Consumers split on direction of food system: survey

Is Canada’s food system heading in the right direction?

Canadian consumers are apparently split down the middle on that question, with 43 percent responding yes and another 43 percent saying they are unsure.

That’s according to the 2017 Public Trust Research survey, an online survey conducted by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.

CCFI president Crystal Mackay said the survey is part of the centre’s ongoing effort to have an “authentic conversation” with Canadians about their food and how it’s grown.

“Canadians are looking for credible information to make informed decisions about their food,” said Mackay. “This research reinforces that everyone in the Canadian food system, from the farm through to grocery stores and restaurants, should engage in conversations about food.”

This is the second year that CCFI has surveyed Canadians on their attitudes toward food.

Last year, a similar survey suggested a significant increase in the number of people who are satisfied with the direction of Canada’s food system, she added.

When asked the same question in 2016, just 30 percent of respondents answered yes, compared to 50 percent who said they were unsure and 21 percent who said the Canadian food system was “on the wrong track.”

Mackay said the survey suggests that Canadian consumers generally trust Canadian food and those who produce it. But there is also much work to be done, she said.

Despite widespread consumer approval for Canadian food, public attitudes change quickly when the discussion becomes more focused on specific food safety topics.

“I would say the bottom line is good trust in our food, great support for our Canadian food and our farmers and ranchers, but it (the support) is a country wide and a centimetre deep,” said Mackay.

“So once we ask a specific question, whether it is around animal welfare, environment, food safety, a specific topic like GMOs, or hormones or antibiotics, it quickly shifts from being quite positive and strong to being unsure.”

As they did in 2016, food costs and affordability of healthy foods ranked high on consumers’ radar.

The survey asked respondents to rank food concerns in relation to other so-called “life issues” such as health care costs, unemployment and the state of the economy.

“The cost of food and keeping healthy food affordable, for the second year in a row were the top two … issues for the public, ahead of health care, energy and the economy,” said Mackay.

“I think sometimes we get a little … too focused on very narrow issues related to food or on a hot topic and we forget about the fundamental importance of feeding our country and the importance of keeping healthy food affordable.”

According to the survey:

  • Fifty-one percent of respondents said they were personally concerned about the use of hormones in farm animals.
  • Forty-nine percent said they trusted food produced in Canada more than food produced in another countries.
  • Forty-eight percent said they were concerned about the use of pesticides in crop production.
  • Forty-two percent said they were concerned about eating food that comes from genetically modified crops.
  • Nineteen percent said Canadian food is among the most affordable in the world today.

Mackay said food affordability is an issue that the food supply chain must watch closely.

“If I had to pick one message (from the survey) … whether you’re a farmer or you run an agribusiness or if you’re the biggest food company in the world, let’s remind ourselves that we’re in the business of producing healthy affordable food first.”

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