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When it comes to food, Wisconsin residents are hungry for information from trusted sources.

The Science, Media and the Public Research Group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently released a report on Wisconsin residents' food perceptions and buying behaviors.

The public opinion survey for Perceptions of Food in Wisconsin was mailed to a random sample of 2,000 Wisconsin residents and administered from April 15 to July 7, 2015. University officials say that the survey had a final response rate of 50.3 percent.

Findings in the report note that respondents pay strong attention to health and nutrition news and deserve a right to food knowledge concerning how their food is grown and prepared.

Information surrounding health and nutrition issues was more palatable to respondents from trusted sources including university scientists and regulatory agencies than corporations and the media, that received the lowest overall marks.

The report noted that food-related opinions and behaviors can be impacted by a large number of factors. These can include how much attention people pay to food-related news, their trust in the abilities of various food-related organizations to keep food safe, and the types of foods themselves.

Key findings

· While many look for bargains while cruising the grocery store aisles, 94 percent of respondents say they're more concerned with freshness first, sending affordability down to the No. 2 concern (57 percent).

Locally grown food was ranked as important by under half of participants (43 percent) while 20 percent rated organically grown produce as important.

Of note, a third of Wisconsin resident respondents indicated GMO free food was highly important.

· The large majority of participants reported frequently consuming fresh vegetables (83 percent), milk or dairy (73 percent), and white meat (73 percent). Organic foods were frequently consumed by almost a fourth of respondents.

Only 6 percent of respondents indicated that they 'often' or 'very often' ate GM foods, while 18 percent of respondents were unsure.

· Food issues resonated with Wisconsinites far stronger than public affairs issues. While just 36 percent of respondents said they paid attention to agriculture or food news from newspaper or television sources, they did feed their interest in food topics via food or cooking entertainment media.

Interestingly, about half of respondents indicated that they paid high levels of attention to health and nutrition news from newspapers and television, while a third indicated the same for online sources.

· Compared to health and nutrition issues, more participants had higher trust in organizations to keep food safe.

Among those surveyed, farmers were chosen as the group most trusted to keep food safe, followed by schools, grocery stores and restaurants.

Additionally, around half of participants reported highly trusting regulatory agencies. The lowest on the trust totem pole were regional and international seed companies

· A number of foods were considered highly risky by a majority of respondents, including undercooked meat (76 percent), raw milk (58 percent), GMO foods (57 percent) and processed foods (55 percent).

The report Perceptions of Food in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Madison, WI: Department of Life Sciences Communication is available online at http://scimep.wisc.edu/projects/reports/.

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