Many stakeholders in America’s food system suspect a disconnect between consumers and those responsible for providing safe and healthy food, and the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) finds that growing disconnect dangerous.
New research by CFI shows that while food companies, federal agencies and farmers are held responsible for ensuring the health and safety of food, not all are trusted to get the job done. CFI says its research report, “A Dangerous Food Disconnect: When Consumers Hold You Responsible But Don’t Trust You,” illustrates a dangerous trust deficit that breeds increased public skepticism and highlights the need for increased consumer engagement by the food system.
“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.”
During an internet webinar, Arnot provided details of the research that reveal who consumers hold responsible for ensuring safe food and who those same consumers trust to ensure safe food. Responses by 1,001 consumers indicate several groups held responsible for healthy and safe food are not trusted to ensure it. Food companies and government agencies, specifically, “have work to do,” Arnot says.
CFI’s research shows consumers hold federal regulatory agencies, food companies and farmers most accountable for ensuring safe food, in that order. But those same consumers say federal regulatory agencies and food companies rank eighth and 11th in terms of who they trust to ensure safe food. Farmers ranked third again in the trust category.
“The potential fallout is serious and we’re already witnessing consequences in the food system as public interest in food production and processing grows,” Arnot said. “A lack of trust can result in increased pressure for additional oversight and regulations, rejection of products or information, and consumers seeking alternate, and perhaps unreliable, information sources.”
Charlie Arnot of the Center for Food Integrity discussed the research on the food disconnect with Chip Flory on AgriTalk. Listen to the interview in the player above.
While farmers fared better than regulatory agencies and food companies, Arnot cautioned farmers against viewing the results as permission to disengage. “The good standing of farmers presents a golden opportunity for farmers to share their stories, invite consumer questions and help build trust.”
CFI’s annual research, now in its 10th year, provides the following insights into consumer beliefs and concerns:
- Eighty percent moderately or strongly agree that they are more concerned about global warming/climate change than they were a year ago. However, only 30 percent strongly agree that farmers are taking good care of the environment.
- While 55 percent strongly agree that if farm animals are treated decently and humanely, they have no problem consuming meat milk and eggs, only 25 percent believe U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals.
- Two out of three consumers (64 percent) hold a positive impression of agriculture, while below half (44 percent) hold a positive impression of food manufacturing. A majority, around two in three, want to know more about both.