Survey Examines Links Between Local Foods and Climate Change, Health, Food Safety (Part 1)

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A recent survey shows American consumers are skeptical about the safety of the global food system, and many believe local foods are safer and better for their health than foods from afar.


These are the views of a representative, nationwide sample of 500 consumers who participated in a web-based survey conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in July. Their responses are summarized in a new report, Consumer Perceptions of the Safety, Health, and Environmental Impact of Various Scales and Geographic Origin of Food Supply Chains, written by Rich Pirog, who leads the center’s Marketing and Food Systems Initiative. His coauthor is Iowa State University graduate student Andy Larson.

The researchers sought to gauge consumer perceptions regarding:

  • Food safety
  • The impact various scales and production methods of the food system have on greenhouse gas emissions
  • Willingness to pay for a food system that achieves a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Health benefits from local and organic foods

Survey respondents placed high importance on food safety, freshness (harvest date) and pesticide use on fresh produce they purchase, with somewhat lower importance placed on whether produce was locally grown, the level of greenhouse gas emissions it took to produce and transport the produce, and whether the respondent could contact the farmer who grew it.

Pirog said that while 70% of the respondents perceived the U.S. food system to be safe, concern was raised when they were asked about the safety of fresh produce from other continents. Eighty-five percent and 88% of respondents, respectively, perceived local and regional food systems to be somewhat safe or very safe, compared to only 12% for the global food system.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this story.

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