The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety

Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety

Shoppers and Trends

December 28, 2008

Consumers are increasingly troubled about food safety, according to a new national food safety and labeling poll conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center. The poll talked to 1,001 consumers over the age of 18 in October 2008. Almost half (48%) of those interviewed say their confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply has diminished.

Some of the biggest concerns about our food supply relate to health and the environment. Ocean pollution is top-of-mind for many, with wild fish consumption triggering unease about possible health problems in more than four in 10 polled. 

Fish farms advertising their product as organic come under scrutiny as well. Fifty-seven percent of consumers are concerned about the ocean pollution caused by “organic” fish farms; 90% of consumers want organic fish farms to recover all waste produced in the farming process.

Meanwhile, the majority of consumers voiced disagreement to a recent recommendation from the National Organic Standards Board that would allow fish to be fed non-organic fishmeal. Ninety-three percent of those polled agree that fish labeled as organic should be produced from 100% organic feed. 

When it comes to biotechnology, food labels still ignite discussion. By and large, consumers (58%) are concerned about eating cloned or genetically engineered products. There is no requirement to label genetically engineered animal products in the U.S., but a clear majority (95%) of consumers would like that to change. Consumers would like labels on cloned animal products too. 

More label debate surrounds the topics of growth hormones, irradiation and country of origin. Ninety-three percent of consumers want dairies that produce milk and milk products without artificial growth hormones to be allowed to label their products accordingly. Similarly, nine in 10 Americans want irradiated products to be correspondingly labeled. A majority (95%) wants processed or packaged foods – currently exempt from labeling – to be labeled by their country of origin (COOL).

Although 73% of consumers polled regard the food supply in the U.S. as safe, 81% are concerned with the safety of imports. The FDA comes under fire for their infrequent inspections of foreign facilities at a rate of about once every five to 10 years. Two-thirds of consumers them want the agency to inspect domestic and foreign food-processing facilities at least once a month.

Finally, if consumers expect more from the government in monitoring the food supply, they would also appreciate more disclosure. Eight in 10 consumers agree that the FDA should let the public know the location of retailers who sold potentially harmful food, like fish, produce and processed food, and more than 80% of them want the government to be able to require a recall. 

Overall, consumers want the government to do more. In addition, they want to know more about their food, how it’s been inspected and where it comes from. Ultimately, the poll revealed that consumers want improved safety, they’re willing to pay more for safe products, and they’re open to looking to retailers for guidance.

Retailers, says the Consumer Reports National Research Center, can help consumers by posting recall information in the stores, and by supporting efforts to increase food safety standards either alone or through their trade associations.