Nearly Three-Quarters of Americans Looking to Government for More Food Safety Oversight

New York , N.Y. – February 5, 2014 – Food recall announcements have become something of a news cycle staple in the past few years. From spinach and peanut butter to chicken and pet foods, there seems to be little left in the U.S. food supply that should not be viewed with at least a modicum of suspicion. As such, it’s likely not surprising that strong majorities of U.S. adults say food recalls have them at least somewhat concerned (86%, with 58% somewhat concerned and 28% seriously concerned) and believe there should be more government oversight in regards to food safety (73%).

    New York , N.Y. – February 5, 2014 – Food recall announcements have become something of a news cycle staple in the past few years. From spinach and peanut butter to chicken and pet foods, there seems to be little left in the U.S. food supply that should not be viewed with at least a modicum of suspicion. As such, it’s likely not surprising that strong majorities of U.S. adults say food recalls have them at least somewhat concerned (86%, with 58% somewhat concerned and 28% seriously concerned) and believe there should be more government oversight in regards to food safety (73%).

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014.

    Food recall concerns – and calls for increased government oversight where the food supply is concerned – are stronger among some subsets of Americans than others:

    • Women are more likely than men to indicate being both seriously (31% women, 25% men) and somewhat (61% and 55%, respectively) concerned; they are also more likely than their male counterparts to believe there should be more government oversight in regards to food safety (77% and 69%, respectively).
    • Americans in low income households – specifically households with an annual income under $35,000 – are more likely than those in higher earning households to describe food recalls as a serious concern (36% in households earning <$35k, 21% in households earning $35k-$49,999, 26% in $50k+ households).
    • Turning to political leanings, Democrats (32%) are more likely than Republicans (25%) to characterize food recalls as a serious concern. The call for more government oversight rings most loudly from the Democrats’ camp (86%) and least so from Republicans (60%), with Independents in the middle (70%).

    Waxing or waning?

    U.S. adults are somewhat divided on the question of whether there have been more health and/or safety prompted food recalls recently than in the past few years (43%) or if their frequency has remained about the same (50%). Few, however, believe things have improved, with only 7% indicating there have been fewer than in the past few years.

    • Older Americans – specifically Baby Boomers (48%, ages 49-67) and Matures (49%, ages 68+) – are more likely than their younger counterparts (38% Echo Boomers [ages 18-36], 37% Gen Xers [ages 37-48]) to believe there have been more such recalls.
    • The perception that the number of recalls has risen is also stronger among women (48%) than men (37%).

    When those who think there have been more food recalls lately are asked who they hold most responsible for this increase, the highest percentage by a dramatic margin place the blame on those responsible for packaging and/or processing food (50%), though the federal government (19%) and those responsible for growing and/or raising food (16%) don’t escape this blame.

    • Though overall few Americans place the lion’s share of blame on consumers, for wanting food to be as cheap as possible (6%), it’s worth noting that men (9%) are twice as likely as women (4%) to take such a position.
    • Those in households with children are twice as likely as those without to point to those responsible for growing and/or raising food (24% with, 12% without).
    • Matures (65%) are the generation most likely to blame those responsible for packaging and/or processing food, with Echo Boomers (35%) least likely to do so; blame among Gen Xers (57%) and Baby Boomers (52%) falls in the middle.
    • Matures are less likely than any other generation to lay the blame on those responsible for growing and/or raising food (21% Echo Boomers, 15% Gen Xers, 16% Baby Boomers, 5% Matures).

    Regardless of whether food recalls are on the rise or not, they have inarguably become a regular occurrence in the U.S., and six in ten Americans (61%) say that because of food safety concerns, they try to buy as much food locally as they can.

    • Women (68%) are more likely than men (52%) to indicate this.
    • Additionally, Matures (73%) are more likely than either Echo Boomers (54%) or Gen Xers (57%) to do so; Baby Boomers (64%) are also more likely than Echo Boomers to indicate this.

    Americans are split on whether food safety issues are an inevitable side effect of low food costs, with roughly half each agreeing (52%) and disagreeing (48%) with the sentiment.

    • Younger Americans (59% Echo Boomers, 56% Gen Xers) are more likely than their older counterparts (47% Baby Boomers, 45% Matures) agree with this sentiment.

    Forgiveness is divine

    Health or safety related food recalls can have enormous implications for a company’s reputation and patronage – but not a permanent one, at least for a majority of Americans. Over half of U.S. adults (55%) indicate that if a brand they usually purchase is involved with a recall or safety concern issue, they’ll temporarily switch to another brand and then return to the recalled brand once it’s safe.

    On the other hand, 16% say they’ll purchase another brand and never purchase the recalled brand again, and an additional 17% would thereafter avoid any brands made by the recalled product’s manufacturer.

    • Baby Boomers and Matures (60% each) are more likely than Echo Boomers (49%) to say they would temporarily switch brands, while Echo Boomers are more likely than any other generation to say they would never purchase the recalled brand again (24% Echo Boomers, 15% Gen Xers, 12% Baby Boomers, 9% Matures).
    • Republicans (63%) are more likely than either Democrats (54%) or Independents (55%) to say they would make a temporary brand switch.

