A new survey finds that while taste, price and nutritional value continue to be the primary drivers for food-buying decisions among moms, environmentally friendly farming practices also are important. The data comes from A Fresh Look, a farmer-led nonprofit seeking to educate consumers who are undecided about GMOs used in food production.
AgWeb.com asked Marianne Smith Edge, a sixth-generation farmer and registered dietician affiliated with A Fresh Look, to share some of the key takeaways from the survey and how future consumer outreach might influence perceptions of GMOs.
How many moms were included in the survey? What was the survey method and the margin of error?
The survey consisted of 810 moms between the ages of 25 and 49 with children ages zero to 17. Participants were about 50 % Millennials and 50% Gen X. The survey was conducted online from among a sample of moms drawn from a large national panel in fall 2017 and was weighted to represent the demographic composition of moms in the U.S. based on the latest U.S. Census data. The margin of error was 3.46%.
In your view, what might be the most important misconceptions moms have about food, based on this survey?
This survey asks specifically about their knowledge of how food is grown, and it does show a disconnect between what is most important to moms and how GMO farming provides those attributes. For example, over 90% of moms noted they care a lot about protecting the health of humans and animals and reducing pesticide in food production, but less than 50% know that GMO crops help meet these important values. Additionally, over one-third of moms either think food grown from GMO seed is not good for you or don’t know whether it is good for you.
What are the factual, nutritional counterpoints to each of these misconceptions? Why are they important to families having a well-balanced, safe and nutritious diet?
Thirty years of research by independent scientific organizations in the EU and U.S. have shown no negative health effects on more than 100 billion animals fed food grown with GMO farming methods. Likewise, no ill effects have been shown with human health.
It’s important for families to understand regardless of whether food was grown using traditional, organic or GMO farming methods, they can be confident that our food supply is safe and can provide the nutritious food they are seeking.
What surprised you, if anything, about the facts moms already know about how food is grown or raised?
The results confirm other survey results with which I’m familiar. There is a disconnect between what consumers deem important to them about food production and knowing the attributes of GMO farming: Approximately 40% of the moms agreed GMO farming makes a difference by requiring fewer pesticides, increasing harvest yields and reducing environmental impacts.
What are the key criteria these moms are seeking out when buying food? How does this compare to other research that has been previously conducted?
Regardless of the discussion about how our food is produced, it’s still about price and taste and healthfulness. Over 90% listed these criteria as important, whereas two-thirds of the moms noted environmentally friendly farming methods to be an important factor when buying food. The outcome of this survey mirrors survey results of the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health Survey, as well as others.
What questions are you asking now? Where do you think the research needs to go next?
The next phase is evaluating how A Fresh Look is shifting perceptions of GMOs among the audience of consumer moms. The next step would be to evaluate if perceptions actually are changing purchasing habits, beliefs about farming—especially GMO farming—and if the overall knowledge level of moms have improved.
What do you see as the role of dieticians moving forward in educating consumers broadly about food production and nutrition? Is one more important than the other?
In today’s world, registered dietitians need to understand the connection of food production and nutrition based on the available scientific evidence as the lines between what we eat and how it’s produced are becoming more blurred. Both are very important factors, and as sixth-generation farm owner, I’ve had the advantage of understanding the connection before it was the norm.
However, we have a professional responsibility to first educate clients and consumers about how to select a variety of foods that will provide a nutritious diet to promote their optimal health and lifestyle.
What other comments would you like to make?
This survey shows that despite the fact that consumers and, in this case, moms state they have “some to considerable” knowledge about the various methods of farming, especially GMO farming, the knowledge gap still exists. The agricultural community, working with nutritional professionals, has the opportunity to close that gap.