Concern for food safety on the increase

In a recent survey, U.S. consumers were asked to rank their key concerns today. Their main apprehensions are rising costs, the economy and how this is impacting their ability to put food on their family?s table. Such concerns, along with food safety, have increased dramatically during the last year and far outrank concerns such as the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.

These results were the finding of The Center for Food Integrity and the data were collected in July of this year. A total of 2,066 people completed surveys.

Seventy-five percent were the primary shoppers in their houses and were representative of the typical U.S. food shopper regarding education, income, political orientation, vegetarian practices and consumer advocacy.

With increasing food prices, U.S. consumers tend to eat out less than one year ago. Thirty-nine percent strongly agree that with such price hikes they are more likely to buy less expensive cuts of meat. Many are also opting for more canned fruits and vegetables instead of fresh produce.

Americans place the greatest share of responsibility for food safety on foods processing companies and the U.S. government food safety inspectors. Food packaging companies were next in line followed by food producers including farmers and ranchers.

Consumers also expressed a high amount of trust in farmers and ranchers when it comes to food safety, according to the survey. Consumers trust themselves and those who prepare food in their homes more than any one else.

Asked to rate food safety according to school grades (A, B, C, D or F), more than half of today?s shoppers rate food safety as an ?A? or ?B.? Of this group, 10 percent ranked food safety a grade of A.

Eight in 10 Americans indicated most food safety concerns are related to imported food. Twenty percent believe most concerns are related to domestically produced food.

Concerning the issue of humane treatment of farm animals, consumers said organizations?such as Farm Bureau?working with farmers and ranchers can strengthen consumer trust in their humane treatment of farm animals by demonstrating these producers share their values. Also, by proving farmers and ranchers are doing what they say they are.

The survey indicated animal producers have more work to do to earn the trust of consumers today. Still, 55 percent believe if farm animals are treated decently and humanely, they have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.

Historically, agriculture and the food industry have relied on immigrant labor or guest workers to help grow, process, transport and serve food. With millions of jobs located on the farm, in processing plants, in transportation, restaurants, food retailing and throughout the industries that support our food system, a stable legal work force is critical to providing a safe, abundant and affordable food supply for American consumers.

That said, consumers in this survey weighed in on the side of secure U.S. borders and workplace enforcement in this country?s immigration policy. There was some support for guest workers under specific circumstances. But consumers asked whether that support could be increased by coupling guest worker elements with tighter border security and more consistent workplace enforcement?

The survey also looked at the issue of sustainability, defined as meeting future global food demands while engaging in ethical farming practices and socially responsible behavior by those in the food system.

Here consumers said they care about sustainability. They understand the need to balance price and sustainability, but most agreed they make their buying decisions based primarily on price.

The old saying, ?It?s the economy stupid,? rings loud and clear in times of financial uncertainty. When it comes to the average U.S. consumer?s concern for feeding her family, pocketbook issues will always receive top billing.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects his experience, knowledge and passion.

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