Of the 700 people polled for the Oklahoma State University study, 73% desired more government action for food safety. Jayson Lusk, an economist for the university who conducted the study, said the results suggest that greater Food and Drug Administration regulation of food safety would be popular with consumers.
Lusk designed the study to look at the public’s attitude toward various aspects of food policies. The results are in the October 2012 issue of Food Policy, in an article titled “The Political Ideology of Food.”
Consumers generally favor more government involvement in a variety of food issues, including genetic modification, regulation of imports, animal welfare and affordable food.
“You look at across the board at ten to fifteen different food issues, and almost universally across all those issues, if you ask people if they want more or less government regulation, in a big majority of the cases they said they wanted more,” Lusk said. “Only a very small percentage of people said they wanted less government regulation.”
The public was less eager for greater government regulation of fast foods, organic and local issues and farm subsidies, he said.
While liberal respondents said they wanted more regulation than conservatives, Lusk said that even strong conservatives said they support more food safety regulation. But, on issues like diet, health and nutrition, the most conservative consumers don’t want strong government regulation, Lusk said.
While the survey showed people favored greater regulation, Lusk said the poll questions didn’t ask those responding about costs versus benefits of new rules.
“In my own opinion, the economic analysis is not necessarily on the side of the things that people say they want,” he said.
The survey responses are a good measure of the “gut reaction” to food policy issues, he said. More research may be valuable in showing how consumers respond to education about the costs of regulations, Lusk said.
Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said he had not seen the study, but food safety being a bi-partisan issue isn’t surprising.
“It doesn’t matter if you are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, most people want to make sure there is strong regulatory oversight,” Stenzel said.
Still, he said it is important that all have a chance to react to proposed food safety regulations.
“The details are so important, but you don’t see a lot of debate about the concept,” he said.