Food safety, as a widespread issue, has raised the attention of the regulators and researchers all around the world. For the government, it is about how people perceive the government and even the country [9
]. It is important to assess public perception of the status quo of food safety for the governments in order to cope with the emergence of increasing food safety risks in such a context. Therefore, governments should attach importance to public food safety satisfaction when they are promoting fast economic growth.
Public service satisfaction has been used and practiced as the indicator of public service quality by many countries. The concept of public service satisfaction stems from “customer satisfaction”, which is a measure of how well a product or service provided by a company or organization can satisfy a customer’s expectations [10
]. Since the 1970s, customer satisfaction has gradually been introduced into the public management field as the public’s evaluation of government services, including the SERVQUAL in Sweden and the ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) in the US [13
]. For instance, the ACSI model was applied to examine the drivers of overall satisfaction with local government services in New York City. It was found that the perceived quality of certain public services, such as public schools, the police, and transportation, are the most salient drivers of satisfaction, and the significance of each service varies across income, race, and geography [16
]. In the case of food safety, customer satisfaction is used more in the analysis of business and customer behavior where the “customer” means the real customer in commercial activities [17
] rather than citizens to the public services. In China, such a tendency of introducing customer satisfaction has attracted attention. Building a service-oriented government is placed at the center of the 12th Five-Year Plan, which demands challenging the governance philosophies, capacities, and competencies of the Chinese government at every level [20
Public satisfaction on certain public services, such as public health, public transportation, and public housing, has been studied [21
]; they emphasized the application of satisfaction in measuring public perception of government services. Scholars have commenced to address the importance of food safety issues and investigate the status quo of public food safety satisfaction. However, the results are not satisfied by all means, demonstrating that the general public’s satisfaction with food safety was at a low level in the main cities of China, including Beijing, Hangzhou, and Chongqing. A study of Beijing residents’ food safety satisfaction examined the effect of several factors, including trust in government, scientists and food producers, experiences related to food safety risks, risk perception, and demographics, such as gender, age, income, and so on [8
]. By using the GLM (General Linear Model), the researchers found that trust in government and scientists was positively related to food safety satisfaction, food safety incidents had a negative relationship with residents’ satisfaction, and individuals with higher educational background tended to have lower food safety satisfaction. Other researchers analyzed residents’ food safety satisfaction and influencing factors in urban Hangzhou by using SEM (Structural Equation Modeling), and it was found that the overall satisfaction degree was 63.89 (out of 100), and the satisfaction of residents on the use of additives, pesticide residues, heavy metals, law enforcement, and regulatory system was low [24
]. Based on a survey in Chongqing, the results showed that factors including production and processing, harmful substances, safety supervision, product certification, and food quality were five key factors that affected food safety satisfaction [25
]. However, the sample size was only 400, which could have led to biased results. Existing literature on public food safety in China is insufficient. Research used different indicators on public food safety satisfaction in China and were focused on specific regions, which led to varied results and lack of comparability. Additionally, there were few studies that covered the whole country. Further, the differences between regions were long neglected by researchers in China, and scholars only stayed in the simple distinctions such as the difference between the east and the west, urban and rural areas [26
]. Fisher [27
] found that regions with higher Medicare spending achieve more satisfaction. Kunimitsu [28
] also verified that regional factors such as economic revitalization, social capital, public facilities for basic human needs, and reputation could affect the satisfaction of residents in Japan. Thus, we suppose that factors from the governmental perspective could be explanations for these differences.
This article aims to analyze public food safety satisfaction in China with national survey data and try to compare satisfaction degrees of different regions. We expect to acquire a more in-depth understanding on differences among regions in the effect of influencing factors from the resident level and the province level.
2.1. Resident Level
Individual factors of how people perceive the current situation, including gender, age, and other demographic characteristics, are examined by various studies [29
]. Previous studies have proven that individual differences in food safety perception are related to many demographic characteristics, including age, regional, socio-economic, or gender distinctions [34
]. First, gender is an important determinant of risk perception across a variety of health and environmental risks and concerns [35
]. Dosman [19
] found that women tend to perceive more risk than men and this could be interpreted as women being responsible for household food preparation and purchases. Compared to males, who are not responsible for household food procurement and preparation, females perceive higher risks in food safety issues and have lower satisfaction.
