Producers today are more knowledgeable about what consumers want from the food system. However, producers still need to work hard toward meeting those expectations.

Those are two of the findings from a recently released 2002 U.S. producer- and consumer-attitude study completed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and Philip Morris Management. The study is a follow-up to a 1999 project that revealed significant gaps between producers’ and consumers’ views on food and agriculture issues.

Let’s take a look at what the study has to say:

  • Producers are more in tune with consumers’ food expectations than they were three years ago, especially as it relates to food safety.
    They also have a better understanding of the importance consumers attach to different issues such as taste, year-round product availability, access to a wide selection of foods, availability of low-fat products and minimizing bacteria risk.
  • What consumers want and what the food chain is delivering doesn’t always mesh. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very important, the biggest gap was found in the area of minimizing bacteria risk. Consumers rated it 9.1, but their satisfaction level was only 7.8. A couple of other areas showing significant gaps were freshness and maintaining nutritional value. Both categories showed a gap of 1.0 between consumers’ importance and satisfaction ratings.
  • More than 80 percent of consumers said producers should be protected from severe economic fluctuations. Consumers said they support subsidies paid to farmers. However, they prefer subsidies be used to reward producers for maintaining the environment and to ensure future production, versus the current practice of basing subsidies on production levels.
  • Many of the producers’ practices are in line with consumer expectations,
    especially as they relate to the environment.
    Protecting water and soil was extremely important to both producers and consumers. But when it comes to such things as creating wildlife habitats and recycling water, bigger gaps emerged. Consumers were much more concerned than producers about those two issues.
  • Fifty-eight percent of the consumers said it’s important for food to be produced in a manner that maintains environmental resources and future productivity. Producers agreed that both areas are important.
    Only 50 percent of consumers, however, said they are satisfied that food is currently being produced with the environment and future productivity in mind.
  • Consumers and producers agree that all segments of the food chain are responsible for ensuring that farming practices maintain environmental resources and productivity for the future. Both sides also agree that producers have the most responsibility. While consumers are more likely than producers to assign additional responsibility to government agencies.
  • Consumers said they would pay more for food produced using environmentally sound practices, but also pointed out that they consider many factors when purchasing food.
    Consumers noted that they prefer the idea of using tax breaks and subsidies as incentives for producers to make environmental gains, versus having to pay more at the grocery store.
  • Consumers feel much more negatively than producers about the acceptability of some practices, especially the use of pesticides, chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. Both parties agreed that it’s more acceptable to use antibiotics to treat diseases than to use them as growth promotants.
  • Finally, producers’ opportunities to educate consumers about agriculture are starting to close, as more consumers are forming their own opinions.

Consumers and farmers agree, the agricultural industry is doing a “fair” to “poor” job of explaining the benefits and drawbacks of modern food production techniques.