CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Since 95% of the US population eats beef, the beef checkoff decided to compile a comprehensive research study on consumer perceptions of beef safety. This included a trend analysis of consumer confidence in ground beef and steak, effects of the Hallmark recall on consumer confidence, safety concerns related to factory farming and the effects of beef production methods on safety perceptions.

“The checkoff has asked questions both to gauge concern levels for issues that might affect beef but also to get a reading on the things that anti-meat groups might successfully leverage to frighten consumers,” said Rick McCarty, who conducts market research for the beef checkoff. “While bacteria are rated as the most concerning safety threat, pesticides have remained an issue of concern.”

The hierarchy of consumer concerns about food-safety issues has changed little in the past 10 years with the exception of the diminishment of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the mid-2000s, the study shows. Concern about antibiotics and hormones has remained stable since 2000 at a level significantly below bacteria concerns, McCarty notes. It is reasonable to assume these issues create a sort of a ‘background noise’ in the consumer environment whose volume rises and falls depending on incidents and associated media coverage.

“Continued thought must be given to how to both make the product safer and how to get consumers to recognize the critical role they must play,” McCarty said. “That’s why the checkoff continues to support programs such as Safe and Savory at 160 and safety research, and online engagement through websites such as Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner and Explore Beef.”

Today, the most important industry focus should be on providing product benefits that are not associated with a specific production method, the report relays. This should be accompanied by a continuation of the industry’s consumer messaging programs that promote the taste, safety, nutrition and convenience that are a hallmark of all beef products.

Periodic surveys to monitor consumer confidence in the safety of beef are conducted by the beef checkoff. Such studies provide measures of the effects on consumers of issues in the marketing environment and support a strategic foundation for consumer and influencer programs in issues management and communications.