It’s no secret: The number of people actively involved in production agriculture has been shrinking for decades. There are fewer, larger farms in the United States and the business of farming has changed dramatically. Because farmers aren’t as visible as they once were, consumers are more concerned about how animals are cared for and who’s producing the food they eat.
The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) releases its Consumer Trust Research report every year, in which it looks at the importance of transparency on the part of agriculture. The CFI website states, “This year’s research is the culmination of three years of work on the concept of increasing food system transparency. Consumers have been asking for greater transparency and there have been varying attempts to define it.”
The research covered transparency from several perspectives: food safety, impact of food on health, environmental impact, labor and human rights, animal well-being, and business ethics.
Of these categories, “Consumers rate food safety and the impact of food on health as the most important,” said Terry Fleck, executive director of CFI since 2007.
“For these issues, they want information on the product label. That includes all ingredients regardless of quantity, allergens, preservatives and whether ingredients were derived from GMO seed. For other issues, engagement and access to information are key themes. Consumers want to be able to engage via the company’s website and they expect information to be provided in easy-to-understand language.”
The research repeatedly confirmed what the agriculture industry has known intuitively for years: Americans have a “big is bad” mindset when it comes to agriculture.
The report states, “Whether comparing local food companies to national food companies or small farms to large farms, the results are the same: a significant percentage of the public (in some cases a majority) feel smaller companies and farms are more likely to share their values. Big Food is susceptible to growing public perception that profit is being placed ahead of public interest. When this perception collides with a triggering event, such as a food recall, social outrage expressed by consumers can have profound effects.”
As a result, larger operations have an even higher need to be open, honest and transparent because of consumers’ inherent distrust of large companies, whether in agriculture or in other segments.