The island of Ireland produces more of its own food than it imports, but in 2007 the Republic of Ireland imported €4.6bn of food and Northern Ireland around €502m.
The survey conducted by Safefood found that consumers in Ireland had far greater trust in products grown or produced on the Ireland, and were not convinced by the rigorous standards and checks that produce goes through at EU borders.
Since 48 per cent of those with worries said they were concerned about processed food and prepared meals, the findings indicate that manufacturers serving Ireland could be missing out on sales.
Imported fresh meat was mentioned by 60 per cent of respondents as being of concern, as was frozen meat or poultry (57 per cent), fresh fish (52 per cent), tinned food (31 per cent), and fruit and vegetables (29 per cent).
Forty eight per cent of concerned people said the main food safety issues were poor regulations and standards of food production in other countries; 27 per cent said the quality of imported foods was worrying, and 24 per cent expressed a perception that the further a food travels the higher the risk of contamination.
Where foods come from
Cereals, fruit and vegetables make up a major part of foods imported to Ireland from outside the EU, from counties such as China, Costa Rica and South Africa. Meat and dairy produce mostly come from within the EU.
However Dr Aileen McGloin, scientific support manager at Safefood, said: “Our review also revealed that consumers found current information on the origins of food misleading and unclear, and would welcome more transparent information on food sources and origins”.
The EU is currently reviewing country of origin labelling for a number of food categories. At the moment foods that must have their origins labelled include beef and veal, fish and shellfish, wine, fruit and vegetables, honey and olive oil, and poultry from outside the EU.
McGloin also spoke to reassure consumers that widespread mistrust of imported fruit and veg was unwarranted.
“In the past five years there has only been one outbreak on the island of Ireland thought to be associated with lettuce produced in Europe, but this was unconfirmed,” she said.