The general public has deep trust and confidence in American school teachers, veterinarians, physicians and farmers and ranchers. In contrast, the public indicates distrust for activists and well-known Hollywood actors or actresses, especially when they attack animal agriculture. So says a national consumer opinion survey conducted by Market Directions, Inc., and jointly underwritten by the Animal Agriculture Alliance and National Corn Growers Association.

“The results of the survey are very positive and don't surprise anyone who appreciates the contributions that animal agriculture makes to our quality of life,” says Bruce Andrews, Animal Agriculture Alliance president. “Our polls show that the public has consistently over the years trusted and valued American farmers and ranchers and the important job they do so well.

More than 40 percent of respondents over the age of 25 considered farmers and ranchers to be one of their two most favorably viewed groups. At the same time, animal rights activists show themselves to be consistently out of touch with the public at large.”

NCGA President Dee Vaughan, a corn grower from Dumas, Texas, added, “It's heartening to realize the public is gaining a greater awareness that accurate information on animal and production agriculture comes not from celebrity sources and activist groups but straight from the experts — those ranchers and farmers who on a daily basis make their livelihood by working with animals and the land. Efforts by the entire agriculture sector to educate the general public on best practices are having an impact.”

At least 86 percent of respondents think consumers should have the right to choose what they eat and not be dictated to by a small minority of activists, according to the poll conducted in February. The poll is the fifth conducted by the Alliance to track public attitudes about farmers and ranchers, as well as trends in philosophies, issues and buying habits.

Tracking those whom the public trusts when it comes to messages about farm animal well being revealed farm animal veterinarians, USDA representatives, Food and Drug Administration representatives and farmers and ranchers among the most believable. On the opposite side, among the lowest ranked for credibility on farm animal treatment were well-known Hollywood actors (6 percent) and activists (18 percent).

Nearly 80 percent of the respondents agreed with the following statement: “While it is important to be concerned about how farm animals are raised, there is nothing wrong with raising animals solely for food purposes.” And, more than 80 percent believe farmers are concerned about the well-being of their animals and food safety, in addition to doing a good job producing healthy food at reasonable prices.

The survey asked respondents if they would be willing to pay more — and how much more — of their take-home dollars for meat and poultry products labeled “humanely raised.” If the cost were 5 percent more, 31 percent said they would buy the “humanely raised” product. A 10 percent price increase cut the number of willing buyers to 23 percent, and with a price increase of 20 percent, the number willing to spend more shrank to 11 percent.

On the topic of science and genetic enhancements, nearly half the respondents (47 percent) indicated scientists should be free to use science and genetics to breed farm animals to be resistant to bacteria that can cause human illness, while 30 percent of those polled were neutral or unsure.

When it comes to food safety and quality, the public considers family physicians, dieticians, the FDA and the USDA to be the most credible sources of information about the food they eat. Again, they considered politicians and well-known Hollywood actors to be among the least credible sources about food quality and safety.

When going to the grocery store, a full 70 percent of those surveyed said that animal rights groups were not very influential or not at all influential on their purchasing decisions. Only 7 percent of those polled indicated animal rights groups were extremely or very influential in influencing their purchasing decisions.

The public opinion survey was conducted online by Kansas City, Mo.-based Market Directions, Inc. The 1,002 respondents were 37 percent male and 63 percent female. Ninety-three percent of respondents indicated they are the primary shopper or share in shopping duties.