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Is Confidence in U.S. Food Supply Wilting?

Is Confidence in U.S. Food Supply Wilting?

by Chris McComb

Accusations that the government responded slowly to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused have prompted renewed focus on the United States' vulnerabilities, both to natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. One pivotal safety concern is the nation's food supply.

Gallup's July 2005 Consumption Habits poll* (conducted before Hurricane Katrina) shows few Americans express a great deal of confidence in the federal government's ability to protect the food supply. Only 19% of Americans have "a great deal" of confidence in the federal government's ability "to ensure the safety of the food supply in the U.S," but an additional 61% have a fair amount. Only 20% have little or no confidence.

The percentage who are highly confident in the U.S. government in this regard has declined compared with last year's data. At that time, 31% expressed a great deal of confidence. This year's data are more similar to what Gallup found in earlier polls on this topic.

Gallup has asked this question several times over the last six years. The only time fewer Americans expressed a great deal of confidence in the government's ability to protect the food supply was September 1999, in a poll conducted just weeks after two large E. coli outbreaks in New York and Illinois.

Americans Confident in Safety of Food in Grocery Stores, Restaurants

Despite persistent recalls from food suppliers and distributors, and scares such as the human fingertip "discovered" in a serving of chili at a Wendy's in San Jose, Calif., earlier this year (later determined to be a fraud), majorities of U.S. adults express confidence in the safety of food available at grocery stores and restaurants. Eighty-eight percent of Americans feel confident that grocery store food is safe, and 76% are confident that restaurant food is safe. Confidence in these food sources has increased since these questions were first asked in 1999, though large majorities were confident at that time as well.

Bottom Line

The post-Sept. 11 spotlight on safety issues, including food safety, may have faded somewhat over the past four years, but that does not mean anxieties have been completely assuaged. In a January 2003 report, the Food Safety and Inspection Services, a public health regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stated: "biological and chemical threats to the nation's food supply are a growing source of public concern." Americans seem to be in tune to this anxiety, with most of them expressing at least some level of wariness about the government's ability to protect the nation's food.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 7-10, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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