News

New survey shows Canadians view farmers favourably but know little or nothing about farming

By Debora Van Brenk, The London Free Press

(File photo)

(File photo)

Canadians admit to knowing very little about farming even though most trust farmers, says a new ag-advocacy research group.

About 69 per cent of Canadians surveyed in a recent poll say they view farmers “warm and favourably” when they’re looking for reliable food information — a higher ranking than for any other food adviser including doctors, friends/family and dieticians.

And it’s about twice the degree of trust they place in food retailers, government or food industry associations, said the survey, conducted for the new Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.

“This is a positive report card but like all report cards, there’s a spot for ‘needs improvement,’ ” says Crystal Mackay, executive director of the Guelph-based advocacy group Food & Food Care Canada that launched the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity Tuesday in Ottawa.

The report aims to set a path for gauging and gaining public trust in Canadian-produced food.

More than 90 per cent of the 2,500 people surveyed admitted they know little or nothing about farming — even as more people in a decade have a positive impression of Canadian agriculture.

“There are 16 million Canadians with a question mark about our food system,” Mackay said.

Most Canadians, including those in the Southwestern Ontario farm belt, are a generation or more removed from direct farm experience.

But many said they worried about whether farm animals are treated humanely, whether their food is safe and whether they can afford healthy food.

Although the survey didn’t ask, it’s likely some of those concerns also reflect increasingly polarizing debates about genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), food additives and so-called “factory farms” with thousands of livestock or poultry.

On Monday, Health Canada also said it’s proposing regulations changes that will allow irradiation of ground beef to prevent the growth of bacteria such as E. coli. Public opposition to irradiation has stalled that move in the past.

The report says it’s clear that finding common ground among farmers and consumers carry more weight of influence than mere facts. “Our research shows that confidence (shared values) is at least three times more important than competence (skill and expertise) in building consumer trust,” the report says.

“We can’t ‘educate’ people into trusting their food,” Mackay said. “They have to make a connection first.”

The survey

Gauged consumer opinions on food safety, nutrition, the environment and animal welfare.

Completed in February/March by 2,510 respondents representative of the Canadian population.

Some survey results:

Overall life concerns: 69% rising cost of food; 66% keeping healthy food affordable; 58% rising health care costs; 57% rising energy costs; 56% Canadian economy

Viewed unfavourably as food-information sources:

  • Animal rights/welfare advocacy groups (49%)
  • Environmental advocacy groups (44%)
  • Government scientists (44%)
  • Grocery store/food retailer (39%)
  • Government agencies (35%)
  • Food industry associations (30%)

Viewed favourably as food-information sources:

  • Farmers (69%)
  • Doctors/nurses/medical professionals (65%)
  • Friends/family (62%)
  • Humane societies (59%)
  • Scientific/academic researchers (57%)
  • Dietitians (57%)
  • Teachers/schools (53%)
  • Farmer associations (52%)