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Americans Doubtful of Food Supply's Safety: Survey

NEW YORK - Sixty percent of Americans are starting to believe that the nation's food supply isn't as safe as it used to be. Almost seven in 10, or 68 percent of Americans believe that the recent massive pet food recall shows how vulnerable the United States is to an attack on its food supply, a survey from advertising agency JWT here has found.

The ad agency conducted a random representative survey the week ending March 31 of 1,172 Americans 18 or older, to gauge the public's perception of the safety of the nation's food supply following the rash of reports about pet-food contamination. Just 12 percent of respondents said they don't think so the most recent recall reflects the supply chain's vulnerability, according to the study.

On the positive side for grocers, 45 percent agree that "food bought at the grocery store is safer than food bought at a fast-food restaurant."

However, confidence overall in the food supply looks to be eroding. The survey found that 60 percent of consumers agree strongly or somewhat with the statement, "I'm starting to believe that the food supply in the U.S. isn't as safe as it used to be."

Almost half, or 47 percent, don't think that the U.S. government is adequately prepared to respond quickly to an attack on the food and/or water supply (only 24 percent do). Forty-four percent don't believe that the government has adequate measures in place to prevent deliberate attacks on the supply chain, vs. a quarter who do.

Additionally, 74 percent and 71 percent of those polled think that safety measures at food/beverage manufacturers and farms, respectively, need to be heightened to prevent a deliberate attack.

"The American public clearly sees vulnerabilities in our nation's food supply," noted JWT chairman and c.e.o. Bob Jeffrey in a statement. "The recent pet-food scare compounds an already flagging Consumer Confidence Index, which fell last month as a result of rising gas prices, falling home values and a volatile stock market. The U.S. government and food and beverage manufacturers need to reassure their public that preventative steps are being taken to safeguard them, their families, and their pets. That kind of informative outreach will go a long way toward increasing consumer confidence."

Indeed, according to the survey, consumers are willing to listen. If a food product that they bought consistently was to have an issue with contamination, only 20 percent of respondents say that they "would never buy it again," while 63 percent say that they would "consider buying it again if the brand presented strong evidence that it had removed the contaminants from its supply and put measures in place to prevent future contaminations." Seventeen percent note that they "would buy it again [as it] it could happen to any brand."

In spite of all the consumer concerns about chinks in the U.S. food supply, only 14 percent believe agriterrorism would be the most likely form of terrorism if a terrorist attack were to occur again on U.S. soil. The highest percentage -- 36 percent -- believe bioterrorism would be the most likely method of attack.

The survey's other findings include:
--60 percent agree that "while organic foods might be healthier for me, I'm not sure they're safer from contaminants."
--50 percent agree that "recent food contaminations are isolated incidents," while 24 percent disagree.
--67 percent "believe the USDA can still protect the U.S. food supply" (19 percent agree strongly, and 48 percent agree somewhat)
--58 percent agree that "fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. are safer from contamination than those grown in other countries."
--61 percent agree that "I'm finding it more and more difficult to know which foods are safest for my family.
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