Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Relationship between Sociodemographics and Concern about Food Safety Issues

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Relationship between Sociodemographics and Concern about Food Safety Issues

Article excerpt

This study reviews the relationship between sociodemographic variables and food safety, and assesses how sociodemographic variables relate to three different food hazards in the food chain--pesticides, Salmonella, and fat. Our results revealed that women and blacks were more likely to have high levels of concern about food safety than were men and whites. Also, the level of concern increased with age. A respondent's perceived vulnerability to that risk may explain differences across risks.

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People's perceptions of the food system present evidence about the confidence people have in it. Regardless of the steps farmers, businesses and government agencies take to insure a safe food supply, food safety will ultimately reside with public perceptions. Consumer behaviors based on these perceptions, whether accurate or not, can have significant impacts on the food industry (Bruhn et al. 1992; Fein et al. 1995; Frewer et al. 1994; Hawkes et al. 1984; Jordan and Elnagheeb 1991; Jussaume Jr. and Judson 1992; Lin 1995; Schafer et al. 1993). In 1989, for example, fear about the use of the pesticide Alar on apples led to people dumping apple juice down drains and apples rotting in warehouses. Consumers shunned apples and apple products leading to devastating economic loses for apple growers and processors (Wagner 1999). More recently, public concern about "Mad Cow Disease" or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and "Foot and Mouth Disease" led to the destruction of millions of cattle in Britain, and dramatic economic losses for the beef industry across Europe (CNN 2000).

According to Nayga Jr. (1996), "information on the effects of sociodemographic factors on consumer concern for various food safety related production practices such as the use of irradiation, antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides is limited" (467). While we found numerous studies detailing the relationship between sociodemographics and perceptions of pesticides (Bealer and Willits 1966; Byrne et al. 1991; Dunlap and Beus 1992; Nayga Jr. 1996; Pilisuk et al. 1987), few studies have examined the relationship between sociodemographics and perceptions of bacterial and nutritional food hazards. This study reviews the relationship between sociodemographic variables and food safety, and assesses how sociodemographic variables relate to three different food hazards--pesticides, Salmonella and fat.

Each of these food risks represents a different element of food safety in the food chain from agricultural input to food preparation to nutritional concern. Pesticides represent agricultural inputs. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness if food is not handled or stored properly, and fat is a nutritional concern. In essence, these risks can be viewed on a continuum from on the farm to on the table. Also, psychometric research suggests that each of these food hazards can be differentiated in terms of familiarity and dreadfulness. People are generally unfamiliar with the effects of pesticides, but dread them. They are beyond people's control. People are more familiar with the effects of Salmonella, but still dread them. Conversely, most people are familiar with the effects of fat and do not dread them because one can personally control what one eats (Frewer et al. 1998; Slovic 1987; Slovic et al. 1981; Sparks and Shepherd 1994).

SOCIODEMOGRAPHICS AND FOOD SAFETY

Six sociodemographic variables--sex, race, age, presence of a child, education and income--have been explored in prior research. The significance of these sociodemographic variables varies across studies and the food safety item under investigation. An overwhelming majority of food safety studies found sex to be significantly related to perceptions of pesticides (Byrne et al. 1991; Dunlap and Beus 1992; Nayga Jr. 1996; Pilisuk et al. 1987) and food safety indexes (Jordan and Elnagheeb 1991; Lin 1995). In these studies, women were more concerned about food hazards than men. …

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