Food survey to beef up Alberta consumer data

An Alberta specific survey through the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity is in the works.

John Jamieson, president and chief executive officer for the centre, told Alberta sugar beet growers that this year’s survey of the Canadian public would include a larger sample size in Alberta and at least 10 questions specific to agriculture in the province.

“It’s not fully cooked yet but we’re working on a fairly big plan with the government of Alberta and what we plan to do in the province here is to increase the sample size of Albertans that’s part of our national survey,” Jamieson said.

“Then we’ll take that data and we’ll analyze it and we’re going to create some messaging and test that messaging.”

The centre regularly surveys Canadians on their attitudes toward agriculture in efforts to identify their concerns and level of trust in the industry and its methods.

Last year, it found only 35 percent of Canadians think agriculture is headed in the right direction. That figure was even lower in Alberta at 25 percent.

Those results were recorded “in spite of the fact that Canada’s food system was named the best in the world in a comparison of 17 countries three years ago,” said Jamieson, and that list included the United States, Japan and Ireland, among others.

The centre will focus on three pillars in its surveys this year, he added. Those are climate change and how the agriculture sector is addressing it; science and technology involving agriculture’s improvements to production and climate footprint; and food safety and health.

“One of the challenges we have in agriculture is that a lot of people think we should be growing in a 1950s or ‘40s model of agriculture,” said Jamieson. “When I go to the dentist next week I’d hope that he wouldn’t be using a 1950s model of dentistry but for some reason we seem to have that nostalgia around agriculture.”

Given that agriculture has been identified in Canada as a key to future economic growth, public trust in the sector is vital.

Among the challenges is the need to reach Canadians who spend about nine percent of their income on food, a much smaller percentage than most other countries. That gives Canadians freedom to consider a much wider array of food choices.

Even with that economic freedom of choice and Canada’s international reputation for food safety, domestic consumers cited the rising cost of food as a top concern in the most recent public trust survey. Keeping healthy food affordable was also in the top five most important concerns cited by some 21,000 Canadian respondents.

Though Jamieson deemed Canadian opinions on the direction of agriculture to be surprisingly low, results to a similar survey by the centre’s American counterpart organization showed an even lower opinion on agriculture’s direction.

Jamieson asked his U.S. colleague about that and was told it is a “Trump factor.”

“He said every survey in the U.S. right now showed lower confidence rates in almost everything, so he said it’s more of (their) political system than it is (their) food system.”

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