Peer Review History

Original SubmissionJune 12, 2023
Decision Letter - Hélder Spínola, Editor, Alexandros Gasparatos, Editor


To trust or not to trust?

Trustscape of Organic Animal Husbandry: Mapping Consumer Attitudes and Information Demands

PLOS Sustainability and Transformation

Dear Dr. Bayer,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript to PLOS Sustainability and Transformation. After careful consideration, we feel that it has merit but does not fully meet PLOS Sustainability and Transformation's publication criteria as it currently stands. Therefore, we invite you to submit a revised version of the manuscript that addresses the points raised during the review process.

Although the paper fits in the journal extra care should be put to clarify the new contribution of the paper and define/conceptualise key terms. Furthermore, some should be made to improve the framing and readability of the paper.

Please submit your revised manuscript within 60 days Oct 02 2023 11:59PM. If you will need more time than this to complete your revisions, please reply to this message or contact the journal office at When you're ready to submit your revision, log on to and select the 'Submissions Needing Revision' folder to locate your manuscript file.

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If you would like to make changes to your financial disclosure, please include your updated statement in your cover letter. Guidelines for resubmitting your figure files are available below the reviewer comments at the end of this letter.

We look forward to receiving your revised manuscript.

Kind regards,

Alexandros Gasparatos

Section Editor

PLOS Sustainability and Transformation

Journal Requirements:

1. Please amend your detailed Financial Disclosure statement. This is published with the article. It must therefore be completed in full sentences and contain the exact wording you wish to be published.

a. State the initials, alongside each funding source, of each author to receive each grant.

b. State what role the funders took in the study. If the funders had no role in your study, please state: “The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.”

c. If any authors received a salary from any of your funders, please state which authors and which funders.

If you did not receive any funding for this study, please simply state: “The authors received no specific funding for this work.”

2. We notice that your supplementary tables are included in the manuscript file. Please remove them and upload them with the file type 'Supporting Information'. Please ensure that each Supporting Information file has a legend listed in the manuscript after the references list.

Additional Editor Comments (if provided):

The paper explores trust patterns on organic animal husbandry value chains in Germany. It is a well-conceived study that generally fits thematically within PLOS Sustainability and Transformation. However, the paper will require Major Revisions before it is reconsidered for publication.

The three Reviewers have offered several comments to strengthen the paper. Please pay special care on comments of Reviewer 3. My comments, as a Section Editor, focus more on how to improve readability, especially in terms of structure of and presentation of results.

Better linkage to (food system) sustainability and transformation

Please frame the paper a bit better in the context of (food system) sustainability and transformation to fit better in the journal. The paper has undeniable links to (food system) sustainability and transformation, but it is not very clear in the current form. Some small additions and language changes in Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion should be enough to achieve this.


Generally speaking, the Introduction is well-written. However, some small revisions would be needed.

First, after Line 122 create a clear paragraph with the main general gaps in the literature that this paper aspires to fill. This paragraph does not need to be very long. There is a lot of nice material earlier in the Introduction that can be used to structure this “gap paragraph”.

Second, move Lines 57-62 before the last paragraph of the Introduction to justify why Germany is the right context to conduct this study.

Third, please add in the last paragraph 1-2 sentences with the methodological approach (e.g. index development, cluster analysis).

Finally, please add a footnote defining “organic”, especially in the context of the animal husbandry. This should be integrated early in text (e.g. Line 64).


This is the section of the paper that will benefit the most from some clarifications and revisions.

First, and foremost, please add an opening sub-section on the conceptual framework and research approach. This should include how trust is conceptualized for the purpose of this paper and why/how indices are created. This information is crucial to appreciate what is done, which is now rather confusing considering that this information is scattered in different parts of the paper. Some of the current content that should move here include Line 175-182, Line 193-195, Line 322-333. Using figures and/or tables can help tremendously the reader.

Second, add a short sub-section about the study context (i.e. Germany). This should focus more on the production and consumption aspects of organic products from the animal husbandry sector. This is essential to put the findings of the study.

Third, please add the description of the survey instrument (minus Lines 175-183) at the beginning of the “Data collection and cleaning” section, and revise accordingly. In this section, please clarify that you aimed for a representative sample of the German population (around Line 142).

Fourth, please move the section on ethical approval at the end of the Methodology section.


The results are very interesting and well-presented. I have only few small comments.

First, revise the language to reflect that respondents in each cluster have certain attitudes/characteristics/perceptions, and not the clusters themselves.

Second, improve the presentation of the figures and tables (see specific comment below).

Third, use more summarized titles. Examples can be:

“Cluster analysis according to trust along the value chain”

“Clusters and types of trust”

“Clusters and information”

Fourth, merge Lines 253, 272 and 284 with their following paragraphs. Please do not italicize.


Move Lines 555-598 in the Discussion in a dedicated section named “Policy and practice recommendations” or similar. Avoid bullet points in this section.

