Chicago Council survey: Americans trust documentaries more than other media on food information
October 15, 2015
More than 70 percent of Americans find documentaries trustworthy on food information, while only 50 percent find print, broadcast and online media trustworthy and only 38 percent find blogs and social media trustworthy, according to a survey based on data collected for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and released Wednesday.
The survey data should be welcome news for filmmakers such as Robert Kenner, who made "Food Inc.," but disturbing for the many groups on all sides of food issues that have invested heavily in social media in the last few years.
Many farm groups, for example, have urged farmers to blog and tweet with the idea that this convinces urban consumers to be more receptive to genetically modified foods and industrial-scale agriculture.
The Chicago Council did not highlight the data on documentaries in its report, titled "Hungry for Information: Polling Americans on Their Trust in the Food System."
“A majority of Americans name affordability and nutrition as very important issues concerning the food they buy, followed by a third of Americans who say buying non-GMO and antibiotic-free food is very important to them.” Chicago Council on Global Affairs report
Instead the council, which has been heavily involved in national agricultural policy in recent years, emphasized that the survey showed consumers care most about affordability and food safety when deciding what food to buy.
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"We did find it fascinating that documentaries came in ahead of all other forms of media," Marcus Glassman, the research associate in charge of the project, told The Hagstrom Report in an email Wednesday.
"When we were writing the survey, films like 'Food Inc.' and 'Fed Up' were definitely on our minds when we added in 'documentaries,' but from the data we do have, we're not able to unpack what was driving people's trust in documentaries or which documentaries they watched —only that they trust "documentaries" a fair amount."
But Glassman, a food safety epidemiologist added, "This report is just the beginning of a study series on public opinion and food and agriculture we're planning at the council, so we do intend to find out the answers to more in-depth questions like yours as the project progresses."
Glassman noted that documentaries fall "in the middle of the pack" when compared with other sources of information.
Health professionals rank the highest (85 percent), followed by friends and family (83 percent), farmers (82 percent) and scientists (78 percent).
Next came documentaries (73 percent) followed by grocery stores (65 percent), food packaging (59 percent), food companies (49 percent) print, broadcast and online media (50 percent) and blogs and social media (38 percent).
Perhaps just as important is how few Americans find any source of information on food "very trustworthy."
The survey divided the question on trust into "somewhat trustworthy and "very trustworthy."
Of the 85 percent of Americans who find health professionals trustworthy, only 25 percent say they are "very trustworthy." Only 23 percent say that friends and family and farmers are "very trustworthy" while 19 percent say that documentaries are "very trustworthy."
Only 5 percent consider grocery stores "very trustworthy," while food packaging, food companies and media rank even lower.
The analysis in the report is based on data collected for The Chicago Council by GfK Custom Research using the KnowledgePanel OmniWeb, a nationwide online research panel recruited through address-based sampling.
The survey was fielded between September 25-27 among a national sample of 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3 percentage points, with higher margins of error for demographic subgroups.
Funding for this survey was provided by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' general operating revenue. No donations were solicited or accepted for the explicit funding of this survey, the council said.
The survey also found that 46 percent of Americans are "somewhat interested" in how the food they buy is produced, while 32 percent are "very interested."
The report noted that "Americans want food producers to prioritize food safety most of all, followed by nutrition and affordability."
"When asked which issues Americans believe food producers prioritize and what issues they believe those producers should prioritize, perceptions fall short of expectations by more than 50 percentage points on food safety and nutrition."
The report also said, "A majority of Americans name affordability and nutrition as very important issues concerning the food they buy, followed by a third of Americans who say buying non-GMO and antibiotic-free food is very important to them."
–The Hagstrom Report