6 July 2022 – for immediate release

 

Consumer research highlights the urgent need for a better conversation around science in agriculture and food production

 

Consumer research released today by Science for Sustainable Agriculture has revealed a surprising lack of awareness among British consumers about where their food comes from, and how much scientific innovation goes into its development and production.

 

The independent survey, designed and conducted by consumer research agency England Marketing Ltd, sought to establish a representative snapshot of public and consumer attitudes towards scientific intervention in agriculture and food production.

 

The study used the England Marketing Panel, which consists of engaged members of the public with a specific interest in food, agriculture, heritage and sustainability. Given this group’s predisposed interest in food-related issues, the findings can be interpreted as a ‘best case’ scenario of consumer awareness and understanding.

 

Key findings are summarised below:

 

  • While consumers generally consider themselves reasonably well-informed as to the meaning of terms such as “natural” and “sustainable” in the context of food production, it is clear that they are largely unaware of the level of scientific intervention that underpins the supply of fresh produce and base ingredients they would otherwise perceive as being largely unaffected by human intervention.

 

  • For example, respondents were very surprised to discover that the ‘natural’ versions of everyday foods such as sweetcorn, carrots and bananas are almost unrecognisable (and inedible) compared to their modern equivalents, and that scientific intervention has underpinned these transformations.  

 

  • Similarly, very few consumers were aware that none of the familiar food crops grown on British farms are native to this country. With the exception of bananas and oranges, most respondents assumed that food crops such as wheat, barley, oats, sugar beet and potatoes are all native to Britain.

 

  • In fact, all the food crops grown on British farms originated in other parts of the world, e.g. wheat, barley and oats from the Middle East, potatoes from South America, and sugar beet from central Europe. All have been adapted to our growing conditions and markets by the most amazing scientific intervention and human ingenuity, and many of the food crops grown today bear only a passing resemblance to their ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ versions.   

 

  • In relation to food and agricultural innovations, many respondents reported feeling “blinded by science”, with highly scientific and technical terminology used, and a lack of accessible information communicated directly to the public.

 

  • Trust is also a key factor in consumers’ acceptance of scientific innovation. Whilst 88% of the sample believe that it is the Government’s responsibility to communicate information around scientific developments in the sphere of food production, only 11% believe the Government to be a trustworthy source of information.

 

  • Farmers and public sector/academic scientists are felt to be more trustworthy, with 68% and 59% of consumers respectively stating they would trust information about the use of science in agriculture and food production from these sources. By contrast, less than 28% of consumers would be likely to trust information from scientists working in industry. 

 

  • Levels of concern around habitat loss and the climate emergency are high, and the research revealed a willingness among consumers to recognise and accept the contribution of scientific intervention in tackling these challenges and in supporting more sustainable approaches to food production.

 

  • Respondents are generally interested in the issues surrounding sustainable agriculture and food production, as evidenced by many using multiple information resources to gather information on key topics. However, respondents felt that information could be more accessible and communicated in more consumer-friendly terms.   

 

  • Older generations tend to be more engaged and informed on the topic of sustainable agriculture, although millennials are also beginning to speak up more about the climate crisis.

 

 

Commenting on the findings, agricultural economist Graham Brookes, a member of the Science for Sustainable Agriculture advisory group said:

 

“This research highlights the lack of knowledge as to the true provenance of many of our familiar food crops, and the transformational changes they have undergone in order to be grown in the UK.

 

“This raises questions about the validity of current public discussions around issues such as precision breeding, when most consumers appear unaware of the level of scientific intervention which has already gone into the development of our everyday foods.”

 

Fellow SSA advisory group member, science communicator Dr Julian Little added:

 

“There is a clear understanding among consumers of the many challenges facing our food supply, and the need for urgent action to tackle those challenges. As the world gets hotter, and people get hungrier, more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, delivered by trusted sources, using the right language and terminology, will be absolutely critical.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ENDS

 

 

Notes to Editors

The England Marketing consumer research report entitled 'How natural is our food, and what does 'natural' mean anyway?' is available to download here.  

 

Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) is a new policy and communications platform, offering a focal point for information, comment and debate around modern, sustainable agriculture and food production. Supported by an independent advisory group of political, scientific and industry leaders from a range of sectors and backgrounds (listed below), SSA’s aim is to promote a conversation rooted in scientific evidence, rather than ideology. Science for Sustainable Agriculture will provide a platform for like-minded individuals and organisations to champion and explain the vital role of science and technology in safeguarding our food supply, tackling climate change and protecting the natural environment. SSA also stands ready to expose, comment on and challenge unscientific positions or policy decisions in relation to sustainable agriculture.

 

Further information about Science for Sustainable Agriculture is available here.

 

Advisory Group members

Matt Ridley – science writer and farmer

Professor Tina Barsby – plant scientist

Dr Julian Little – science communicator

Graham Brookes – agricultural economist

Lord Rooker - politician

Professor Helen Sang – livestock scientist

Helen Munday – food industry scientist

Dr Helen Ferrier – scientific and regulatory affairs adviser

Dr Craig Lewis – livestock breeder

David Hill – arable farmer

Paul Temple – mixed farmer

Professor Johnathan Napier – plant scientist

Julian Sturdy MP – politician and farmer

Alex Waugh – primary food processing

Dr Alastair Leake – agronomist and conservation scientist

Karen Holt – regulatory consultant

Nigel Moore – plant breeding

Daniel Pearsall – co-ordinator

Contact:

Daniel Pearsall, co-ordinator

E: press@scienceforsustainableagriculture.com

M: 07770 875455

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