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Poll: Three-Quarters of Americans Want More Government Food Safety Oversight

Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe there should be more government oversight of food safety, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a Nielsen polling company.

The poll asking 2,236 American adults their feelings on the issue of food safety found that 73 percent said there should be more government oversight of food safety. A full 86 percent also reported being either somewhat concerned (58 percent) or seriously concerned (28 percent) about food recalls.

A similar survey posed the same questions in 2007, revealing that consumer attitudes toward government oversight of food safety have changed little since then.

Differences in Demographics

The survey compared responses to food recalls over a number of factors, such as gender, age, household income, and political affiliation, finding a few more noticeable differences.

For instance, women are more likely than men to believe the country needs more government food safety oversight (77 percent women compared to 69 percent men) and more likely to say they’re at least somewhat concerned about food recalls (92 percent women compared to 80 percent men).

When comparing political views, those who felt there should be more government oversight of food safety more heavily identified as Democrats (86 percent) compared to Republicans (60 percent) or Independents (70 percent). Democrats were also more likely than Republicans to say food recalls were a serious concern (32 percent vs. 25 percent).

Food recalls appear to become a bigger concern among people as they age, with food recalls being at least somewhat concerning for 92 percent of Americans aged 68 years or older. That’s compared to 86 percent of those aged 49-67 years old, 87 percent for those aged 37-48, and 83 percent for those aged 18-36.

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey found virtually no difference between the level of concern regarding food recalls between households that have children compared to those who do not. Of those who have children, 87 percent were at least somewhat concerned about food recalls, while 86 percent of those without children were at least somewhat concerned as well.

Household income, however, played a big role in perceptions of food recalls. Those who considered food recalls seriously concerning were more likely to have a household income below $35,000 per year (36 percent) compared to the $35-50,000 (21 percent) and $50,000+ (26 percent) ranges.

Recall Reactions, Worsening Perceptions

Perhaps the most frightening response for food manufacturers: At least 33 percent of respondents said that they would never purchase a brand once it had been recalled due to health or safety concerns, even if it was the brand they usually purchased. The majority (55 percent) said they would temporarily switch to another brand before returning to their usual brand, while 12 percent said they were not sure what they would do.

Younger respondents were more likely to permanently abandon recalled brands, with 39 percent of those aged 18-36 years saying they would never purchase a recalled brand again, compared to 29 percent of those aged 68 years and older.

Respondents also seemed to lean toward perceiving health and food safety problems as worsening in recent years, with 43 percent saying there had been more safety-related recalls lately, while only 7 percent believed there had been fewer and 50 percent believed things had stayed about the same. Women were more likely than men to believe food safety issues had worsened (48 percent vs. 37 percent).

When those who felt food safety had worsened were asked who was most responsible for creating increased health and food safety issues, 50 percent of respondents blamed food packagers and processors. Another 19 percent blamed the federal government, while 16 percent blamed farmers, 6 percent blamed consumers demanding cheap food, 2 percent blamed restaurants and 1 percent blamed grocery stores.

What’s more, 61 percent of respondents supported buying food locally when possible because of food safety concerns. The majority (52 percent) of respondents also agreed that food safety issues were “an inevitable side effect” of cheap food costs. Respondents were more likely to be concerned about the safety of meat and dairy (60 percent) as compared to fruits and vegetables (40 percent).

Government Oversight

The opinions about government oversight come three years after Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considerably more oversight to mitigate foodborne illness. The legislation, however, still has a long way to go before full implementation.

Thanks to the law, FDA now has the authority to recall contaminated food in instances where companies do not do so voluntarily. At the same time, several key provisions remain in draft form, still undergoing a comment and revision phase involving stakeholders from the public and industry.

Last week, FDA closed the comment period for the Foreign Supplier Verification Program and Third-Party Accreditation rules and released its proposed rule on sanitary transport, opening a comment period on the rule that will run until May 31. Earlier this week, the agency began seeking comments on its draft approach for designating high-risk foods. And comment periods for preventive controls for animal food and intentional adulteration rules are open through March 31.

FDA is far behind schedule on implementing a number of the rules, and, in 2012, two consumer groups joined together to sue FDA and the White House Office of Management and Budget over the delays. A federal court ruled that the delays could not extend past June 30, 2015.

On Wednesday, however, Michael Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food and Veterinary Medicine, told a House committee that FDA did not have enough resources to implement the law in full.

“We will continue efforts to make the best use of the resources we have, but simply put, we cannot achieve FDA’s vision of a modern food safety system and a safer food supply without a significant increase in resources,” Taylor said.

Whether or not the FDA will be granted more resources to meet the June 30, 2015, deadline is unclear.

The complete Harris Interactive survey results can be found here.

© Food Safety News
  • Oginikwe

    If they really wanted to see some mind-boggling stats, they’d ask us how we feel about getting so many foodstuffs, vitamins, and food additives from China. The first company that re-starts stateside production will make a ton of money.

  • farmber

    Too bad the handlers behind the CA Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has put in place ecologically ruinous metrics and supermetrics that bulldose buffers, drain ponds and remove taxpayer-supported conservation enhancements that actually increase the risk of migrated contamination. And all at a tremendous expense to farmers…

    The greatest risk is really from the industrialized centralization of the food supply where a singular contamination event can get co-mingled, processed, packed, shipped and distributed to supermarket chains all around the country — potentially poisoning many thousands of eaters.

    This model is designed to protect the handlers most of all. But when they tried to take the LGMA national thru USDA-Government involvement they were met with fierce opposition all around the country — and USDA eventually scrapped it…