One-third of public has faith in food system

Survey finds 91 percent of Canadians believe they know little about agriculture, but 60 percent want to learn more

Canadian consumers now care more than ever about their food, but most say they know little to nothing about modern farming practices.

John Jamieson, president of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, said this shouldn’t be surprising, considering that only two to four percent of them live on farms and are actively engaged in food production.

The organization released its 2019 Public Trust Research Report, Connecting with Canadians during the fourth annual Public Trust Summit held in Saskatoon, Nov. 13-14.

This year’s summit was co-hosted by the CCFI and Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan.

About 250 leaders from across Canada’s food system gathered to learn more about earning public trust in food.

Almost 2,200 Canadians 18 years and older were surveyed by CCFI, which also examined online conversations with about 260,000 Canadians.

Asked if the food system is on the right track or going in the wrong direction, one in three Canadians believe the food system is headed in the right direction.

“But there’s still over 20 percent that believe we are on the wrong track,” said CCFI’s Paighton Smyth, who presented the report’s findings during the summit.

The report showed 28 percent of Canadian women believe the food system is on the right track compared to 41 percent of men.

While 91 percent of Canadians said they knew little to nothing about modern farming practices, this year’s survey also showed that 60 percent, or three in five Canadians, want to know more about agriculture and how their food is produced.

“This is an opportunity (for industry) to share exciting new technologies, best practices that farmers utilize every day and accurate nutrition information with consumers. The more consumers feel empowered and informed, the more they build trust in the Canadian food system,” said Smyth.

However, she said it’s important to understand how the average consumer interprets modern farming.

“When the people sitting in this room today hear the term modern farming, we likely think of the technology like this drone, auto steer tractors, robotic milkers, but many Canadians associate modern farming with terms such as factory farms, big agriculture companies, animal welfare and decreased food quality,” she said.

“Moving forward, the food system needs to ensure that the consumer viewpoint is understood and utilized to ensure they’re introduced to the advancements that we in this room develop daily.”

Added Jamieson: “I think we have to think about how we speak to them in their language and recognize their values.

“There’s a number of tools that we can use to communicate to the consumer in their language. For example, if we talk about a certain mode of production or no till farming or something like that, that may not resonate because you have to have some agricultural background to understand that. Our challenge is, OK, people want to know, but how do we package that in a way that it’s interesting, informative and opens their mind to how food is produced.”

Consistent with previous surveys, the rising cost of food is the top concern with 64 percent citing it. Keeping healthy food affordable was a close second with 62 percent, followed by rising costs of health care, energy and safety for food imported from outside Canada.

While there’s much discussion within the agricultural and food industry about producing enough food for nine billion stomachs by 2050, the average Canadian is not nearly as concerned.

“That’s an amazing statistic, but Canadians are truly just trying to put food on their tables,” said Smyth.

Added Jamieson: “That message that we have all these people in the world that we need to feed doesn’t resonate. I think maybe because the numbers and the breadth of it, they just can’t comprehend. Their issues with food are more day to day.”

Almost 50 percent of Canadians are personally concerned about the use of hormones in farm animals and the use of pesticides in crop production, while about one third of consumers worry about eating food that comes from genetically modified crops.

Food fraud, the practice of mislabelling, adulterating or counterfeiting food products, ranked high as a moderate to strong concern at 91 percent. As well, misleading food labels were cited as a concern by 89 percent.

Consumers are spending more time looking at food labels and the meaning behind them.

“A good example is a non-GMO program that a number of companies have when they’re promoting something that is non-genetically modified, when there actually is no genetically modified product of that nature,” said Jamieson.

“So they’re wanting to know that they’re buying something that will have health benefits or health outcomes.”

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