Feed the world? Many consumers don’t see it the way farmers do

Author: Hembree Brandon, Southeast Farm Press

It’s generally acknowledged that the U.S. is among the most charitable countries of the world. Our humanitarian concerns are legend.

There is irony, then, that surveys by the Center for Food Integrity show American consumers rank feeding the rest of the world dead last on their top 10 list of food concerns. Rather, consumers say, it’s more important for the U.S. to teach developing nations to feed themselves than to export food to them.

“We in agriculture love to say we’re feeding the world, and we think everyone is going to appreciate that — but they don’t,” says Allyson Perry, senior project manager for the Center for Food Integrity, a Missouri-based organization with the mission of building consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system. “That’s just not important to them. The feeding the world concept we in agriculture like to stand on isn’t really connecting with consumers.’

Only 33 percent of the non-farm public ranked it as a priority. Contrast that to 49 percent who ranked humane treatment of farm animals as a priority.

A hot button issue is genetically modified ingredients in foods, Perry says. Their surveys show “people hate GMOs — even though they may not know what they are.”

Resistance to antibiotics fed to farm animals is “a real concern.” Pesticides are “extremely feared.” Organic production is growing “because people fear pesticides. They don’t necessarily understand what ‘certified organic’ means, but because they’re afraid of pesticides they’ll pay a premium for organic.”

What they continue to hear from consumers on panels and in surveys, Perry says, is that they are “sincerely confused. They don’t know what all the labels mean, they don’t know what a GMO is, they can’t really define what animal well-being should entail. All they really want is to believe their food is safe. They want access to accurate information from sources they feel they can trust.”

Other major concerns by survey respondents were keeping healthy foods affordable (66 percent), rising cost of food (72 percent), safety of imported foods (63 percent), and environmental sustainability in farming (49 percent).

Perry spoke at the joint annual meeting of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s soybean, wheat, and feed grains policy committees.

For more information, visit SE Farm Press online.