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Consumer Survey Says Consumers Trust Farmers

U.S. consumers trust U.S. farmers the most on food safety. U.S. residents trust American small-farm owners, don’t favor corporate, non-family farms or trust genetically modified or foreign-grown food. And the 9/11 attacks made many nervous about our food supply’s safety. Those are a few of the preliminary results of a survey on public attitudes about globalization and our food’s sources, production and safety conducted by Ronald Wimberley, a sociologist from North Carolina State University.

He collaborated with researchers from 12 American universities, including Godfrey Ejimakor, an ag economist at NC A&T State University. The researchers obtained a sample of 819 randomly selected US respondents. They adjusted mailed survey responses using 2000 US Census data on age, race, sex, income, education and region to help make findings more nationally representative, Wimberley says.

“The survey looks at such food, farming and environmental questions as how globalization affects the food Americans eat, the communities where we live and our quality of life. We’re also doing a broader view of what we see in some of the local consumer concerns,” he says.

To date, Wimberley says, results indicate people in the US are concerned about the global sources of their food, want their food produced under safe environmental conditions, whether domestically or globally, and would pay more for food labeled with assurances that it was produced under such conditions.

Here are some of the preliminary findings:

  • Nearly 92% want labels on genetically modified foods. Only 1% do not. The other 7% are undecided on labeling of genetically modified food ingredients.

  • 77% of those polled agreed that government policies should favor family, owner-operated farms as opposed to those run by corporations.

  • 53% prefer to buy food they know has been grown on small rather than large farms

  • 74% wouldn’t relinquish food production to other countries even if that resulted in cheaper food

  • 74% and 76%, respectively, says it is of some or great importance for the food they buy to be grown and processed in the US.

  • 68% would pay more for food grown in the US rather than abroad.

  • More than 70% would spend more for locally produced food.

  • 80% think US-grown food is fresher than imported food.

  • 79% think US-grown food safer than imported food.

  • About half say US-produced food is more nutritious and tastes better than imported food.

  • 51% perceive that US-grown food costs less.

  • 92% would eat US-produced meat.

  • 21% would eat South American meat.

  • Nearly half say “no” to South American-produced meat.

  • The majority reject meat from England or other European countries.

  • 14% would eat British-produced meat.

  • 10% would eat meat from other European countries.

  • 88% believe listing contents on food labels is important

  • 87% say their food’s nutritional value is important.

Respondents aren’t sure about eating foods grown using biotechnological techniques, with nearly half undecided about the safety of foods from genetically modified plants and animals. Those who take a stand on biotech and genetic modification are about evenly divided, with a sizable majority seeing genetically modified animal products as unsafe.


  • Half of the respondents split between agreeing (26%) and disagreeing (23%) on whether they would eat foods grown with new biotechnological techniques. The other 51% are undecided.

  • 47% aren’t sure if they consider genetically modified plants unsafe.

  • 28% say genetic modification makes plants unsafe.

  • 25% believe they’re safe.

  • 43% aren’t sure if genetically modified foods from animals are unsafe.

  • 39% see them as unsafe.

  • 17% say they are safe.

  • Respondents appear wary about the sources of their information on the safety of US farming practices. For knowledge about the safety of the foods they eat, 70% trust farmers; 57% trust university professors; 20% trust elected officials; 12% celebrities; and 11% business executives. Elected officials, celebrities and business executives actually are mistrusted by about two-thirds of the respondents.

  • The three federal food-related agencies the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are seen as trustworthy by at least three-quarters of respondents. USDA, 82%; FDA, 75%; EPA, 72%.  

  • Only 13% trust foreign governments for information about food safety; 67% don’t. This is in line with the mistrust of meat grown in countries outside the US.

  • Also interesting, 71% would pay more for food produced in ways that protect the environment. Another 60% would pay more for food produced without using chemicals; 81% would pay more if it were grown on farms using good environmental practices.

  • About 46% of respondents say they had thought some or a lot about our food supply’s security prior to 9/11, and 91% were somewhat or very concerned after the attack. Also, 85% agreed that our food supply could be a possible way terrorists might attack us, he says.

An extensive report on the survey “The Globalization of Food: How Americans Feel About Food Sources, Who They Trust, Food Security, Genetic Modification, Food Labeling and the Environment” is due for release soon at http://sa.ncsu.edu/global-food, he says. The Southern Rural Development Center at http://srdc.msstate.edu will also release a summary soon in Southern Perspectives magazine.

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