NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2004 ISSUES UPDATE 45 I S S U E S
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by Rick McCarty
Executive Director, Issues Management NCBA
The checkoff-funded beef safety tracking survey conducted
in November 2004 found that fresh beef steaks/roasts remained
the protein with the highest consumer confidence in safety. The
survey asks consumers to give grades to foods for being safe to
eat and 76 percent of survey respondents gave steak/roast an A
or B for safety.
The beef safety tracking surveys are quarterly telephone
surveys of a national, random sample of U.S. adults.
Vegetarians do not answer the survey. The margin of error for
survey data is plus/minus 3.2 percent.
General food safety
The percentage of Americans giving U.S. food in general an
A or B for safety has remained relatively stable with some small
fluctuations in the past year. However, this survey found the
percentage of A/B grades (70%) significantly lower than in
November 2003 (74%) and at the lowest score since November
2002 (69%). The November 2004 score is much lower than the
77 percent measured during the last survey in May 2004.
Safety of specific fresh foods
The safety ratings for specific fresh foods remained stable
during the past year with no significant differences in the
ratings in November 2004. Fresh fruits and vegetables are
consistently at the top of the list when it comes to safety grades
given to specific fresh foods one might buy in a grocery store.
Fresh beef steaks and roasts receive the highest meat product
safety grade (76%).
Tied for second place with 70 percent of consumers grading
A or B were fresh pork chops and microwaveable foods. Foods
with lower consumer safety grades were fresh ground beef
(64%), fresh chicken (63%), fresh fish (60%), fresh ground pork
(56%) and pre-prepared foods from the deli (52%).
Specific concerns regarding food safety
The safety tracking survey asks consumers to rate their level
of concern about specific safety issues on a 5-point scale, with
one being not concerned and five being extremely concerned.
The percentage of “top two” scores (4-5 ratings on the scale)
indicate the issues of greatest concern.
Safety issues tend not to be top of mind with consumers,
evidenced by the fact that safety issues barely register when
consumers state reasons for eating less beef. However, when
asked to think about specific safety concerns, bacteria (62%)
and pesticides (62%) top the list. Consumer concerns about
chemical additives (58%) and mad cow disease (57%) make up
a second tier of safety concerns. Concerns about mad cow
disease did not increase significantly as a result of the first U.S.
case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in December
2003, and in fact, currently are significantly lower than the 61
percent concern level measured in November 2003.
Other issues rated as lower concerns include hormones
(50%), genetically modified foods (46%), antibiotics (45%) and
irradiated foods (40%). The only issue that has shown a
significant increase in level of concern in the past year is
chemical additives which increased from 50 percent in
November 2003 to the current 58 percent.
Specific food product safety concerns
The survey asks respondents to choose, from a list of six
foods, the one food they are most concerned about in terms of
being safe to eat. Typically, only about 15 percent of consumers
choose beef as their food of highest concern. However, driven
by the intense media coverage surrounding the first U.S. BSE
case, the percentage choosing beef as their highest safety
concern jumped in the first half of 2004.
That concern moderated in the second half of the calendar
year. While the checkoff-funded BSE tracking research showed
that consumer confidence did not drop as a result of the BSE
case, the safety track surveys indicate that consumers were
more concerned about beef than usual.
Table 1 shows research results from the past five quarters
regarding foods of highest safety concern to consumers.
Consumers rate beef steaks and roasts tops
among proteins for safety
RESEARCH CH BRIEFS
NOVEMBER – 46 ISSUES UPDATE DECEMBER 2004 I S S U E S
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As indicated by grades given for safety, consumer confidence in beef steaks and roasts (76%) is higher than the
confidence in U.S. food in general (70%). In addition, beef steaks and roasts are in third place, behind only fruits and
vegetables, in consumer confidence rankings of fresh food safety.
Confidence in ground beef is significantly lower (64%) but relatively steady and hit highs for the year of 69 percent in
May and 67 percent in September, two months that bookend the seasonal grilling period. It may be significant that
E. coli O157:H7 recalls of ground beef were not a big news item in the summer of 2004.
Consumer concerns about beef safety have declined to year-ago levels since being heightened by extensive media
coverage surrounding BSE in the first half of the year.