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Surveys Foster Consumer-Farmer Dialogue

Results reveal consumers think about food production constantly, yet know very little about how food is brought from the farm to the dinner table.

By Tiffany Lin, Assistant Editor, Urban Farm magazine

September 27, 2011

The Food Dialogues

Photo courtesy PRNewsFoto/U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance

Results from surveys of farmers, ranchers and consumers.

Last week, the findings of two national food production surveys were released during "The Food Dialogues," a town hall-style discussion presented by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. The surveys, conducted by phone by Ketchum Global Research Network and Braun Research in August, 2011, focused 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 United States.

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.

"Americans have a lot of questions about where their food comes from, how it is raised and if it is good for their health long-term," says Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "USFRA commissioned two separate surveys to first ask farmers and ranchers what they wished Americans could have more information about where their food comes from. We then asked consumers what questions they have on the same topic. 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."

The results of both surveys were shared and discussed during The Food Dialogues, which took place last Thursday in four U.S. cities and online via Facebook and www.fooddialogues.com.

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

The survey revealed that consumers have become disconnected from their food, yet think about the subject regularly. Consumer survey highlights include:

  • 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

The purpose of the consumer survey was to ask Americans what additional information, in relation to how food is grown and raised in the U.S., they would like to learn more about. The top five topics that drew the most interest include:

  • 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

The goal of the farmer/rancher survey was to identify topics that farmers and ranchers wished Americans had more information about when it comes to food and how it is grown and raised in the U.S. According to the survey, farmers and ranchers said the top misconception they need to overcome as an industry is that a few "bad actors" are representative of the entire industry. Additionally, 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. Farmer/Rancher Survey Highlights include:

  • 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

    "We hope the results of the survey, combined with [last week’s] Food Dialogues event, will continue the conversation between farmers, ranchers and anyone who is interested in learning more about how food is grown and raised in the United States," Stallman says.

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

    To learn more about U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, visit www.usfraonline.org/.

Give us your opinion on Surveys Foster Consumer-Farmer Dialogue.
Submit Comment »
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 5/18/2013 7:37:25 AM
i, i, ID
Posted: 10/6/2011 10:52:13 PM
I think it is amazing how little people know about their food.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 9/27/2011 11:12:44 PM
In my line of work, I get to read and study lots of these kinds of surveys. This one shows many disturbing trends that exist between consumers and producers of our food. But it also highlights some positive things, too. It shows that there ARE some folks who are concerned, at least concerned enough to find out more information. It shows that nearly half of all respondents actually DO know what's going on in the food production business. That's good. And with the growth in consumer awareness that we've been seeing these past few years, it's likely to have a stronger positive impact on the producers to clean up their act, to market more openly and transparently and to provide the quality of food that people want.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 9/27/2011 7:46:51 AM

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