Label-Conscious Consumer Panel Gives Ag Leaders Plenty to Digest

In one of the most popular sessions at the CCFI North American Leaders Session on Animal Agriculture in Orlando, April 6-7, animal agriculture communicators heard from six Orlando-area consumers April 7 who shared their opinions, fears and purchasing decisions when it comes to animals raised for food.

Moderator Allyson Perry of CCFI posed several questions to learn more from the panelists, who represented a cross-section of today’s consumer and were selected based on their heightened interest in food and how it’s produced.

The audience was instructed to simply listen to the Orlando panelists and ask questions to gain insights.

“Our goal was not to educate the panelists, which is difficult for a room of individuals passionate about production and eager to inform,” said Perry. “The purpose of the exercise is to let participants hear first-hand from today’s consumer.”

“The consumer panel was very powerful because it’s not often that I hear directly from consumers who say they don’t trust farmers and that they are concerned about the safety of the food they eat,” said Rebecca Christman, outreach director with Ag United for South Dakota. “To me, the panel showed that many consumers do have concerns about the safety, quality and the environmental impact of the food they are eating. After listening to the panel, I know that I can no longer dismiss these concerns as coming from a small segment of the population.”

Here is a sample of questions and responses:

When you see negative news about topics like antibiotics and GMOs, do you dig deeper or take it at face value?

Tiffany: I always do research on a topic before I make judgment to see if it’s something they’re fixing or if it’s even real. I don’t reach out to companies to express my concerns.

Eric: I’d like to say “yes, I do research,” but I only look at the first few results on Google. I don’t look at scientific research or academia. It’s not on top of my list because it’s not on the top of Google’s list. How good is the research? I don’t know. Only as good as who wrote it.

What websites do you trust? Any websites that you go to that you trust?

Various: The internet, Google, reputable news sites like Huffington Post and the New York Times, contact the company, not necessarily bloggers as they may be biased.

What concerns you about GMOs?

Jennifer: I don’t know how long GMOs have been around. Maybe it’s a new thing looking at the history of food and farming so we don’t know what the long-term effects are.

Explain GM foods in a way a middle-school student would understand:

Tiffany: I would talk about cloning and using chemicals to create something instead of having it come naturally. These are chemically-based products. We have zucchini, squash and soybeans made genetically and we’ll have salmon made through cloning, replicating genetically modified organisms. Question from moderator: Are cloning and GM the same thing? Panelist response: They’re all similar in a sense.

Eric: I’d say “let’s grow tomato from seed and do it 20 times,” then ask why this tomato is a lot different than anything you see in a grocery store. The reason could be that the grocery store is out to make the best-looking tomato, so it’s genetically modified because it needs to look good to sell.

What products have GMOs?

Elaine: Tons of things — a lot of vegetables and fruits. Seeds are genetically modified. We’ve learned how to recreate almost anything and learned how to force them to grow at a more rapid rate, which would negate a lot of nutrition that fruit or vegetable gains in the growing period. They lose the chance to fully form.

Brian: Tomatoes. Taste them and they’re flavorless; homegrown tomatoes burst with flavor. I’d rather have a tomato that may be smaller and taste great than one that has chemicals on it that made it grow bigger.

Eric: What doesn’t have it? Everything probably has some form of GMO — school lunches, bananas would be top choice.

Tiffany: I think about everything that’s processed and made at a large company — like chemicals: corn, zucchini, squash, soybeans. I would say to a company that uses local farmers and uses organic products. GMOs are in our fish. Milk is one of the worst things to purchase unless it’s from a local farmer or organic. Boxes that say they’re GMO free — how can that be if ingredients in them are GM?

How do GMOs impact health?

Tiffany: They cause cancer and all types of illnesses. You’re taking things created by man and not by land. I’ve witnessed a cousin dying of brain cancer and did research and it boiled down to what we take in. GMOs are a main reason why some of us are sick today.

Elaine: We don’t really know because they’re man-made. They’re all different so who knows what they cause. We’ll learn over the next few centuries — other than just cancer I’m sure.

Eric: If you just eat one GMO thing a year you’ll be fine. If it’s in excess — the same GMO — over a period of 30 years, then we’ll find out what it does.

Where do you find more information about GMOs?

Tiffany: Google and YouTube videos about cancer — what causes it — and also what causes the high rates of autism. Hormone levels are high at young ages and it all goes back to food.

Sheldon: I’d like to contact companies but I think “why would they care what I have to say?”

Elaine: One site I use is and Scientific American. I try to stay away from activists and try to find a neutral ground.

If there was a label on products that said “May contain GMOs,” would that impact your buying decision?

Sheldon: I would prefer that — then I can make my own decision. I’d rather you be honest about it.

Brian: Most Americans don’t care and will buy regardless.

If you see a product that says it was approved by FDA or USDA is that a pro or a con?

Elaine: If you put FDA, put any word you want. I don’t trust FDA for anything.

If you don’t trust the FDA or USDA or WHO, who do you trust?

Tiffany: I look at ingredients and labels on where they were made and where they come from, regardless of an FDA or USDA stamp. Local farmers don’t have those stamps at all.

Elaine: I put more weight on their word (FDA/USDA) than the company that’s making it. First and foremost I trust myself.

Sheldon: Trust has to be earned; it’s not given. It’s difficult to trust companies and the USDA and all these other things. You have to do the best you can. I’m not going to say I trust anyone but definitely do my own research as much as I can and then make judgment from there.

How do you feel about imported food?

Tiffany: I try to steer clear; they don’t know what they’re doing over there.

Jennifer: I view imported food more negatively; I don’t know what’s going on as well as I know what’s going on here.

Eric: Most of the time I don’t know where food comes from; if it were outside the country I’d probably not want to eat it.

What would help you feel better about food?

Eric: Honesty in labels and people not trying to make a buck.

Jennifer: More transparency.

Brian: I’d feel better if everything was made with the same guidelines around the world.

For more information on the annual CCFI Leaders Session, contact Allyson Perry or call 816-556-3126.