible for ensuring worker care, yet they have only a moderate level of trust in these groups to accomplish the goals.
According to Terry Fleck, executive director of CFI, the organization will use these results to help the entire food system increase the trust and confidence of consumers.
"Our members represent each segment of the food chain, including growers and ranchers, processors, companies that deliver food products under local, regional, and global brand names, and government," said Fleck. "This survey is a key part of our ability to promote dialogue, model best practices, address issues that are important to consumers, and serve as a resource for accurate, balanced information about the U.S. food system."
More information about CFI and its consumer trust survey can be found at www.foodintegrity.org.
Fallon is a media representative for the Center for Food Integrity, Kansas City, MO.