Consumers still trust farmers;  they just need their confidence restored in some aspects of the food system.

Those were some of the conclusions from a "consumer trust" survey commissioned by the Center for Food Intregity. Highlights from the survey were presented last week at the 4th Annual 2009 Food System Summit in Kansas City.

Consumers still trust farmers, but aren’t sure what we are doing is still farming. “That is a challenge in building consumer trust,” said Center for Food Intregity CEO Charlie Arnot. “As an industry, we’ve tended to rely on science and attacking our attackers,” said Arnot. “That’s not working. We need to build consumer trust and confidence in the food system.”

The research indicated that the contemporary food system is not perceived as being consistent with the understanding or values of consumers or with the positive attributes historically assigned to farmers. Voices questioning current food systems practices are increasing in number and volume.

Arnot says research revealed that the target the food system industry should focus on are the early-adopters who are the agents of change and will drive social change. “They are the opinion leaders and gatekeepers of their social groups, and information seekers,” he said. “They are more likely to believe and be impacted by education as long as it is not perceived as self-interest; it must be objective and balanced.”

As a group, early-adopters are more educated, have a higher social status, are information seekers, have a favorable attitude toward science and are favorable toward change. Early-adopters also prefer to get their information on the food system from online sources, followed by cable TV. “This all works to our advantage,” Arnot said.

Key findings of the survey included:

  • Consumers hold farmers/producers, themselves and food companies/processors primarily responsible for food safety.
  • Consumers continue to trust themselves and those who prepare food in their homes more than any others.
  • Consumers place a high amount of trust in farmers and food companies for food safety.
  • Consumers hold farmers primarily responsible for humane treatment of farm animals.
  • Consumers lack confidence and trust in any food system segment for ensuring the humane treatment of farm animals.
  • Consumers hold farmers primarily responsible for sustainability.
  • Consumers lack confidence and trust in any food system segment for ensuring sustainability.
  • Consumers hold themselves, farmers and food companies primarily responsible for nutrition.
  • Consumers lack confidence and trust in any food system segment for ensuring nutrition.

Arnot says two Web sites have been created to help consumers with food information: www.farmersfeedus.org and www.bestfoodfacts.org.