Information overload and misinformation can erode trust

By John Jamieson

Never has so much information been available to consumers as there is now. Information about the Canadian food system is no exception – from regulatory oversight to the list of ingredients on our favourite box of cookies. Information empowers us to make choices that are right for us and our families. Where our food comes from, who’s producing it and how, are natural questions to ask, but there is so much information out there that sometimes we do not know who to trust.

Not many people outside the food industry have a strong knowledge of how our food system works, yet food is something that’s in all our lives, every single day of the year. Misinformation and conflicting information on the web and social media can erode trust in the Canadian food system and create concern about not doing the right thing for ourselves and our families.

In this age of the internet and social media, almost anyone with a website or social media platform can be perceived as credible as a researcher who has devoted a lifetime to a specific field. We have seen that scenario play out during the pandemic with online sites discrediting scientific research and generating theories that cause confusion and uncertainty.

The single most important thing we can do as consumers is to be critical. We must think about the source of the information. Does the source have training on the subject? Is the information from a government or an academic? Is it a commercial website or a social media site? Is the information presented objectively? Does it reflect bias? There is no quality control on the internet, but most of us get our information there. About 75 per cent of Canadians look for information on the food system annually and the path to finding that information is usually through an internet search.

Each year, The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) reaches out to thousands of Canadians through surveys and focus groups to listen to what they are saying and understand what they are thinking about the Canadian food system, from growers to grocers. We put together the Public Trust Research and make it available for everyone to see on our website.

The CCFI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that brings together the players of today’s food system from growers, food companies and food processors to university researchers, NGOs, and retailers. The CCFI does not lobby or advocate for a brand or company. We bring together food-system leaders and consumers to engage in issues of trust, transparency and sustainability.

Our 2021 research told us Canadians are interested in the big picture of the Canadian food system.  When we asked Canadians what their ideal food system would look like, the top answer was transparent, followed by a focus on healthy, nutritious food and equitable access to affordable food.

Being curious about our food system is natural and being critical about our sources of information is healthy. Asking questions about the credibility, reliability and trustworthiness of the information we hear and read about is just plain smart.

Building trust is not about simply communicating. It is about doing the right thing, which is being transparent, recognizing shortcomings or challenges and improving them.

John Jamieson is the president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.