Consumers are confused about food and food production, and many do not know whom to trust for food information. But the good news is, many trust farmers and ranchers more than other information sources, and first-hand exposure to production agriculture tends to improve consumers’ perceptions of food production. Those are some of the findings of a study from advertising and marketing agency Sullivan, Higdon & Sink.

Their report, titled “Building trust in what we eat,” outlines what U.S. consumers know or think they know about food production, what they want to know and which information sources they trust.

In this survey, only 40 percent of consumers rated their food-production knowledge as good or excellent, while 60 percent indicated they have poor, fair or average knowledge of the subject. Higher percentages of consumers claim good or excellent knowledge of movies, politics, history or music. Most want to know more though, as 69 percent of consumers overall and 77 percent of moms said it is important to learn about food production.

As for transparency, only 19 percent of respondents believe food companies are transparent about how food is produced, while 22 percent believe the agricultural community is transparent. In both cases, consumers who rate their food knowledge as good or excellent were somewhat more likely to believe food companies and agriculture are sufficiently transparent, suggesting consumer education can help build trust.

Farm visits had some positive impact on consumers’ perceptions of food. Nineteen percent of all consumers and 22 percent of moms who had visited a farm said it made them feel better about food. For a majority, farm visit had no influence, and for 6 percent of all consumers and 11 percent of moms, visiting a farm actually made them feel worse about food. More recent visits had more positive impact, as 26 percent of consumers who visited a farm in the past year felt better about food compared with just 10 percent whose last farm visit was 10 to 20 years ago.

As for meat and packaging information, 60 percent want to know whether the animal was given hormones, 42 percent want to know what medicines the animal was given in its lifetime and 34 percent want to know where the animal was raised and what its living conditions were like.

The largest percentage of consumers, 66 percent, consider friends and family trustworthy for food information, followed by USDA and FDA at 59 and 57 percent respectively,

Fifty three percent of consumers consider farmers and ranchers trustworthy sources of food information, compared with just 17 percent for food manufacturers.

The authors suggest food marketers could benefit by involving farmers and ranchers in telling their stories directly to consumers and by informing consumers of the involvement of USDA and FDA in ensuring food safety.

The full report is available for download from Sullivan, Higdon & Sink.