A new report says Canadians have more confidence than ever before in the food system, but concern remains over rising costs.
In its 2020 Public Trust Research Report, “Trends in Trust & The Path Forward,” the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI), 47 per cent of those surveyed report being confident in the overall direction of the food system, a 12-point increase compared to 2019.
“I don’t have any data on this, but I would think the reason for this is because of COVID,” said John Jamieson, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. “COVID highlights, really what’s important to us. And food is certainly one of the basics that we have to be thinking about.”
The response of Canada’s food system to COVID-19 was highly praised by consumers in the survey, with 87 per cent saying they trust the food system will ensure the availability of healthy food for Canadians.
“Certainly, there was a change and the experience of Canadians when they go to the grocery store,” Jamieson said. “And I think the way the food system in Canada was able to pivot, adapt, and being able to maintain a food supply during COVID, I think that has warmed the hearts of Canadians and made them feel that our food system is heading in the right direction.”
He says this creates a significant opportunity to engage Canadians on information about the food supply chain, because they have demonstrated an interest in it.
With the pandemic continuing to dull economic fortunes, the CCFI says Canadians are most concerned about the cost of food: 51 per cent of Canadians indicated having less money to spend on food, as a direct result of the pandemic.
Those surveyed had a list of issues that could be a potential concern, including health-care costs, the state of the economy and climate change.
Overall, about two out of every three respondents said they have a positive impression of agriculture and how it’s managed in Canada — but there are areas they remain concerned over the use of pesticides and GMOs, animal welfare and limiting food waste are all on the mind of consumers.
“That’s important to know when communicating to Canadians,” Jamieson said. “(Consumers) seem to be open and receptive right now to what we’re doing. And it’s not just a one-way conversation, either. It’s looking at what Canadians want to know, and how we (can) be transparent about what we do.”
Jamieson said despite science being on the side of producers when it comes to these issues, “a lot of what we do and read is driven by emotion.”
“We know that people trust farmers, and they trust university researchers, but we need to do a really good job of communicating why we do what we do,” he said. “Because ideally, we want Canadians to trust the food they consume. And we also want them to trust the practices that put it together.
“We need to continue to talk about how we’re continuously working toward, you know, having a lower environmental footprint, or, improved animal welfare, or, whatever. And we also know from this year’s survey that you need to communicate your sustainability plans.”
The CCFI found in its research that notions of sustainability in food are not a trend, but a requirement to be successful. Forty-five per cent of respondents said sustainability refers to food options and production practices that address climate change and have a positive impact on the environment.
“If you’re not communicating what you’re doing around sustainability… you’re really not going to be in the game,” Jamieson said. “That’s just a foundational piece of being in the food system.”
This is the fifth year the CCFI has done research into public trust of Canadian food, with 2,903 Canadians sampled this year.
The survey aims to track public attitudes about Canadian food, agriculture and food systems, while also measuring trust and evaluating where consumers turn for information about the industry.