16 November 2001
Consumer surveys ‘mislead’ farmers

By Tom Allen-Stevens

A FOOD Standards Agency advisor has warned farmers not to be beguiled by consumer surveys which are often misleading.

“Supermarkets will carry out intensive consumer brainstorming,” said Phil Thomas at the Crops Scottish Conference on Thursday (15 November).

“After several weeks of this they do a survey and, lo and behold, it comes back with the results the supermarket was looking for.”

Surveys on the environment and animal welfare can be particularly misleading, he said at the conference which was sponsored by Bayer.

When asked “What are the most important influences when buying food?”, 48% of consumers said price. Just 2% said environment.

But if asked how important various factors are, 88% said the environment was very important with 82% choosing price.

Mr Thomas said another survey on consumer awareness revealed that 11% of those asked try to obtain more information on food.

A survey carried out by Co-op supermarkets claimed 93% of consumers believe they have a right to know everything about food.

“Be very sceptical about consumer surveys unless you know the exact question asked,” said Mr Thomas.

He also warned farmers not to convert to organic farming purely on surveys and projections of consumer habits.

“Organic farming fills a niche market and will remain a niche brand. On a global scale it is a non-starter.”

He said that an expanding world population is likely to need more intensive agriculture to avoid widespread hunger.

Targets of 30% organic land in the UK would mean more conventional food imports from countries that can ill afford to feed their own populations.

“That means we will be taking our problem and dumping it on someone else, which is unacceptable,” said Mr Thomas.

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