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March 06, 2008

SafeFood© - Who do you trust?

We live in the information age. With 24/7 access to copious amounts of information, it can be hard to know which sources are credible, and which groups are working an agenda. The validity of the recent Hallmark video by HSUS of alleged violations of federal food safety regulations is now being questioned (see www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com). Also being questioned is why there was a delay in making public the information on the video (from filming in November to public release at the end of January). HSUS claims they were asked to wait until a local district attorney’s office had completed an investigation; however that same office denies a request was made. It seems to me that when a recall of this magnitude is made, with attendant consequences for all links of the food chain and consumers (waste of food, extra labor time to sort through inventories, concerns about food safety) that decisions should be based on pretty firm evidence. Which leads to the question of who should we trust? Can we trust the media to report the facts and just the facts, or will they sensationalize and show the same video over and over with innuendos that schoolchildren may be at risk? Certainly depends on your media source, but in my opinion there was definitely overkill of this video (remember, its authenticity is now in question).

So, do you trust the government regulatory agencies to ensure safety of our food supply? I do – we don’t live in China where bribery is rampant. What about food scientists who research emerging pathogens and risks to food – do you trust them? I do. What about academics – those of us who live work behind “ivy covered walls”? (Full disclosure is needed to indicate that this group includes this blogger). I do. Do you trust business organizations? What about consumer advocacy groups – they have your best interest at heart, right? Or commodity organizations that promote their particular agricultural products?

The 2008 Trust Barometer by the Edelman reported some surprising findings – at least to me. This annual survey was conducted among 400 college educated Americans whose household incomes were in the top quartile and who reported a significant engagement with media, business news or policy. The margin of error was ± 5% The majority of these U.S. respondents (61%) trusted non-government agencies (this would include commodity organizations, such as National Pork Board as well as consumer advocacy groups (i.e. PETA) MORE than businesses (58%) and government agencies (39 %). Trust in a “person like me” (60%) as an information spokesperson was higher than an academic scientist (54%) and bloggers (12%). For more information, go to www.edelman.com.

It will be interesting to see where this leads and how decisions are made. Will a “person like me” be in the driver’s seat – and can they handle rush hour traffic?

Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CFSP on March 6, 2008