Trust in food manufacturers and retailers is lower than for any other actors in the European food supply chain, including farmers and regulators, according to research presented at the FoodRisC conference in Brussels last week.
Professor George Gaskell, of the London School of Economics, and member of EFSA’s advisory group on communication, presented results from the Eurobarometer study on perceptions of food risk and trust in the food chain. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)-funded research surveyed 1,000 people from each EU member state, and was carried out by independent research firm TNS.
It found that just 35% of EU citizens trusted supermarkets and only 38% trusted food manufacturers for information about food risks. In Germany, trust in the food supply chain was lowest, at 31%. On the other hand, 73% of those surveyed said they trusted agencies like EFSA or the UK’s Food Standards Agency.
“One thing you can’t do with trust is demand it,” said Gaskell. “You must build it…If you raise the issue of trust, you call it into question.”
Most are ‘very matter of fact’
By asking an open-ended question about potential problems and risks associated with food and eating, the survey suggested that some worries about food might be overplayed by a vocal minority. Only 8% of respondents spontaneously mentioned genetic modification and nanotechnology, for example, but when asked directly about these technologies, over 80% of respondents said they were concerned about them.
“In the majority of cases, they are very matter of fact, but there are a few groups for whom food is a problem,” said Gaskell.
He highlighted two groups in particular: Those who have very little money and affording food is difficult, and “young people without children, and who tend to be women, who worry about calories and additives and just about everything”.
Those who see food as a source of pleasure, rather than as a source of stress, were least likely to be concerned about food risks. Predictors for concern were very similar between countries, and were not related to socioeconomic factors.
However, the survey did reveal some major differences between different countries in Europe, implying that food risk communication may need to vary according to the target audience.
“People in the Mediterranean countries are particularly concerned about chronic illnesses,” he said, adding that this was ironic considering the notoriously healthy diet of those in Mediterranean nations.
“When it comes to contamination, people in Central Europe are least concerned.”