Trust in food system falls, but opportunities still exist

It was a surprise to see public trust in the food system drop in the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s 2018 survey of consumers, but it might not be as bad as it looks, and there is opportunity in consumers’ hunger for more information.

For the first time in 12 years, consumers who feel the food system is going in the right direction declined to 36 percent from 43 percent a year earlier. Yet just two years ago, only 30 percent thought the food system was going in the right direction, so there is volatility in the results.

Forty-one percent were unsure whether the food system is headed in the right direction. Much of that uncertainty lies in the rising cost of food (67 percent cited this as a factor for concern) and lack of information about agriculture (12 percent this year versus only two percent in 2016).

For the most part, this survey does not indicate displeasure with farming practices. Still, there remains a high degree of skepticism surrounding animal welfare. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would have no problem consuming milk, meat and eggs if farm animals are treated properly. Yet only 31 percent strongly agree that Canadian meat is derived humanely from farm animals, and 61 percent are unsure. This represents what centre president Crystal Mackay called a “dangerous disconnect” between actual farming practices and public perceptions.

And it’s also possible that when people were answering the survey some high-profile agricultural controversies such as news of glyphosate residues in grain (albeit almost always at safe levels), Monsanto court cases involving Roundup, the banning of neonicotinoids in Ontario and published videos showing poor animal treatment might have crept into the public psyche.

In all, the percentage of Canadians holding a positive or very positive view of agriculture dropped this year to 55 percent, down six points from 2016 but still up 14 points from 2006.

The opportunity lies in the number of people who are unsure if the food system is on the right track mainly because they feel they do not have enough information.

To be sure, there are a variety of efforts being made to earn public trust. Most provinces, for example, have public trust in agriculture initiatives, the National Farm Animal Care Council’s codes of practice are updated, Agriculture in the Classroom is well established, public trust is part of the $388-million Canadian Agricultural Partnership, some 9,500 students recently attended Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, and of course there are efforts by the Canadian Centre for Food integrity.

Yet still we have this salient observation from former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, who recently summarized his experience with urbanites this way: “They’re experts; they might have a plant on their balcony but somehow they’re telling me what to do about bees and neonics and things like that and they haven’t looked at the science. You can’t argue science with people that are thinking with their heart and make any kind of a dent.”

Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Ron Bonnett (a cow-calf producer) said farmers need to verify and communicate best practices. Such communication “might not be what we signed up for when we became farmers, but it will be what we have to do if we want to remain them,” he said.

The federal government is providing $440,000 to create a public trust strategy and to research Canadians’ priorities on the food system.

Producers and ranchers will likely be asked to participate in ensuing initiatives. This should be looked upon not as a task but an opportunity to secure a positive future for agriculture.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.


  • richard

    I often wonder who is actually cuts the final draft of these “group editorials”….because they usually reflect the effort of a group art project by children…..a kind of muddy blur. You assert Crystal Mackay’s “dangerous disconnect” between “public perceptions and actual farming practices”…..And in the very next paragraph go on to describe four real world circumstances of how “actual farming practices” convey a negative message of status quo ignorance in agricultural practices……The disconnect is not with consumers Crystal….its with industry’s inability to self reflect…… Before lecturing the public on its ignorance, The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity should seek to discover its own integrity. The more you yell and kick and scream that you are not an advocacy group, the more the public will be convinced you are…..In not one instance have I yet seen you speak truth to power…..Do I need to say more?

    • Rob Bright

      Exactly so! I see a bunch of foxes in this article yelling at us (the hens): “Everything’s fine! Just relax! Don’t worry, we know what we’re talking about!” They must really think we’re as dumb as a bag of hammers…

  • RobertWager

    “Producers and ranchers will likely be asked…” LIKELY are you kidding me? We have decades of them not being directly involved and where are we?

    Some days it just hurts.

    • richard

      Where are we? We are at a place where we have abdicated all our personal powers and knowledge capital to vested interests whose sole imperative is shareholder value….. The net result being an entire generation of compliant producers and ancillary academics who now realize it is they who have been marketed…. More commodity less market, more food less nutrition, more technology less power…. more smart less wise. Don’t believe me?…..why then does this conversation keep recurring, year after year after year?

      • Solar Surfing

        Answer as to why it is year after year, complete with citations: If you spend much time looking at the fear mongering lies you will figure out this is a 30 year long disinformation campaign by the organic foods cartel that has got a boost by the Russian anti-GMO troll army that copies their tactics. Both groups have the same goal, sell more produce or grains by dishonest fear mongering. There are ups and downs though, Obama kicked ass when he banned all those organic lobbyist fear mongering food labeling campaigns. The revelation of that $160,000 cash bribe by organic farmers to the IARC was not discovered soon enough, shyster lawyers have duped thousands into lining up for Roundup lawsuit payoffs that will never happen. The buy-off for that low cancer risk classification from the IARC is now out in the open and that organization is in deep doo doo. Liar trolls care little, they just make up more myths and lies but we won’t see the IARC cited in any future cases. Citations:

        • richard

          … the organic food trade has grown to over a hundred billion USD and is well on its way to causing even greater apoplectic behaviour in those who still believe the consumer is an inconvenient impediment to “science”

        • Denise

          I have bad news for you. I know how much you guys want to keep the pesticide treadmill going but we can’t continue this way. In case you haven’t noticed our insect population is endangered to the point one could say we’re having an” Insect Apocalypse”. No bees ,no pollination, no crops, no birds, no potable water, no people.
          We can’t keep poisoning the soil and destroying plant diversity. Our oceans are becoming more acidic and suffering from agricultural and other industrial chemical runoff.
          If we were continue down this toxic path, we’re the next endangered species. i hope we’re smarter than that.
          Genetic Literacy is a corporate industry website. Everybody knows that and doesn’t trust a thing they publish.

