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The poll also found gender, racial and economic gaps on attitudes about food safety. Women, who do most of the shopping, were more concerned than men. For example, 39 percent of men said they were "very confident" that the food they buy is safe, but only 23 percent of women said they felt that way. However, men and women agreed on the need for better federal oversight.
"We've got to protect our food supply," said Stephan Weiss, 58, of West Linn, Ore., who runs a small engraving and embroidery business. "And if more inspectors are going to prevent people from getting sick and dying, then it's worth it."
People with lower incomes were less confident in food safety, as were minorities. Nearly half of Hispanics had little or no confidence in the safety of the food they buy.
In Congress, a leading advocate of food safety reforms said the industry would do well to listen to consumers on the need for tracing.
"We live in an age of technology where you can bar-code a banana," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "We've got to work this through with the industry and come up with something that's reasonable. The more confidence consumers have, the more goods they will purchase."
While the produce industry agrees that federal standards for preventing contamination are necessary, there is no consensus on a mandatory tracing system. Cost is a concern, especially for smaller companies.
The poll also found that 56 percent of consumers do not believe the government has enough inspectors to scrutinize food imports. If more are needed for imports and domestic produce, 70 percent said the cost should be covered through fees on industry. That echoes a proposal by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The telephone poll of 1,000 adults was conducted July 10-14 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the overall sample.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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