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With consumers, food safety perception is reality

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Written Wednesday, September 10, 2003  

The food industry and farmers are greatly affected by opinions and demands of consumers. While a farmer may be meeting the food safety criteria set forth by government agencies, product demand depends on the food safety perceptions of the public, said Stan Ernst, an Ohio State University agricultural economics program manager.

Consumer attitudes about food safety and quality, changing demographics and buyer policies all effect what food is being grown. They will be discussed during Ohio State's Farm Science Review, Sept. 16-18.

An hour-long panel discussion, "Eat What We Sell Vs. Sell What We Eat," will feature lively debate from three agricultural economists at 10 a.m. Sept. 16 in the Tobin Building.

Recently, buyers have been demanding more from producers because of the push from their consumers. Fast food chains, for instance, are requiring that animals be raised following specific guidelines, Ernst said. That might be frustrating for producers.

"We can look to Europe to see how all kinds of farm production is influenced by consumer perceptions and beliefs, which in the end, turn into demands," Ernst said.

"At the end of the day, it's a market issue that producers must deal with. They can view it as they want -- as a cost or a benefit. That will shape discussions they have with customers about public policy or marketing arrangements. But once the deal is done, producers have an option: they can get mad about the changes or they can look for market opportunities."

The panel discussion will help visitors broaden their perspectives and look at more opportunities. The goal is to make people think outside their comfort zones and personal experiences, Ernst said.

"The comfort zone in Ohio is broad, but not nearly as broad as our markets have become," Ernst said.

The panel discussion will focus on various pressures Ohio agriculture faces in a state showing continued social and economic change. Agricultural economist Ian Sheldon will moderate conversations with colleagues David Hahn, Neal Hooker and Brian Roe. All are faculty in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.

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