  • patzagame

    “And it’s also possible that when people were answering the survey some high-profile agricultural controversies such as news of glyphosate residues in grain (albeit almost always at safe levels), Monsanto court cases involving Roundup, the banning of neonicotinoids in Ontario and published videos showing poor animal treatment might have crept into the public psyche.”…O no,God forbid that should influence the uneducated public!

    • Rob Bright

      Lol! Exactly! Nothing says ‘trust me’ like cancer causing herbicides in our food, insect destroying neonics (to the point that many people (quite realistically) believe there is a mass insect die off happening right under our noses,) and animal abuse now being condoned in even the Organic Food sector.

      Sure, we believe you guys have everything in control! Nothing to see here, folks! Move along now! (Give me a break…)

      • You took the words right out of my mouth.

  • Solar Surfing

    The core problem is the culmination of 30 years of organic foods cartel disinformation which has largely gone unchallenged, and the addition of the Russian anti-GMO troll army that has copied the fairly successful tactics of the organic thugs. Not even the cash bribe of organic woo profits to the IARC for that low level cancer risk claim about glyphosate has been challenged in mainstream media. This has to change. I’m not sure what Canada is doing about labeling but Obama’s 2016 GMO Disclosure law will be in full effect in 2019, the GE labels and QR codes will become ubiquitous and stop some of the bitching. Most consumers still have no idea of the existence of that law. It will help to remind them that GMO is never an actual ingredient, it is a breeding method. We have never eaten a bowl of seed selection, a grafting salad or a hybridization soup and we will never eat GMO seeds that grow plain old food.

    • richard

      Nutritional information is not an ingredient either but its on every label…. Glyphosate labelling next….. truth in labelling… its a Russian thing.

      • Solar Surfing

        My above comment stands unchallenged. Fear mongering mandatory labels will not be tolerated. GE will not be listed as an ingredient, not will seed selection, grafting or hybridization. Glyphosate has always been monitored by the EPA and FDA to assure the very safe max levels of 1.3 ppm which includes a 100X or more margin of error on the safe side. Glyphosate labeling is never, just as e-coli, mercury, lead or PCBs labeling is never going to be on labels. They are routinely monitored, an advantage of living in the US. Safety is intrinsically a part of FDA and USDA approval of products and GMO seed.

        • richard

          … …. and labels are tolerated, indeed encouraged by consumers….. Which speaks to the massive growth of identity preserved high quality food products…. a hundred billion dollar global trade.

    • Rob Bright

      Let’s see now… GMO = genetically modified organism. That is a noun. Therefore it is an ingredient.

      GE = genetic engineering — that is a verb. Therefore it may be considered a plant breeding method.

      So GE is the method, and GMO is the ingredient produced by the breeding method.

      • richard

        Yeah, glyphosate is an ingredient as well, found largely in food products manufactured with ingredients derived from the genius of genetic modification and dessication…. What a way to debase food…..desecration through desiccation. Its a Russian thing…

  • Denise

    If Gerry Ritz ,former agriculture minister, thought he was standing tall for farmers, with his snide comments about urbanites, he really doesn’t get it, does he?
    Creating a divide between consumers and farmers is very damaging.
    This is not a ” You are either with us or agin’ us” debate.
    This is our food and our environment which we are all concerned about and have every right to voice our concerns about.
    The lady with the plant on the balcony can be more informed on these issues than our representatives in government who are being lobbyed, by corporations, on the daily basis.
    Farmers are consumers, too. They bought into the belief that GMOs, glyphosates and neonics would not harm people, beneficial insect, birds, plant life and waterways. They would not want to use a product that could damage the productivity of their soil. They were conned.
    As for the factory farming, animals are abused, on a daily basis ,by depriving them of their most basic needs, sunshine and contact with the earth. They are not healthy and suffer.

    • Solar Surfing

      No unbiased non-activist peer reviewed citations that “GMOs, glyphosate and neonics harm people? Never happened.
      Compare the troll infection here to the ENTIRE WORLD saying GMOs and glyphosate are safe and useful. The WHO, UN and EFSA says GMOs and glyphosate are safe. All 284 global health and safety agencies agree. Yes, this is the mother of all GMO safety citations:
      This crushes Ted like an ant under the tread of a battle tank. Not even 100 billion of Ted’s self upvotes can change this global consensus.

      • richard

        The hundred billion dollars of industry propaganda over thirty years certainly hasn’t generated anything but the antipathy of millions of educated consumers (see the above article)….So much for the global consensus of willful ignorance.


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