After a pandemic-induced boost, the latest public trust report from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity indicates Canadians’ faith in the food system has fallen back to general historical trends.
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As the 2022 CCFI Public Trust Research Report describes, 24 per cent of survey respondents believe the food system is headed in the wrong direction, while 33 per cent believe it’s headed in a positive direction. In 2020, for comparison, those numbers were 17 and 47 per cent, respectively.
Why it matters: Public faith in Canada’s food system, or a lack thereof, can have major policy implications for farmers and other stakeholders.
While many factors have spurred lower public confidence, the report identifies affordability and inflation fears as primary culprits. Food safety and overall health are both ranked second. Following those core issues are concerns about food and the environment.
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Food prices have long been a top concern identified in the centre’s public trust research but it has intensified over the last year. Respondents identified a range of different reasons for higher costs of living and wider fears for food affordability and security.
Overall, the 2022 survey data shows Canadians generally hold an accurate understanding about the rising cost of food.
Some 56 per cent believe food prices are increasing due to costs associated with supply chains and producing food. One in five think the increase is due to businesses wanting to increase their profits. Around one in 10 believe the increase is due to the pandemic or because of food shortages resulting from armed conflict. Others identify factors like government policies, the cost of fuel and the continued loss of farmland as reasons the food system is headed in the wrong direction.
All said, perceptions of food inflation are somewhat out-of-sync with reality. Price increases stand at 9.7 per cent, but respondents believed the true number to be 16 per cent. Many reported taking measures to reduce their food bill.
“When asked how, if at all, Canadians are adapting their behaviours in response to the rising cost of food, the most common response is eating out less, cited by over four in 10 (42 per cent),” the report said.
“About a third of Canadians are buying less food and wasting less of what they do buy (33 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively). Slightly fewer report shifts in the type of food they buy including eating less meat, buying in bulk, buying more frozen food and less nutritious options.”
The 2022 CCFI report highlights several other key areas of interest for stakeholders in the food and agriculture sector.
Plant and animal genetics
“Canadians say they are most knowledgeable about traditional animal breeding although only four in 10 feel they are at least somewhat knowledgeable on this topic,” says the report.
“There has been a slight decrease in reported knowledge about GMOs, yet this topic continues to be ranked second. Compared to last year, knowledge about gene editing in both plants and animals has increased significantly but are still the lowest rated.”
Although public impressions of breeding and editing in both plants and animals have improved “significantly,” according to the report, “Canadians are more likely to say they view gene editing (in both plants and animals) and genetically modified plants negatively than to have a positive impression.”
Labeling and product assurance
Ingredient lists, country of origin and nutritional information are the most trusted forms of on-pack communications, the report said.
“Canadians are most skeptical of claims that a food product is ‘all natural’, organic, or has no artificial ingredients…. A quarter of Canadians say they look for assurance logos when shopping; a majority of this group say they seek out the ‘non-GMO project verified’ label.”
About four in 10 say they look for the Canadian organic and quality assurance logos, as well as food that is labelled as raised without antibiotics, hormones and steroids, the report said.
“Concern about the general practice of misleading food labels or descriptions for the purposes of marketing is slightly higher than for greenwashing; just under half of Canadians are worried about these disingenuous marketing tactics.”
Media and information
“Canadians are not extremely trusting of media as a source of information about Canada’s food system,” said the report. However, this trust was found to be age related, declining in older populations.
“Gen Z Canadians (born 1997 or later) have significantly higher levels of trust for most forms of media than older groups.”
For information about food, the report said Canadians most often turn to online searches, which ranked second as most-trusted behind government websites.
“Some social media platforms – particularly Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram – are heavily utilized by Canadians when consuming food-related information, yet are not particularly trusted.”
Despite variability between demographics and regions, survey data indicates trust in the Canadian food system in 2022 has remained steady from the previous year. About one-third maintain a very high trust level and almost two thirds indicate a moderate trust level.
A breakdown of categories reveals a more complex picture. While farmers as a whole remain the most trusted individual group (followed by scientists), trust in small, independent producers, university researchers and Canadian agriculture overall declined by several percentage points.
The 2022 report also includes general recommendations for how Canada’s agri-food sector can improve public faith in the food system.