What Americans Think about their Food

Findings of two national surveys about food and how it is grown and raised are being released today, Sept. 22, during “The Food Dialogues,” a town hall-style discussion presented by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA).

The surveys focused separately on the opinions, attitudes and questions consumers and farmers/ranchers have about the current and future state of how food is grown and raised in the U.S.

Results reveal that lack of access to information, as well as no interest or passion for the topic, have divided consumer opinion on the direction of agriculture.                              

“The findings of both surveys indicate there is an opportunity for more dialogue between farmers, ranchers and the American public about how food is grown and raised in the U.S.,” said Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Highlights of the research include:

  • While nearly all Americans agree that food production is important to the success of the country, they are split over whether it is going in the right or wrong direction
  • Consumers think about food production constantly, yet know very little about how food is brought to the dinner table
  • Overwhelmingly, farmers and ranchers share the same values as consumers on issues related to environmental stewardship and animal care

Additional Consumer Survey Highlights

The survey revealed that consumers have become disconnected from their food, yet think about the subject regularly. According to the survey findings:

  • 72 percent of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching
  • 69 percent of consumers think about food production at least somewhat often
  • 70 percent say purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, with three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans saying they think about this topic while purchasing groceries
  • 42 percent or two-in-five Americans say the way that food is grown and raised has improved in the last 10 years, while a slightly smaller group say it has worsened (37 percent)
  • Those who say the way that food is grown and raised has improved cite food safety (22 percent) and food quality (17 percent), whereas respondents who said the way food is grown and raised has worsened also cite food safety (21 percent) and food quality (21 percent)
  • Of all the aspects of how food is grown and raised, Americans are most satisfied with the availability of healthy foods (73 percent) and food safety standards  (66 percent)
  • One in five consumers who say food production has worsened in the last 10 years cite environmental impact as the top area of demise
  • 79 percent of consumers say producing healthy choices for all consumers is very important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning farming and ranching practices

Consumers also were asked to identify the top five topics they want more information about; responses included:

  • How chemicals are used in farming/ranching
  • How pesticides are used in farming/ranching
  • Food safety standards
  • Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
  • How antibiotics are used and genetic engineering in crops

Additional Farmer/Rancher Survey Highlights

Farmers and ranchers identified the effect of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers on food as the most important priorities they should address when communicating with consumers. Additional findings included:

  • 86 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that the average consumer has little to no knowledge about modern farming/ranching
  • 58 percent of respondents in this survey felt consumers have a completely inaccurate perception of farming and ranching
  • Nearly all farmers and ranchers say that protecting the environment (99 percent) and practicing humane animal care (96 percent) are very or somewhat important goals or practices related to their business
  • 80 percent of farmers/ranchers say that consumers have little to no knowledge about proper care of livestock or poultry
  • 83 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that new ways of improving yields with fewer environmental inputs will have a major impact on farming/ranching in the future

When asked which top five topics were most important to educate consumers about, farmers and ranchers responded:

  • The effect of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics on food
  • Where food comes from in general
  • Proper care of livestock and poultry
  • Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
  • Economic value of agriculture

The 2011 USFRA Farmer/Rancher Survey was fielded by phone for USFRA by Ketchum Global Research Network and Braun Research between August 6-18, 2011, reaching 1,002 farmers and ranchers nationwide.

The 2011 USFRA Consumer Survey was fielded by phone for USFRA by Ketchum Global Research Network and Braun Research between August 24-31, 2011, reaching 2,417 consumers nationwide.

For additional information on the surveys or The Food Dialogues event, visit www.fooddialogues.com.

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Rakesh Raman