Consumer Demands Steer Food System

March 11, 2009 07:00 PM

Sara Muri, Farm Journal Business & Crops Online Editor
Consumer wishes and wants travel quickly up and down the food chain and can drastically alter the entire food system.
 "Consumers in the developed world have come to look at the food system, I think, as something as a utility,” says William Hallman, of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University. "You turn on the faucet and orange juice comes out, you got to the supermarket and the food is just there.”
Hallman told attendees during "The 30-Year Challenge” an event hosted by Farm Foundation, the second meeting during the Food and Agricultural Policy Summit in Washington D.C.
Hallman says consumers expect food to be consistent, fresh, always available, nutritious, good quality, convenient, cheap and safe. "These are basic consumer expectations in the consumer world,” he says.
Recently, Hallman says, consumers are also expecting their food to be natural, local, organic, elegant and contain pharmaceutical capabilities.
"So, in addition to being cheap, nutritious, readily abundant, if it could also cure cancer, that would be a good thing,” he says.
Unfortunately, Hallman says, many of these expectations are not compatible.
How did we get to this point?
Hallman says many of these expectations occur, because most consumers have a limited knowledge of agriculture and the food system.
"We have got to a point where meat is simply shrink wrapped,” he says. "We are raising an entire generation of people who have no idea where there meat comes from.”
How to we fix this problem?
Hallman says a key for consumer understanding is education. "What I think we need fundamentally is a national dialogue about food and agriculture,” he says. "Because people are not engaged with agriculture, they do not really understand the challenges faced by the food system.”
Through consumer education, Hallman says consumers can learn how their role and expectations affect the entire food system.
"We need to help consumers understand the tradeoffs in their particular demands,” he says. "They can't have everything. Or, if they want to have everything, it's going to have some intended consequences.”

You can e-mail Sara Muri at

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