Sliced tomato.A new survey came out indicating that (surprise, surprise) only 20% of Americans trust food companies to “to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy.” While the depth to which food companies’ reputations have sunk is impressive, the phrase from the survey question is both interesting and unfortunate. IBM(!), who performed the survey, put “safe and healthy” together. As a result, we can’t really know which aspect, safety or health, is driving that low number. If I had to bet, I’d say safety since survey results often track media coverage of an issue and there’s certainly been no shortage of food safety news. Still, the idea that people get the fact that big food companies’ products are unsafe AND unhealthy is pretty satisfying

But there was, however, some far more interesting data buried in this survey. First, this:

…[N]early three-quarters (72%) said they trust the store where they buy groceries to properly handle food product contamination recalls.

That number is far above the percentage who trust the manufacturer to handle the recall. Well, that confirms what many of us knew — the sources closest to the consumer are the most trusted. In the case of the survey, it’s the store where people bought the food. But it would likely also apply in direct farm-to-consumer sales or any scenario where the consumer personally knows the producer. In other words, people may naturally understand that the shorter the “food chain,” the safer.

Next and more importantly, we have this:

…63% say they have become more knowledgeable about the contents of food they buy, 77% say they want more information about the content of the food products they purchase, and 76% say they would like more information about its origin.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) say they are willing to dig deeper and seek more data about how food products are grown, processed and manufactured.

I guess our message is getting through. This survey should thus encourage those of us trying to communicate the realities of our food system and draw back the curtain on Big Food’s industrial excesses. Not only are consumers willing to learn about it — they’re demanding it. Let those in business and government who wish to hide the origins and contents of their products beware. The people are with us.

(h/t Bill Marler via Twitter)