Forget anti-GMO laws, farm-to-fork, high profile bloggers and other food trends. What most Americans really care about as they spend their food dollars is cost and nutrition.
According to the 2015 Science and Food Survey released Wednesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 92% percent of Americans consider it “somewhat important” to “very important” that food be affordable, followed by the 91% who felt the same way about nutrition.
Those two priorities significantly outranked other food characteristics asked about in the survey, such as:
- Antibiotic-free: 74% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
- Non-GMO: 70% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
- Locally produced: 70% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
- Produced by a family farm: 60% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
- Organic: 54% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
- Produced by a national brand: 53% view this as “somewhat important” to “very important.”
While the news that cost and nutrition are tops on the list for food consumers, the survey also highlighted some growing concerns, particularly in the area of food safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Safety, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness each year, which can be caused by salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, E. coli and others.
And this survey suggests that food producers are not doing enough to prevent such outbreaks. While 74% of Americans think that food producers should emphasize food safety, but only 20% of Americans believe that producers do that. “The disparities between how the public thinks food producers are performing and how they think they should perform are striking,” the report said. “Survey respondents think producers lack focus on food safety and nutrition by more than 50 points, and lack on sustainability, transparency, and affordability by more than 40 points. These gaps between perceptions and expectations may well underlie much of today’s popular food movement—which rejects traditional food systems and producers—and the rise of marketing campaigns focused on organic, non-GMO, and local foods.”
What can farmers and ranchers do to address these concerns? More than they might think.
When respondents were asked who they trust when it comes to food, almost one quarter (23%) ranked farmers as “very trustworthy.” That means that when it comes to food information, the only people Americans trust as much or more than farmers are health professionals (25%) and their own friends and family (23%), followed by scientists (20%), the Food and Drug Administration (19%) and other companies and popular media.
That level of trust, combined with the growing desire for more transparency into the food production process, suggest an opportunity for farmers and ranchers wiling to engage with consumers.
“There are farms out here that want to talk to you, who want to show you the truth about what is happening on a farm,” said Annie Link of SwissLane Dairy Farms, a working farm in Michigan, in “The Udder Truth" YouTube video. “You don’t have to go to Twitter and read the mean tweets. Come right to us. We’ll tell you want we’re doing every day. Our goal is to take good care of our cows, be good stewards of our environment, and share our mission and our passion with our community.”