Washington Insider: Trust Gap on Food Information

| December 31, 2012
Print Friendly

Press reports last week of a recent poll of mothers indicated some good and some bad news for agriculture.  The survey asked about the information this group received on hot issues such as pesticides, genetic modification, food additives and others.  The good news is that these consumers are serious and pay attention to large amounts of information about the products they buy.  The bad news is the low level of trust they indicated toward official and expert  sources.    

The poll was by Fleishman-Hillard and TheMotherhood.com and included 1,000  mothers.  It concluded that they tap a wide variety of information sources, but don’t trust most of them very much.  They trust food blogs and those by other mothers the most, but even those tend to fall far short on information needed,  the poll suggests.     

Food blogs and those from other mothers were cited by just over one-third of  the respondents as their most reliable sources — the most cited group.  Government sources, medical sites and corporate sources trailed far behind, with medical sites trusted by 20%, and physicians by 15%.  The respondents said  that when they wanted information on genetically modified organisms 39% trust  food and “mom” blogs, 31% looked offline to peers, 24% thought the government was a good source and 18% listed medical sites.    
On the whole, nutritionists scored a few points better than physicians on  GMOs, artificial flavors and colors, pesticides and food sources but the  respondents’ attitude toward “experts” was guarded at best.   

In terms of “main concerns,” the study suggests that the mothers, like  others, believe that more information is needed and that contradictory findings  by experts and others worry them a lot. They say they want simpler, easier to  understand labels, but deeply resent being “tricked” with “meaningless labels.”  And, they say they do read labels — 78% of the mothers surveyed, especially  those in urban and suburban areas, reported that they read the information on  food packages.    

About that same share, 78% said they relied heavily on food programs on TV.  Food media websites also were used widely, with 77% reporting that they use  media websites.  These sources were followed by food brand emails (72%);  Facebook (65%); mobile apps (53%); Twitter (52%); food magazines (50%) and food  brand blogs (46%).    

“We found it interesting that more than three-quarters of moms are watching  food programs on TV and reading food media websites, and nearly three-quarters  have signed up for food brand emails, considering these are not all ‘foodie’  moms, but everyday meal-preparing moms,” Cooper Munroe, co-founder of TheMotherhood.com told the press.     

Nearly 80% of the respondents said they want to save more money on groceries while 68% want healthier food.  Just under 50% want less processed food.  And,  less than 30% said they want to buy organic more often in 2013.    

So, the good news would seem to be that agriculture’s consumers are paying  attention to whatever information is to be had about the food they buy and  prepare for their families, especially the quality and health aspects of those  products.  The bad news is that the institutions that are responsible for the  measurement and communication of this information seem to have a very wobbly reputation with this important segment of clients.     

It is not surprising that mothers now turn to other mothers for information,  as they traditionally have done.  However, the fact that mothers express so little trust in information from official sources, and from medical and other experts is a matter for serious concern, both for these institutions and for  producers.    

This problem should be investigated carefully up and down the information chain with an eye to finding out why the mothers feel the way they do and toward strengthening the role and visibility of science as we try to upgrade our nutrition and improve our health, Washington Insider believes.

Category: Farm, Farm News