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Who do consumers trust? New research shows 'disconnect' between ag, society

Fields of grain are seen near Fergus Falls, MInn., in August 2009. Forum News Service file photo

American agriculturalists often talk about what they see as a disconnect between ag and the rest of society.

Now, the Center for Food Integrity points in a new research report to what it calls "A Dangerous Food Disconnect: When Consumers Hold You Responsible But Don't Trust You."

"If you're held responsible and trusted for ensuring safe and healthy food, you are seen as a credible source," said Charlie Arnot, CEO of CFI. "However, if you're held responsible but not trusted, that's a dangerous disconnect that can't be ignored."

His organization, a nonprofit organization that represents farmers, ranchers, food companies, ag processors and others, conducts annual research into what consumers are thinking. The latest round of research, based on surveys of 1,000 consumers last year, was discussed in a recent webinar hosted by Arnot.

The research found that consumers consider federal regulators, food companies and farmers most responsible for ensuring food safety — but that while farmers generally are trusted to do so, food companies and regulators are not.

"That's a challenge to the food system," Arnot said.

Eleven categories, ranging from family and family doctors to grocery stores and restaurants, were included in the survey. Federal regulators were considered most responsible for food safety but ranked only eighth in trust. Food companies were considered second most responsible and last in trust.

Farmers fared better. They were ranked third most responsible for food safety and also third most trusted to ensure it.

Family was ranked as most trusted to ensure food safety, family doctor second.

The research also ranked the sources from which consumers get information on food-related issues. Seventeen percent rely on search engines, 15 percent on local TV, 13 percent on websites and 13 percent on family (not online).

The Center for Food Integrity found that moms and millennials (generally regarded as people reaching young adulthood early in the early 21st century) prefer search engines, while people aged 55 to 65 prefer local TV. Ag or food groups trying to influence those groups should tailor their pitch accordingly, the Center for Food Integrity advised.

Among other findings in the report:

• Nearly two out of three people hold a positive impression of agriculture. (Very positive 14 percent, somewhat positive 50 percent.)

• Just 25 percent strongly agree that "I trust today's food system." That's down from 37 percent a year ago.

• Just 30 percent strongly agree that "U.S. farmers take good care of the environment." That's down from 42 percent a year ago.

• Of the 18 "life issues" presented in the survey, food accounted for four of the top six concerns. Rising healthcare cost ranked first, followed by keeping healthy food affordable, affordability of food, U.S. economy, food safety and safety of imported food, respectively.

To read the report: " target="_blank">