    To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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    TABLE 1

    CONCERN OVER FOOD RECALLS

    Which of the following statements best describes your level of concern about food recalls due to health or safety concerns?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    Food recalls are a serious concern to me

    Food recalls have me somewhat concerned

    Food recalls do not concern me at all

    All U.S. Adults

     

     

     

     

    2007

    %

    29

    57

    14

    2014

    %

    28

    58

    14

     

    Gender

    Men

    %

    25

    55

    20

    Women

    %

    31

    61

    8

    Generation

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    %

    28

    55

    17

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    %

    23

    64

    14

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    %

    30

    56

    13

    Matures (68+)

    %

    30

    62

    9

    Household Income

    $34,999 or less

    %

    36

    50

    14

    $35,000 – $49,999

    %

    21

    66

    13

    $50,000+

    %

    26

    59

    15

    Political Party

    Republicans

    %

    25

    59

    16

    Democrats

    %

    32

    55

    13

    Independents

    %

    25

    62

    13

     

     

     

    Children in Household

    Yes

    %

    28

    59

    13

    No

    %

    28

    58

    15

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 2

    COURSE OF ACTION IN EVENT OF FOOD RECALL

    If you learned that a food was recalled due to health or safety concerns, which of the following best describes the course of action you would take when you learned that this product had been recalled?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    If it was a brand I usually purchase, I would temporarily purchase another brand and then purchase the recalled brand once it was safe

    If it was a brand I usually purchase, I would purchase another brand and never purchase the recalled brand again

    I would avoid using any brand made by the manufacturer of the recalled product

    Not sure

    All U.S. Adults

     

     

     

     

     

    2007

    %

    55

    15

    21

    9

    2014

    %

    55

    16

    17

    12

     

    Gender

    Men

    %

    58

    14

    16

    12

    Women

    %

    53

    18

    18

    11

    Generation

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    %

    49

    24

    15

    12

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    %

    53

    15

    18

    14

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    %

    60

    12

    17

    10

    Matures (68+)

    %

    60

    9

    20

    10

    Household Income

    $34,999 or less

    %

    53

    18

    16

    13

    $35,000 – $49,999

    %

    50

    11

    27

    13

    $50,000+

    %

    57

    17

    15

    11

    Political Party

    Republicans

    %

    63

    13

    16

    8

    Democrats

    %

    54

    16

    19

    11

    Independents

    %

    55

    17

    15

    13

     

     

     

    Children in Household

    Yes

    %

    54

    19

    15

    11

    No

    %

    56

    15

    18

    12

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 3

    MORE/FEWER FOOD RECALLS RECENTLY THAN IN PAST FEW YEARS

    Thinking about food health or safety issues prompting recalls in recent years, do you feel there have beenâ€_?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    More than in the past few years

    About the same as in the past few years

    Fewer than in the past few years

    Total

    %

    43

    50

    7

     

    Gender

    Men

    %

    37

    54

    8

    Women

    %

    48

    46

    7

    Generation

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    %

    38

    52

    10

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    %

    37

    56

    7

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    %

    48

    47

    4

    Matures (68+)

    %

    49

    42

    9

    Household Income

    $34,999 or less

    %

    42

    44

    14

    $35,000 – $49,999

    %

    42

    52

    7

    $50,000+

    %

    43

    52

    5

    Political Party

    Republicans

    %

    43

    50

    7

    Democrats

    %

    46

    46

    8

    Independents

    %

    42

    51

    7

     

     

     

    Children in Household

    Yes

    %

    40

    50

    10

    No

    %

    44

    50

    6

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


    TABLE 4

    WHO MOST HOLD RESPONSIBLE FOR INCREASED FOOD HEALTH & SAFETY ISSUES

    By Gender, Children in Household & Generation

    And who do you most hold responsible for there having been more food health and safety issues in recent years?

    Base: Think there have been more food recalls

    2014 Total

    Gender

    Children in Household

    Generation

    Male

    Female

    Yes

    No

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Those responsible for packaging/processing food

    50

    45

    53

    42

    53

    35

    57

    52

    65

    The federal government

    19

    23

    17

    17

    20

    20

    15

    20

    23

    Those responsible for growing/raising food

    16

    16

    16

    24

    12

    21

    15

    16

    5

    Consumers, for wanting food to be as cheap as possible

    6

    9

    4

    9

    5

    11

    8

    3

    5

    Major restaurant chains

    2

    2

    1

    1

    2

    4

    1

    Grocery store chains

    1

    1

    1

    3

     

    3

     

    Other

    4

    3

    5

    2

    5

    3

    4

    5

    1

    None of these

    2

    2

    3

    2

    3

    3

    2

    3

    1

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

    – indicates this response was not selected

    indicates fewer than 0.5% selected this response

     

    TABLE 5a

    AGREE/DISAGREE WITH RECALL STATEMENTS (SUMMARY GRID)

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. adults

    AGREE (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    There should be more government oversight in regards to food safety.

    %

    73

    29

    44

    27

    18

    9

    Because of food safety concerns, I try to buy as much food locally as possible.

    %

    61

    16

    44

    39

    29

    11

    Food safety issues are an inevitable side effect of low food costs.

    %

    52

    11

    41

    48

    30

    17

    I worry more about food safety in regards to produce (fruits and vegetables) than meat and dairy products.

    %

    40

    9

    31

    60

    45

    15

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding


    TABLE 5b

    AGREE/DISAGREE WITH RECALL STATEMENTS

    Strongly Agree + Somewhat Agree (NET) Summary By Gender, Generation & Political Party

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    2014 Total

    Gender

    Generation

    Political Party

    Male

    Female

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Republicans

    Democrats

    Independents

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    There should be more government oversight in regards to food safety.

    73

    69

    77

    75

    69

    74

    70

    60

    86

    70

    Because of food safety concerns, I try to buy as much food locally as possible.

    61

    52

    68

    54

    57

    64

    73

    60

    64

    56

    Food safety issues are an inevitable side effect of low food costs.

    52

    52

    53

    59

    56

    47

    45

    48

    52

    54

    I worry more about food safety in regards to produce (fruits and vegetables) than meat and dairy products.

    40

    39

    42

    41

    43

    37

    40

    39

    38

    41

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 15 and 20, 2013 among 2,236 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll® #14, February 5, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.