National Newswatch

Agriculture Canada has awarded about $440,000 to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) to develop a strategy to boost consumer confidence in food.

CFA’s role in the strategy development will be to manage and administer the process nationally through the Public Trust Steering Committee (PTSC). It will study all available research on public trust to identify gaps in current research that need to be tackled through studies.

CFA President Ron Bonnett will serve as co-chair of PTSC, which is being funded by up to $441,250 from the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. The decision to create the committee “demonstrates the power of partnerships between industry, governments and the many other groups who make up Canada’s dynamic agrifood system,” he said. “This unique project brings together diverse players from across the sector, who understand that our common goal of enhancing public trust isn’t something that can be done in isolation. It requires a cohesive and collaborative approach.”

CCFI will receive up to $190,000 for different types of research into the priorities of Canadians related to their food choices. President Crystal Mackay said, “Public trust is an important base for the future growth, innovation and success of Canada’s food system. The investment in a better understanding of Canadians’ beliefs and values about food is an excellent foundation to lead to actions to address their needs for the future.”

The PTSC will be composed of partners from across the agrifood sector that wish to work together to learn from each other’s best practices and develop partnerships to further their reach and impact, said Jean-Claude Poissant, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture.

CFA said it plans to create ways to measure public trust in the food supply “compiling the current metrics organizations use to measure public trust and developing new approaches for agriculture and food, eventually developing an evaluation tool for the recommended approach.”

Mackay said her organization will be hiring staff to work on tracking trends and expressions of consumer interest and concern, expanding the role it already plays.

The latest CCFI research into consumer food concerns found Canadians are most concerned with the rising cost of food and the affordability of healthy food.

The top concern of 67 per cent of Canadians is “the rising cost of food,” Mackay said. “Keeping healthy food affordable was rated second, together with rising energy costs and rising health care costs, all at 63 percent. Rounding out the top five concerns for Canadians was the safety of food imported from outside of Canada at 55 percent.

“The results tell us today’s consumers are not only looking for affordable food options, they are also unsure about many aspects about food and the food system and are looking to know more from credible sources.”

Thirty-six percent said Canada’s food system is headed in the right direction compared to 43 percent in 2017. She said the survey didn’t explore the reasons for the drop in confidence but its 2019 survey will dig in this and other food issues.

Among them will be a decline in overall impression of agriculture in Canada for the first time in 12 years “falling from 61 percent in 2016 to 56 percent in the latest survey. This follows a steady increase since 2006. The decline in positive impressions is driven by a significant increase in Canadians who say they don’t know enough about agriculture and food to have an opinion 12 percent in 2018, compared to only 2 percent in 2016.

“This research demonstrates that the food system can’t take trust for granted; it must be earned,” said Mackay. “Canadians desire balanced, credible information about food so they can feel confident in their decisions for themselves and their families. It’s up to the entire food chain to turn up the volume and efforts to openly share information about food and how it’s produced, processed and packaged with consumers.”

This is where the PTSC will play a role. CCFI tracks social media comments on food issues and funds research on consumer attitudes and is responding to them when it can and draws to bloggers and web site such as Best Food Facts that deliver the agrifood sector’s message.

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.

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