Iowa Food and Family Project Survey: Iowans Increasingly Interested in How Food is Grown

Food and Family

Iowans are keenly interested in their food and how it’s grown, find claims made on food labels confusing and give farmers high marks for their ethical approach to animal care and environmental stewardship.

The findings are courtesy of polling commissioned by the Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP). The annual Iowa consumer pulse survey, conducted recently by CampaignHQ of Brooklyn, queried 500 Iowans active in health and fitness activities. Respondents were primarily female, highly affluent and educated and make the majority of their household’s food purchasing decisions. The survey’s margin of error was 4.3 percent.

Interest in food among Iowans continues to spike, mirroring national trends. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they think “often” or “sometimes” about how the food they eat is grown. While that percentage was nearly identical to Iowa FFP’s 2012 consumer pulse survey, intensity of interest increased substantially. Fifty-three percent responded “often think about,” compared to 45 percent the previous year.

Iowans overwhelmingly approve of the job farmers do. Sixty percent had a favorable impression of how farmers care for their cattle, hogs and poultry compared to just 8 percent unfavorable (32 percent were neutral/unsure). Forty-eight percent had a positive impression about farmers as environmental stewards compared to 16 percent unfavorable. Thirty-six percent were neutral or unsure.

The high marks given to farmers by food purchasers has remained consistent since the Iowa FFP’s inaugural consumer trust survey conducted in 2011, said CampaignHQ’s Nicole Schlinger.

People most concerned about an issue are most likely to publicly voice their opinions. While these concerns may prompt news coverage and dominate conversations, they are not a reliable indicator of the moods and perceptions of the at-large public.

“Farmers retain the confidence of their urban neighbors, but that trust must continually be earned,” Schlinger said.

While the vast majority of farms remain family owned, Schlinger said farming continues to evolve. Today, farms are increasingly owned and managed by multiple families, include more acres, livestock and poultry and rely heavily on technology and data.

“As farming changes, so can perceptions, particularly when only 2 percent of Iowans are directly involved in the business of growing food,” she added. “People are less likely to trust what they don’t fully understand.”

For example, 73 percent of respondents said farmers balance doing the right thing with financial considerations, while another 9 percent said farmers do the right thing regardless of the financial benefit. Just 18 percent believe farmers make decisions based solely on the bottom line.

Yet, 39 percent say changes that have occurred in farming make them less trusting of how food is grown. Forty-three percent were unsure, while just 17 percent said the changes in farming made them more trusting of the business.

The Iowa Food & Family Project, launched in 2011 by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and involving nearly 40 farm and food retail partners, receives strong support from Iowans. Eighty-nine percent said they support the Iowa FFP’s mission to increase consumer confidence in how food is grown.

Those aware of the Iowa FFP (25 percent of those surveyed) were also 12 points more knowledgeable about food production and 7 percent more trusting of farmers.

Aaron Putze, ISA communications director and Iowa FFP coordinator, says the findings affirm the Iowa FFP’s purpose and goals.

“Iowans want to be confident that the food and food ingredients they purchase are wholesome and safe, do no harm to the environment and are good for the local communities where they originate,” he says. “We’re dedicated to increasing familiarity and confidence in how food is grown by encouraging conversations and providing unique opportunities for farm families and their urban neighbors to become better acquainted.”

To learn more and become a “Friend” of the Iowa FFP, log on to iowafoodandfamily.com.

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