USFRA Surveys Show Need for Greater Dialogue Between Farmers, Ranchers and Consumers about Food Production
October 4, 2011 | Andrew Burger
Food is a fundamental part of all our lives, and issues related to food, from what we eat to where and how it’s produced have grown more prominent in the public media and mindset in recent years. However, even though ideas and opinions about US food and agriculture have received greater attention of late, a study undertaken by the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) found that a lack of knowledge and understanding of as well as a “public disconnect” with agriculture still exists among a large majority of Americans.
USFRA recently commissioned and released the results of two national surveys designed to determine “the opinions, attitudes and questions consumers and farmers/ranchers have about the current and future state of how food is grown and raised in the U.S,” said a news release put out by the organization.
“Americans have a lot of questions about where their food comes from, how it is raised and if it is good for their health long-term,” said Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“USFRA commissioned two separate surveys to first ask farmers and ranchers what they wished Americans could have more information about where their food comes from. We then asked consumers what questions they have on the same topic,” said Stallman. “The findings of both surveys indicate there is an opportunity for more dialogue between farmers, ranchers and the American public about how food is grown and raised in the U.S.”
The surveys were conducted as the USFRA geared up to conduct, “The Food Dialogues,” a public online forum aimed at bridging the public gap in knowledge and understanding of US food and agriculture. It was conducted online on Sept. 22 in four cities via Facebook and a dedicated USFRA Food Dialogues website.
- While nearly all Americans agree that food production is important to the success of the country, they are split over whether it is going in the right or wrong direction
- Consumers think about food production constantly, yet know very little about how food is brought to the dinner table
- Overwhelmingly, farmers and ranchers share the same values as consumers on issues related to environmental stewardship and animal care
- Though they think about food regularly, the researchers found that “consumers have become disconnected from their food.”
Disconnection from food, by the numbers:
- 72 percent of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching
- 69 percent of consumers think about food production at least somewhat often
- 70 percent say purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, with three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans saying they think about this topic while purchasing groceries
- 42 percent or two-in-five Americans say the way that food is grown and raised has improved in the last 10 years, while a slightly smaller group say it has worsened (37 percent)
- Of all the aspects of how food is grown and raised, Americans are most satisfied with the availability of healthy foods (73 percent) and food safety standards (66 percent)
- One in five consumers who say food production has worsened in the last 10 years cite environmental impact as the top area of demise
- 79 percent of consumers say producing healthy choices for all consumers is very important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning farming and ranching practices
Information desired by consumers about how food is grown and raised
In the interest of improving broad public knowledge of agriculture and food production, the surveys’ designers asked consumers what they wanted to learn about how food is grown and raised in the US.
Consumers were asked to identify the five topics about which they wanted more information. Responses included:
- How chemicals are used in farming/ranching
- How pesticides are used in farming/ranching
- Food safety standards
- Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
- How antibiotics are used and genetic engineering in crops
Information propagation desired by farmers and ranchers
On the flip side, the surveys also asked farmers and ranchers to identify the topics about which they wished the American public had more information.
The biggest misconception they need to overcome, respondents said, was that a few ‘bad actors’ are representative of the industry as a whole. In addition, they identified the effect of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers on food as the most important priorities they should address when communicating with consumers.
The top 5 issues farmers and ranchers believed consumers should know more about were the following:
- The effect of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics on food
- Where food comes from in general
- Proper care of livestock and poultry
- Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
- Economic value of agriculture
Additional survey findings:
- 86 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that the average consumer has little to no knowledge about modern farming/ranching
- 58 percent of respondents in this survey felt consumers have a completely inaccurate perception of farming and ranching
- Nearly all farmers and ranchers say that protecting the environment (99 percent) and practicing humane animal care (96 percent) are very or somewhat important goals or practices related to their business
- 80 percent of farmers/ranchers say that consumers have little to no knowledge about proper care of livestock or poultry
- 83 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that new ways of improving yields with fewer environmental inputs will have a major impact on farming/ranching in the future