Move Lines 600-613 in the Discussion in a dedicated section named “Limitations and future research” or similar.


Create a short conclusion that summarizes the main research approach and findings. This can build on the existing content of Line 551-555. About 10-15 lines would be enough for this concluding section.


Please avoid in-figure titles in Figure 1-5.

Add the scales inside the figures (bottom or right-hand side) rather than as text below the figures. This applies to Figure 1-4.


Please fix the notes below tables. Add them in a single Note, where each statement is distinguished with “:” or “;”. Pay specific attention on the presentation of significance as this seems to be not reported in a uniform manner between tables. Also please explain what the “a”, “b”, etc mean for significance, as it is difficult to understand. This issue of significance also applies for Figure 2. Pay specific attention in cases where stars are mentioned in note but not in main table (e.g. Table 3).

Table 3: Add an extra column in the left-hand side with the major categories “Socio-demographic characteristics”, “Attitudes towards trust” “Own experience” and “Knowledge and expectations”. Omit then all the shaded rows as they have the same information.

Table 5: Follow same format as Table 3.

Depending on how the conceptual framework section will be structured/visualized, consider using only basic descriptions for the first columns of Table 3-6.


Add the words “…in Germany” at the end of the title.


Please avoid to the extent possible adding full name citations, e.g. Profeta et al (2022) Line 77. This should be totally avoided in sentences with many such citations (e.g. Line 91-93).

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Reviewers' comments:

Reviewer's Responses to Questions

Comments to the Author

1. Does this manuscript meet PLOS Sustainability and Transformation’s publication criteria? Is the manuscript technically sound, and do the data support the conclusions? The manuscript must describe methodologically and ethically rigorous research with conclusions that are appropriately drawn based on the data presented.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

Reviewer #3: No


2. Has the statistical analysis been performed appropriately and rigorously?

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

Reviewer #3: No


3. Have the authors made all data underlying the findings in their manuscript fully available (please refer to the Data Availability Statement at the start of the manuscript PDF file)?

The PLOS Data policy requires authors to make all data underlying the findings described in their manuscript fully available without restriction, with rare exception. The data should be provided as part of the manuscript or its supporting information, or deposited to a public repository. For example, in addition to summary statistics, the data points behind means, medians and variance measures should be available. If there are restrictions on publicly sharing data—e.g. participant privacy or use of data from a third party—those must be specified.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

Reviewer #3: No


4. Is the manuscript presented in an intelligible fashion and written in standard English?

PLOS Sustainability and Transformation does not copyedit accepted manuscripts, so the language in submitted articles must be clear, correct, and unambiguous. Any typographical or grammatical errors should be corrected at revision, so please note any specific errors here.

Reviewer #1: Yes

Reviewer #2: Yes

Reviewer #3: No


5. Review Comments to the Author

Please use the space provided to explain your answers to the questions above. You may also include additional comments for the author, including concerns about dual publication, research ethics, or publication ethics. (Please upload your review as an attachment if it exceeds 20,000 characters)

Reviewer #1: General comments: please show only whole percentages without decimal places

Title: Please rethink about the use of “trustscape”!

Abstract: please add info for whom these results may be relevant and why!

Summary: be a bit more specific about why organic / animal welfare is “key” / “special”

Summary & Limitations: why is your data from GER still relevant for a broader audience?

Title & introduction: why do you mention animal husbandry, when you only talk about meat?

Results: is there information about the quantity of meat consumed by the clusters? If so please add.

Reviewer #2: Dear authors, I've read the manuscript with a great interest. It was easy to read and I think the research has a great potential to be replicated. However, before the acceptance, several improvements must be done.

Abstract. The abstract provides some relevant information: the scope of the research, methods used, and the main results are provided. However, the purpose of the study, its originality, and contribution to the field of knowledge are missing. Also, limitations and further research directions can be added.

Introduction. The framework and relevance of the research are described; also, the state of current research in the field is presented clearly. However, more emphasis on the authors’ contribution must be provided. Also, the aim of the study is missing.

While providing references to the analyzed literature, the authors provide bulky citations: i.e., try to match two different styles what is not appropriate. I suggest using only one style (suggested by the journal).

Data and methods. The methodology part is written clearly. However, while describing Cronbach’s alphas, the authors could have provided all of them, not only the range.

Results. As the indices of trust level are provided as mean evaluations, also standard deviations could have been provided. My suggestion would be to include the general trust index (maybe as a line) into Figure 2, to see each cluster deviation from the general.

Discussion. Discussion is very broad and solid; it demonstrates the authors’ contribution and main implications.

References. The authors ground their research on a substantial amount of relevant literature. However, to my opinion, there should be more sources from the last 3-5 years.

Reviewer #3: Many thanks for submitting this interesting paper on consumers’ attitudes and trust regarding organic animal husbandry. Building clusters is a helpful approach when specific consumer groups are to be identified which can then be directly addressed in different forms or with different content in order to make communication more effective.

However, I have some concerns about the research presented in this contribution.

