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Consumer education responsibility being thrust on farm community

Ron Walter writes about consumer confidence in the country's food system
Trading Thoughts by Ron Walter

The Canadian agriculture industry and its supporters have their work cut out for them to increase and maintain the level of consumer confidence in the country’s food system.

The annual Canadian Food Integrity Centre consumer survey shows a need for more education about food.

Canadians’ overall impression of Canadian agriculture has improved to 60 per cent positive to very positive from 55 in 2018. The low was 41 per cent in 2006.

But most Canadians know little about farming practices. Nine out of 10 admit to knowing little to nothing about farm practices.

Sixty per cent of survey respondents want to know more about agriculture with the rest uncaring. That offers an opportunity for agriculture and supporters to get the message out there and do it before the so-called ant-farming advocates of the world place their messages in consumers’ brains.

The so-called anti-farm movement has already penetrated a lot of consumer minds.

Forty-six per cent of food shoppers are concerned about the use of pesticides in crops, up marginally year over year, but way up from 31 per cent in 2012.

The pesticide issue is coming front and centre with new class action lawsuits against Monsanto and conflict over glyphosate use in forest management.

Use of hormones in farm animals – not allowed in Canadian poultry, pork and dairy — concerns 46 per cent, up four points from 2018 and up from 39 per cent in 2006.

Drug residue in meat, milk and eggs concerns 41 per cent, up from 29 per cent in 2012.

Genetically-engineered crops concern 38 per cent, up from a low of 29 per cent in 2012.

This data indicates agriculture has been losing the public relations struggle with perceptions unfavourable to it.

Some of the concerns like hormones in pork, poultry and dairy products are totally unwarranted but remain.

Farmers are the most trusted of eight main information sources, with university researchers and Canadian agriculture overall, second and third.

Government, with a mere 15 per cent trust rating, is ranked seventh of eight sources, only ahead of food processors/manufacturers.

Yet two-thirds of consumers expect government should be responsible for providing credible information. That compares with 75 per cent expecting farmers to do the job.

That disconnect between trust in government and desire to have government offer credible information leaves farmers with an information burden to bear.

The food processors/manufacturers have some information work to do as well. Forty-seven per cent of consumers are worried about misleading labels; forty-one per cent are concerned about food fraud.

The Food Integrity Centre recommends truth and transparency in communicating to consumers, admitting you’re not perfect and sharing your stories.

And it recommends all parts of the food system work together to tell the story.

There is lots of room to educate Canadians, but the rest of the world needs to learn the story too. The perception in some European countries has our farm practices in the old wild west.

Ron Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.