Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effects of Social Trust on Consumer Perceptions of Food Safety

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effects of Social Trust on Consumer Perceptions of Food Safety

Article excerpt

This study investigated the extent to which social trust affects consumers' food safety opinions. Additionally, it examined the determinants of social trust in governmental agencies and advocacy groups responsible for food safety. It also examined relationships between trust and food safety opinions. The data came from a social survey administered by mail to 289 adults in the Minneapolis/Minnesota metropolitan area. The results show support for a conceptual distinction between food safety worry and concern, which, respectively, reflect emotional and cognitive consumer risk assessments. Social trust significantly affected worry, but not concern. Environmentalism and social-demographic variables had significant total effects, but not significant direct effects, on trust, worry, and concern.

Consumer food safety perceptions are characterized by much uncertainty and skepticism. These traits arise because of rapid scientific advances in agricultural production and processing technologies and lessening control over local food systems due to greater reliance upon international trade agreements (e.g., Freudenburg, 1993; Tomazic, Katz, & Harris, 2002). Because most nation states must respond to consumer opinions, world food trade and international food relief efforts can be threatened when public skepticism becomes widespread. An estimated $6 billion in trade in agricultural commodities between the United States and the European Community, for example, might be significantly reduced because of European consumer concerns about the safety of genetically modified foods. Similarly, the success of international food relief efforts offered to needy nations depends in part upon public concerns in these nations about the potential negative economic repercussions of accepting genetically modified foods.

In response to these and similar issues, social scientists seek ways to facilitate communications between consumers and representatives of the food sector that yield wise policy decisions made within an atmosphere of public discourse that promotes rather than erodes social solidarity. Efforts at informing the public about food safety have advanced beyond the stages of simply assuming that consumers only need to hear the scientific facts to be convinced that scientists know what they are doing, or to be educated about the costs and benefits of new technologies, and now extend to exploring methods of creating partnerships between the public and scientists that can foster greater understanding of, and trust in, the scientific process of food production and processing practices (e.g., Fischhoff, 1995).

Social scientists have learned, for example, that consumer food safety opinions in the U.S. and Europe at least are affected by the perceived severity of a potential hazard, uncertainty about whether risks are known by scientists and consumers, perceived voluntariness in accepting new food technologies, and perceived control over food production and processing practices (Frewer, Howard, Hedderley, & Shepherd, 1998; Sapp, 1996; Sapp, 2003; Sparks & Shepherd, 1994). Recent research has investigated the role of social trust in public evaluations of hazards. Some (Slovic, 1999) argue that trust is a critical component of public-risk assessments, pointing out that trust in the source of hazard-related information underlies subsequent evaluations of this information. Others (Sjoberg, 2001) note that prior research indicates only a weak relationship between trust and perceived risk. Sjoberg suggests that the reason for this weak relationship is that people believe there are clear limits to how much experts know about risk. Thus, an expert might be perceived as trustworthy, but ignorant about potential hazards associated with a technology.

Some argue that the relationship between trust and perceived risk is affected by familiarity with the technology. Siegrist and Cvetkovich (2000), for example, found evidence to support the hypothesis that when people are familiar with a technology, they do not need to rely upon experts and therefore their trust in experts has little influence upon their opinions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.