NatCen Social Research found 58% of respondents said they trust farmers and the proportion that did not trust these organisations “very much” or “at all” was 7% and 9% respectively.
However, only one in three people trust the Government “a great deal” or “quite a lot” to make sure food is safe while a similar proportion (34%) said they trusted supermarkets.
It found 29% do not trust the Government “very much” or “at all”, whilst 26% said this about supermarkets, in the British Social Attitudes survey.
“This pattern suggests that who people trust for the management of food supply chains is often underpinned by who they view as having the public’s interests at heart and, conversely, who is more motivated primarily by profit,” found the survey.
More than half are’ very’ or ‘quite sure’ food that comes from Britain is prepared to the highest quality standards, compared with 23% who say this about food from abroad.
Study author perspective
Dr Alizon Draper, the report’s second author, said trust came when for example, big retailers, had done something to earn it and shown transparency beyond profit.
“We looked at what concerned people and how that varies by social group. One thing that came through was some were concerned and read labels but some appear not that bothered, and what I mean by that, is people not that bothered trust actors in the supply chain," she told us.
“What was unexpected was how nuanced and varied concerns were, as an academic looking at literature and from newspapers everyone is concerned but concerns were unequally spread and there was a small group who don’t care where it comes from. We found social demographics didn’t predict concerns.
“Government, primarily the FSA, need to realise the way people respond is nuanced, you can’t predict it in terms of social demographics. Concerns relate to different steps in the supply chain and actors in it.”
The reader in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Westminster said there had been a number of qualitative studies looking at food security but this was one of the first on a large scale using a representative sample to look at concern across the population.
The survey consisted of 4,328 interviews with a random sample of adults in Britain with a response rate of 51%. Interviewing was between 4 July and 2 November last year.
Trust in a food scare
In the event of a food scare, 40% said they would trust health professionals the most to tell the truth while 30% said scientists.
Those who say they eat ready meals are less concerned either that food be grown locally or in the number of processing stages.
A total of 10% would trust the government and 8% would trust the media.
Food manufacturers and supermarkets were the least likely to be trusted the most – 4% and 2% respectively.
Caireen Roberts, research director at NatCen Social Research, said: “While confidence in the quality of food produced in Britain was just over 50%, it was higher than levels of confidence in imported food and we also saw low levels of trust in the government, supermarkets and food manufacturers.
“This may be because these organisations are viewed as being motivated by profit either directly or indirectly or it may be the result of previous food scares. Further research will be needed to see whether the public’s attitudes change over the coming years."
The work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Food Standards Agency under the Global Food Security Programme.
The Global Food Security (GFS) programme second call of its research programme ‘Resilience of the UK food system in a global context’ is ongoing with an outline application deadline of 10 November.