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Millennials distrustful of Canada’s food system, survey finds

A farmer unloads wheat into a grain truck during their wheat harvest on his farm near Standard, Alberta, October 7, 2014.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Millennials are less trusting of the food system in this country, according to a new study.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity – a research group funded by the food industry – released results of a survey on public trust and food. The study reveals a shifting landscape regarding who Canadians view as trustworthy on food issues: away from traditional authorities such as government agencies and food associations, and towards family, friends and the Internet.

In general, the study found that millennials, compared to other demographics, have a lower level of trust in most of the groups who make up the food system – including farmers, grocery retailers, food companies, environmentalists and government.

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For example, only 66 per cent of millennials rated farmers as "believable" when it comes to the environment – compared to 70 per cent on average. And only 48 per cent of millennials rated David Suzuki as believable – 8 per cent lower than the average.

Crystal Mackay, CEO of Farm & Food Care Canada, said the trends could be linked: that millennials' reliance on the Internet for information could also be fuelling their distrust when it comes to food.

"Where people are going for their information: online and Google … The food associations and the government are not coming up in the top three [search result] pages," she said.

Of the respondents, 15 per cent said their No. 1 source of information on food is the Internet, and websites. Twelve per cent said "Google." The same number said their friends or family are their main sources.

The Canadian study is in line with survey results in the United States conducted by the Britain-based market research firm Mintel last year. That study found that 43 per cent of those between the age of 21 and 38 do not trust large food manufacturers. And 74 per cent said they wish companies were more transparent about how they manufacture food.

Over 2,100 participated in the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity survey, conducted in February and March of this year by Ipsos. The organization is the research arm of Farm & Food Care Canada, which aims to boost public trust in the food industry. The study was funded in part by Tim Hortons and the Egg Farmers of Ontario.

This was the first Centre for Food Integrity conducted in Canada, though the American chapter of the organization has done similar studies in years past.

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The results revealed mixed feelings when it comes to how Canadians in general feel about their food.

Just 30 per cent of respondents said they feel that the country's food system is heading in "the right direction." Of the remaining respondents, 50 per cent said they were "unsure," and 21 per cent responded by saying the system is on the "wrong track."

One common concern cited by respondents was the use of hormones and pesticides in growing food. Over 40 per cent said they are "personally concerned" about the use of such products.

Fewer than half of respondents said they view groups such as grocery retailers, government scientists, animal-welfare groups or government scientists, in a favourable light. In fact, less than a quarter, 23 per cent, of respondents said that they trust that the government food-inspection system ensures the safety of their food.

But that skepticism does not seem to extend to the agriculture industry itself. Sixty-nine per cent view farmers favourably, and 61 per cent have a "very or somewhat positive" impression of Canadian agriculture.

Despite all of this, an overwhelming majority – 93 per cent – acknowledge that they know "little, very little or nothing" about farming practices.

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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