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Price, taste important to grocery shoppers

More Iowa shoppers are paying attention to food labels than in the past, but price and taste are still driving food-buying decisions at the grocery store, according to the latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index®.

The survey, completed earlier this year by Harris Poll, showed that 82 percent of Iowa grocery store shoppers say they pay attention to labels. That compares with 68 percent who said they watched labels in a similar Food & Farm Index survey taken in 2013.
The most recent poll also showed:

• Farmers, along with dieticians and nutritionists, continue to be the most trusted sources for information about food safety. Farmers were ranked as one of the top three sources by 45 percent of the grocery shoppers polled, while dieticians/nutritionists were cited in the top three by 43 percent.

• With the warmer weather, beef continues to be a star protein on the grill. The Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index shows that four in five Iowa grocery shoppers say they eat beef at least weekly.

While more Iowa grocery shoppers are looking at labels, 78 percent say that price remains the driving factor for the meat and poultry products they buy. The price factor in buying decisions was followed closely by taste, at 74 percent, and then nutrition at 43 percent.

Safety is on the minds of Iowa grocery shoppers who are reading labels, with half thinking a "raised hormone free" or "raised antibiotic free" label means the food choice is safer, while a "raised in the U.S." label seems safer to 44 percent of Iowan grocery shoppers and 37 percent think "raised organically" labels mean a product is safer, the Food & Farm Index showed.

To the group of grocery shoppers who are paying attention to labels, price still matters with three in five Iowans saying they would not pay more for beef products with an "antibiotic free" label if it costs significantly more.

In addition, shoppers noted that having additional information on the labels can help alleviate safety concerns. For example, of the grocery shoppers who had concerns about "antibiotic-free labels," 76 percent stated that additional facts would help alleviate their concern about antibiotic use in livestock production.

“We know information has the potential to influence consumer choices in the grocery store,” said Ruth MacDonald, Iowa State University professor and chair of food science and human nutrition and national speaker on food science issues.

“For example, 67 percent of those surveyed think a ‘raised naturally’ label ‘means something,’ when in fact, it is not a term recognized or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” she said.

The survey shows around half (47 percent) of those who expressed concerns about antibiotics say they feel better knowing that meat processed in the U.S. and sold to grocery stores and restaurants is routinely tested by the government agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure no antibiotic residue is present and that antibiotic residue is illegal in meat.

Also, learning that any antibiotics used for livestock require FDA approval and must be rigorously tested and proven safe alleviates concerns for 46 percent of those who expressed concern about antibiotics.

The index showed that 36 percent of respondents feel better that farmers have to follow FDA rules and adhere to strict withdrawal times when using antibiotics for food chain animals. Finding out that farmers work with veterinarians to administer antibiotics only when livestock need it helps alleviate concerns for 32 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said many layers of safety protocols at livestock processing facilities work together to ensure food safety. “Inspectors at harvesting facilities look at every animal and screen for more than 100 compounds,” he said.

Farmers are also a big part in ensuring a safe food supply, Burkgren said. “Every livestock farmer today must work hand-in-hand with veterinarians to ensure that an animal gets the right drug, at the right dosage, for the right duration, and that the drug is withdrawn in sufficient time before harvest,” he said.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index is a semi-annual survey of Iowa grocery shoppers to identify the factors driving their food purchases. The survey included Iowa residents between 20 and 60 years old who have primary or shared responsibility for household grocery shopping; 506 such respondents were interviewed online.

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