KANSAS CITY, Mo. – More than 170 of the country’s best and brightest minds in the fields of animal, human and public health debated antibiotic use and resistance at the National Institute of Animal Agriculture’s antibiotic symposium last week.

While this complex issue will continue to evolve, the focus also turns to shoppers and how their perceptions on the issue are evolving and affecting their purchases.

To better explain what people really think about their food, Joe Cardador, chief research officer with the Service Management Group, Inc., revealed the results of a survey completed on more than 1,900 shoppers from across the country.

The results show that while consumers are concerned about antibiotics, other issues surrounding food production worry them, too.

The results show:

  1. Consumers are concerned: Fifty-six percent of consumers surveyed indicated that knowing whether animals received hormones is important or very important when buying meat products. Antibiotic use in livestock is also a major issue with consumers, with 54 percent believing it is an important or very important issue to consider.
  2. These concerns extend to dairy and eggs, too: Antibiotic and hormone concerns didn’t just matter in meat purchases. Shoppers also wanted to know if the livestock that produced their dairy or egg products were given hormones (57 percent) or antibiotics (52 percent).
  3. Shoppers care more about humane handling than impact on the environment: For meat, dairy and egg purchases, just 34 percent of consumers found it important or very important to know the potential impact on the environment. Cardador explains that “this was a little bit surprising since sustainability is an issue in part of the local food movement. We thought that would be a little bit higher.”
  4. They also are more worried than they were a few years ago: Nearly two-thirds of the shoppers who participated in the survey were more concerned or much more concerned about the safety and impact of antibiotics now than in the past. The safety and impact of hormones (63 percent) and GMOs in feed grains (63 percent) were also of significant concern.
  5. They don’t mind paying for perceived quality: More than half of the shoppers wouldn’t mind paying more for quality. Research from Context Marketing found that young adults between the ages of 20-20 are most willing to pay between 1 percent and 10 percent more for higher-quality grocery items. See the study here.  
  6. Some believe the food they buy says something about who they are: Nearly one-third of consumers feel the food they purchase is a reflection of who they are as a person.
  7. They turn to labels as their main source of information: There is no doubt that websites and the Internet play a role in disseminating information to consumers. However, an overwhelming majority of consumers – 73 percent – turn to labels. Just eight percent said that they don’t read labels are all.
  8. …but some find labels confusing:  About 13 percent of shoppers admit they read food labels but find them confusing.

“The main take-away is it does matter to consumers. It is an important issue,” Cardador said.

However, Cardador warned that while important, the complexity of the antibiotics issue and other issues surrounding food production makes it difficult for consumers to understand not only the issues but also how these issues should influence their buying habits.

Cardador told the symposium attendees, “if the people in this room are having a difficult time arguing the relative merits of what constitutes the appropriate use of antibiotics and other drugs in food production, consumers are even more confused and ambivalent about it.”