Secondly, it is found that people’s perceived personal responsibility for food-related safety increases with age [37
], and there is also a positive relationship between the perception of food safety risks and age [38
]. Therefore, we propose that there is a relationship between age and food safety satisfaction as the more risks people perceive, the lower the satisfaction they would have.
Thirdly, according to many food consumption studies, it is expected that people with higher income are more likely to purchase food with safety labels, thus they are more aware of potential risks, as well as education, which enriches people with knowledge and abilities to acquire related information on food safety [17
]. However, in a study of citizens’ food safety concerns across Chinese cities, the researchers also found that family income was not significantly related to food safety concerns [43
Fourthly, type of residence has been often considered in research on food safety perceptions which examines the differences that are caused by residence [40
]. However, the distinctions of residence are urban and rural in most of the cases. In China, this distinction can be measured by a “census register” which is divided into agricultural and nonagricultural [46
]. In a rural area, residents with agricultural census register are self-sufficient because they do their own farming and are less dependent on food sold in the market which could have potential risks. We also wondered whether the size of residence (i.e., dividing the type of residence into city, town, and village) could affect public food safety satisfaction as food safety risks increase with the size of residence. Based on the results of previous research, we choose to include the following demographic variables in our resident-level analysis: gender, age, income, education, type of residence, and census register. The hypotheses are as follows:
All else being equal, females, people who are older with higher IE (income and good education experience) tend to have lower satisfaction than males, who are younger with lower IE.
Those living in larger communities and are registered in cities tend to have lower satisfaction than the people who live in smaller communities and are registered in the countryside.
Trust is an essential indicator regarding public administration, especially for public satisfaction with governments and their policies. It is believed that there is a positive relationship between public service performance and trust in government, that is, better-performing public services will lead to increased satisfaction among their users, and this, in turn, will lead to more trust in government [47
]. Similar to food safety satisfaction, if people hold higher trust in the government, they may perceive higher satisfaction. Through various studies on evaluation of public services, citizen (or user) satisfaction is one of the critical indicators of government performance [33
]. Citizen evaluation on government performance could have a significant impact on attitudes towards administration affairs and also their trust in government. With regards to food safety in China, as the government is the main responsible actor of food safety supervision, the evaluation of government regulation efforts may affect public food safety satisfaction. The better evaluation a person gives to the government, the higher the possibility he or she has to be satisfied with the current food safety situation. Therefore, we propose two hypotheses:
People who trust the government more tend to have higher satisfaction with food safety than those who trust the government less.
People who have a more positive attitude on the government’s regulation performance tend to have higher satisfaction on food safety than those who negatively evaluate the government’s regulation performance.
2.2. Province Level
Previous research paid some attention to the impacts of macro factors on food safety satisfaction. Some Chinese scholars tried to examine this kind of impact by focusing on divided regions such as the east and west. For instance, it was found that the food safety satisfaction of the eastern residents is lower than that of the centre residents, and the satisfaction of the residents of the central region is lower than that of the residents of the western region in a nationwide survey [26
]. However, which are the real factors behind the division of the east and the west? There may be differences in resources and the level of economic development in different regions which are influencing factors from a higher level rather than individual differences.
Thus, we intend to examine the effect by taking provinces as our research objects to see whether the province-level factors could have a significant effect on public food safety satisfaction. As for the level of economic development, our analysis includes per capita GDP as there are disputes over the impact of a nation’s income on life satisfaction [50
], because it is expected that the relationship is positive, while in many types of research, it is negative [51
]. In the case of Chinese food safety satisfaction, per capita GDP of each province could be a proper indicator to examine the relationship between the level of economic development and public food safety satisfaction in different provinces. Likewise, the relationship between government resources and public service quality has been studied. Boyne [52
] found that a positive relationship between financial resources and service performance was more supported through a meta-analysis of existing research. With higher financial inputs, government performance will be better and public satisfaction will be higher. We measured government resources with two variables, per capita food safety fiscal expenditure and food safety fiscal expenditure level, to examine whether an increase in government resources will lead to the increase of public food safety satisfaction.
Government efforts of investment in food safety positively affects the public’s satisfaction over food safety.