NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2004 ISSUES UPDATE 45 I S S U E SUPDATE2 0 0 4by Rick McCartyExecutive Director, Issues Management NCBASummaryThe checkoff-funded beef safety tracking survey conductedin November 2004 found that fresh beef steaks/roasts remainedthe protein with the highest consumer confidence in safety. Thesurvey asks consumers to give grades to foods for being safe toeat and 76 percent of survey respondents gave steak/roast an Aor B for safety.BackgroundThe beef safety tracking surveys are quarterly telephonesurveys of a national, random sample of U.S. adults.
Vegetarians do not answer the survey. The margin of error forsurvey data is plus/minus 3.2 percent.General food safetyThe percentage of Americans giving U.S. food in general anA or B for safety has remained relatively stable with some smallfluctuations in the past year.
However, this survey found thepercentage of A/B grades (70%) significantly lower than inNovember 2003 (74%) and at the lowest score since November2002 (69%). The November 2004 score is much lower than the77 percent measured during the last survey in May 2004.Safety of specific fresh foodsThe safety ratings for specific fresh foods remained stableduring the past year with no significant differences in theratings in November 2004.
Fresh fruits and vegetables areconsistently at the top of the list when it comes to safety gradesgiven to specific fresh foods one might buy in a grocery store.Fresh beef steaks and roasts receive the highest meat productsafety grade (76%).Tied for second place with 70 percent of consumers gradingA or B were fresh pork chops and microwaveable foods. Foodswith 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 safetyThe safety tracking survey asks consumers to rate their levelof concern about specific safety issues on a 5-point scale, withone 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 whenconsumers state reasons for eating less beef.
However, whenasked to think about specific safety concerns, bacteria (62%)and pesticides (62%) top the list. Consumer concerns aboutchemical additives (58%) and mad cow disease (57%) make upa second tier of safety concerns. Concerns about mad cowdisease did not increase significantly as a result of the first U.S.case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in December2003, and in fact, currently are significantly lower than the 61percent concern level measured in November 2003.
Other issues rated as lower concerns include hormones(50%), genetically modified foods (46%), antibiotics (45%) andirradiated foods (40%). The only issue that has shown asignificant increase in level of concern in the past year ischemical additives which increased from 50 percent inNovember 2003 to the current 58 percent.Specific food product safety concernsThe survey asks respondents to choose, from a list of sixfoods, the one food they are most concerned about in terms ofbeing safe to eat. Typically, only about 15 percent of consumerschoose beef as their food of highest concern. However, drivenby the intense media coverage surrounding the first U.S.
BSEcase, the percentage choosing beef as their highest safetyconcern jumped in the first half of 2004.That concern moderated in the second half of the calendaryear. While the checkoff-funded BSE tracking research showedthat consumer confidence did not drop as a result of the BSEcase, the safety track surveys indicate that consumers weremore concerned about beef than usual.
Table 1 shows research results from the past five quartersregarding foods of highest safety concern to consumers.Consumers rate beef steaks and roasts topsamong proteins for safetyRESEARCH CH BRIEFSNOVEMBER – 46 ISSUES UPDATE DECEMBER 2004 I S S U E SUPDATE2 0 0 4Key PointsAs indicated by grades given for safety, consumer confidence in beef steaks and roasts (76%) is higher than theconfidence in U.S. food in general (70%).
In addition, beef steaks and roasts are in third place, behind only fruits andvegetables, 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 inMay and 67 percent in September, two months that bookend the seasonal grilling period. It may be significant thatE. 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 mediacoverage surrounding BSE in the first half of the year.RESEARCH BRIEFS