The Center for Food Integrity’s latest Illuminate Digital Cultural Insights Report explores consumer perceptions around climate change. 

Climate change is on the minds of many consumers, with near-daily headlines calling out weather extremes and trends, and new national climate policy priorities.

According to the latest Illuminate™ Digital Cultural Insights report from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), powered by MotivBase research, consumers are concerned  that extreme weather and other hazards linked to climate change could affect the food supply and threaten their way of life. Through online observation of millions of consumer conversations, MotivBase uncovers attitudes, fears, beliefs and behaviors of those engaged on a specific topics.

“People understand that food production could be significantly impacted by climate change and it worries them,” said Terry Fleck, CFI executive director. “As members of the food system, we have the responsibility to assure consumers we understand their fears and are already working on many fronts to adapt food production to potential changes.”

Water Worries
The topic of agriculture and climate change is currently relevant to 10 million online consumers, who typically are middle class, educated, between 18 and 44, and value the natural environment. The research identified five key issues capturing their attention, including concerns about big ag and water issues.

These consumers think fighting climate change might require a shift away from what they call “industrial agriculture,” believing that monoculture crops cause biodiversity loss and deplete soil. Both factors they feel will lead to a loss of food security in the face of climate change.

Their answer? Online conversations reveal their preference for large-scale vertical farms as a potential path forward because they believe such farms may decrease the traditional farming footprint and allow for better control of crop growth.

Drought is another area of significant concern. They fear that global climate change will lead to widescale water shortages and the spread of deserts, which will be a serious threat to food security. The answer, according to online observation, is that long-term sustainable agriculture must be drought-resistant and use less water than current approaches.

Optimism and Innovation on the Path Forward
Amid the concern is optimism from consumers who are excited about and champion technology as a solution to climate challenges and extending humans’ lifespan. Among the innovations mentioned: desalination (turning salt water into freshwater for drinking), development of drought-resistant crops that can reduce the environmental impact of food production and other agricultural practices that result in using less water than conventional methods.      

“The research illustrates an opportunity for the food system to engage with consumers about innovations in agriculture,” Fleck said.

While the five concerns identified in the Illuminate™ report are not yet mainstream – in other words, there’s no true consensus among consumers – trendlines indicate consensus is brewing and could be reached in two to three years.

“Having conversations as these issues bubble to the surface is critical to helping shape the conversation,” he said. “Keep consumers in the loop about such things as drought-resistant crops and other water-saving measures. Connect with them about efforts to sequester carbon  as well as protect and regenerate the soil through such practices as no-till and planting cover crops”

There are many ways to show how agriculture can be a part of the solution, he said.

This article was first published on the website of the Center for Food Integrity in July 2021