The best way to meet the evolving needs of our consumers is to take the time to listen to what they have to say. That’s exactly what researchers did at Michigan State University in a recent Food Literacy and Engagement Poll. With 1,059 U.S. residents participating, the survey highlights some key perceptions our consumers have about food. Based on respondents’ thoughts, the results also help us identify areas where we can do a better job of educating the general public about food.
As reported by TheConversation.com, here are six trends revealed from the poll results:
- More than one-third of Americans do not know that foods with no genetically modified ingredients contain genes. For the record, all foods contain genes, and so do all people.
- Nearly half (48%) of Americans say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced.
- More than half of respondents in our survey (51%) were willing to pay higher prices for foods with a less damaging impact on the environment.
- Half of respondents in the poll (50%) expressed concern over the safety of food available for purchase in their community.
- Although genetically modified organisms are currently found in over 75% of packaged food in the U.S., and we encounter them daily in corn, sugar and soy, most Americans remain unaware of their potential. Forty-six percent of poll respondents either don’t know whether they consume GMOs or believe they rarely or never do.
- When it comes to food, many Americans do not trust experts. Just 59% of respondents in our survey said that they trusted information from academic scientists on nutrition and food safety. Less than half (49%) trusted government scientists, and only one-third (33%) trusted industry scientists.
According to the article, “The majority of respondents were young and affluent, and also more likely than their peers to describe themselves as having a higher-than-average understanding of the global food system. The full survey revealed that much of the U.S. public remains disengaged or misinformed about food. These findings are problematic because food shapes our lives on a personal level, while consumer choices and agricultural practices set the course for our collective future in a number of ways, from food production impacts to public health.”
So what can we do about this growing disconnect? It all starts with stepping outside of our comfort zones and identifying opportunities to share factual information. This might be through social media or one-on-one conversations in your community. It may even be through online reviews on consumer products.
With the recent partnership of Amazon and Whole Foods making headlines, soon, more consumers will have access to value-added, specialized products at the click of a button. Often, these products come with a myriad of claims, and while these labels appease a certain type of customer, they also tend to lead to further confusion and a heightened sense of mistrust over conventionally-produced foods. This brings me back to my point that perhaps we as producers need to be a voice of reason through online reviews of these products in order to reach folks who may be unnecessarily paying more for a food based on fear or guilt.
Perhaps it’s easy to say, not my circus, not my problem. After all, ranchers are certainly busy taking care of business at home. However, if we don’t carve out the time to address some of this consumer confusion, you can bet environmental and animal rights activist groups will be more than happy to fill in the gaps for us.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.