What are the new insights? We know that different consumer groups regarding organic farming exist and we know that they differ largely regarding trust. You are presenting many results, somewhat overwhelming. From your conclusions we do not learn how to increase trust in the different clusters but on a more general level. So, it remains open what we need the three clusters for.

Title: What means ‘trustscape’?


Please define the term ‘Blind trust’

Line 114: Why do consumer have little motivation to inform themselves?

Please come up with a more precise definition of the aims of your research!

You mention that your “results are important to improve trust along the value chain…” How that?, please explain.

You are working with many different theoretical constructs, in this case a section on theory on trust and consumer behaviour might be helpful.

Data and methods

Please explain your research design (qualitative, quantitative, interview, survey…?) before coming up with data collection.

Your decision to split the survey into two parts is very uncommon. Are you sure that both parts are compatible, even if participants are identical? Which questions were askes when and in which part? There might arise inconsistencies in answering the questions two weeks later. Or can we be sure that answers/attitudes are completly stable over time?


In all your statements on openness/transparency the word honesty is included. So is it about openness or about honesty. Please be more precise in the explanation of the definition of trust dimensions. We do not find anything in your introduction on this. Maybe a theory chapter is missing. What are the underlying hypotheses?

Why is it relevant to distinguish between standards, farmers, inspections, processing, organic retail? In the following analyses your are merging the information by clustering exactly on these actor groups.

Coming to your cluster analysis, line 241: correlation of trust in different actors would not be tested by a cluster analysis but by correlation analysis.

Table 3: The items used for the attitude index should be mentioned in the text. How this index was built and what is about the Cronbachs alpha? The same with ‘Own experience’?

Again a trust variable to explain different levels of trust. Is that really helpful?

All these variables are lacking a theoretical foundation. Why do you suppose them to differ between the clusters.

Figure 3 refers to “assessment of organic animal husbandry”. Do we find this variable in table 3 “expectations of differences to conventional husbandry conditions”? Please explain! How the variable was built, etc.?

In table 4 you present the results of factor analyses and the differences for each variable for the clusters. So, why did you do a factor analysis. Factor analyses aim at data reduction in order to make out the points more reliably and clearer. Here we have too much information which is confusing and does not help to get your points.

What is the point on emotional type of trust?

The same refers to table 5 and 6.

Line 377ff. How do you know that there is not difference? Is it enough to compare averages? Did you check the distribution?

Fig 4: Are there any statistical differences between the trust for farmers, family/friends etc…?


Here you mention for the first time the issue of price premiums and fraud, this should come in the introduction.

Line 438: Can you really speak about correlation when you comparing values for three clusters? Correlation analysis or regression analysis would have been a better solution.

Line 456ff: I do not get the meaning of that sentence: how can political action be real cost accounting? And didn’t you mention that cluster 1 and 2 are the most promising target groups?


Cluster 2: why and how can ‘… ensuring a good product quality along the chain…‘ increase trust. Did you analyse the relation between quality and trust?

I think, fraud should be avoided anyway and in all clusters.

There are some conclusion which remain very vague, e.g. line 588: …”using individual farmers to transfer information…” What does that mean?

Broad information campaigns will not address any specific consumer group but all, so why identifying different clusters?

Language: the text should be edited by a native speaker.


Please check your citing for consistency and correctness. There are several mistakes. E.g. 41, Ökobarometer is the title not the author or editor, 33. Kaiser? Title?, 5. Please go for a journal publication instead of conference presentation, there should be several articles mentioning similar results, 37., is that a book? Publisher? 52. Book? Publisher, Place? 56. Volume, Issue?


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Reviewer #1: No

Reviewer #2: No

Reviewer #3: No


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Revision 1

Submitted filename: Response to Reviewers.docx
Decision Letter - Hélder Spínola, Editor, Alexandros Gasparatos, Editor

To trust or not to trust? Trust Landscape of Organic Animal Husbandry: Mapping Consumer Attitudes and Information Demands in Germany


Dear M.Sc Bayer,

We are pleased to inform you that your manuscript 'To trust or not to trust? Trust Landscape of Organic Animal Husbandry: Mapping Consumer Attitudes and Information Demands in Germany' has been provisionally accepted for publication in PLOS Sustainability and Transformation.

Before your manuscript can be formally accepted you will need to complete some formatting changes, which you will receive in a follow-up email from a member of our team. 

Please note that your manuscript will not be scheduled for publication until you have made the required changes, so a swift response is appreciated.

IMPORTANT: The editorial review process is now complete. PLOS will only permit corrections to spelling, formatting or significant scientific errors from this point onwards. Requests for major changes, or any which affect the scientific understanding of your work, will cause delays to the publication date of your manuscript.

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Thank you again for supporting Open Access publishing; we are looking forward to publishing your work in PLOS Sustainability and Transformation.

Best regards,

Hélder Spínola, Ph.D.

Academic Editor

PLOS Sustainability and Transformation


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