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Consumers say their needs best served by family farmers, not concentrated corporate agribusiness

(Friday, Oct. 11, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following information comes from the Agribusiness Examiner.

American consumers are deeply concerned about the current farm crisis, and about the changing structure of the food and agricultural industries. Moreover, they believe that their needs are best served by a family farm system of agriculture, and support spending tax dollars to put a firmer economic foundation under the farm economy, according to a just-released national survey.

The national non-profit organization Communicating for Agriculture (CA) [has] released the results of an independent survey it commissioned of consumers to assess their views about the impact of the current farm crisis.

The results suggest that consumers believe that family farmers are best available to provide them with lower food prices, better food safety, and demonstrate more concern for the environment and protecting natural resources.

"The common perception that consumers only think their food comes from the grocery store, and don't care about where, how and who produces their food, is dead wrong," said Wayne Nelson, national president of Communicating for Agriculture. "Consumers are concerned about food cost, food safety, and food production. They are aware and very bothered by growing concentration in the food industry, and a strong majority hold a clear preference for a family farm based system of agriculture."

The survey was conducted by Strategic Research Group, Eden Prairie, Minnesota from August 3-10, 1999. Respondents were randomly selected from lists of American households. Sixty percent of the respondents were female; 40% male. Less than ten percent of respondents lived in rural communities of less than 50,000 people. The margin of error was 4.7 percent.

Seventy eight percent of respondents said they personally have found that grocery prices of have gone up in the last year, despite farm prices that have dropped to 30-year lows for most crops and major commodities.

While groceries have gone up between three to five percent on a national average, 80% of respondents said farmers are the least responsible for the increases. Nearly 25% of respondents felt food processors are most responsible for rising food prices; while 26.5 percent blamed grocery stores; and 47.5 percent pointed to government policies.

When asked their views about growing concentration in agricultural production, 59% said they believe family farmers are more likely to keep food costs down, compared to large agricultural corporations (12.5 percent) or multi-national corporations (17.5 percent). Only seven percent of respondents believe that the growing concentration of farm production, food processing and distribution under ownership of fewer companies will lead to lower grocery costs. Nearly 72% believe it will lead to greater profits for those companies, however 21% felt both lower consumer costs and greater corporate profits would result.

Nearly 83% of respondents believe family farmers would do a better job of protecting the land and environment, and 78% believe family farmers are more likely to be concerned about food safety compared to large agricultural or multi-national corporations.

The current farm crisis is a major concern. When asked if they were a member of Congress and had to vote to provide $6 billion in a farm relief package, 84% said "spend the money." Nearly 69% also said they would support spending $10 billion in farm relief, which several farm groups and members of Congress have called for. Only 11% said they were against spending federal funds to help farmers.

This support for family farmers was manifested by a willingness, expressed by most of the consumers, to increase the price of their groceries via a one percent tax, if the proceeds would be directed to support family-based agriculture.

"The question for government leaders is: if consumers support family-based agriculture and farmers support it, why are federal regulatory, tax and farm program policies yielding the opposite result, leading to fewer farmers and more concentration of food processing and distribution in the hands of fewer, large, dominant food and agricultural conglomerates?," Nelson asked.

"The consumers of farm products clearly align themselves with the producers of those products. This flies in the face of the myth that urban and suburban Americans are against agricultural support payments," the farm leader said.

Communicating for Agriculture is a national, non-profit, non-partisan rural organization made up of farmers, ranchers and rural small business members in 50 states.