The seventh wave of the Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll found 41 percent of Americans never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced.
The poll surveyed 2,001 Americans on their attitudes and knowledge of food, agriculture, and climate change. Data from the poll were weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual U.S. population. Launched in 2017, the survey is conducted twice per year.
“As a nation, we celebrate our long history of farming and food production, yet so many of us have not been paying attention to how agricultural practices and emerging technologies sustain us,” says Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the survey. “The global food system also plays a very significant role in addressing climate challenges, but our results indicate that most Americans are not aware of the relationships between our diets and the planet.”
The March 2021 results reveal that 23 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that transportation produces the most greenhouse gas emissions in food production, although it only accounts for 6 percent. Meanwhile, 61 percent thought reducing the use of pesticides would limit the food system’s impact on climate change. Pesticides pose environmental problems, but they are not a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions compared to other factors.
About 44 percent of respondents said they were aware that increasing the consumption of plant-based foods could have a significant impact on the release of greenhouse gases. Livestock and fish farms account for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from food production, along with an additional 16 percent from land use changes for livestock.
Respondents were also most likely to associate sustainable food production with a cleaner environment (34 percent) and better health (20 percent), while job creation (4 percent), economic growth (4 percent), and American innovation (3 percent) ranked much lower.
“According to the poll data, it appears we have a lot of work to do in terms of getting information out about the ways that sustainable food production can protect our environment, stimulate our economy, and provide jobs,” says Doug Buhler, co-director of the poll and director of MSU AgBioResearch. “It’s important that we help consumers better understand the food system to be more efficient and less wasteful.”
About 41 percent of Americans say they are likely to purchase foods that look and taste identical to meat but are artificially produced, up from 33 percent in February 2018. About 52 percent of respondents recognized that developing crops more resistant to heat, drought, and flooding through biotechnology would significantly impact greenhouse gas emissions.
About 87 percent said they take steps to reduce the amount of food waste in their homes. About 70 percent look for the term “natural” on labels when shopping for food, despite the fact that natural may not mean a product that is the safest or healthiest.
About 56 percent said they trust academic or university scientists, 50 percent trust government scientists, and 48 percent trust industry scientists when it comes to the health and safety of food.