European consumers deliver verdict on food risks

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cent, European union, European food safety authority, Food administration

Chemical contamination tops European consumer fears over food related risks, closely followed by antibiotic and hormones in meat, animal cloning and pollutants, according to a new survey commissioned by the region’s top food safety watchdog.

The issue of food contaminated with bacteria such as Listeria and salmonella was the fifth highest concern – rated as ‘very worrying’ by less than a quarter of the 26,691 respondents that took part in the research carried out by Eurobarometer and published yesterday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Almost two thirds of Europe’s citizens said they had confidence in information from EFSA and national food safety bodies. But conversely opinion was much more divided on whether such bodies delivered independent scientific advice.

Concerns

Some 31 per cent of consumers expressed fears over the presence in food of chemicals like pesticides, while 30 per cent said they were concerned about both antibiotics and hormones in meat and animal cloning. Pollutants such as dioxins and mercury troubled 29 per cent of respondents, while bacterial contamination was cited by 23 per cent of people. Only 15 per cent were worried about possible nutritional risks like putting on weight or not having a healthy/balanced diet.

Public confidence

Institutions such as EFSA and national food safety bodies were rated as a trustworthy source of information by 64 per cent of people. However, family doctors were the most trusted source on 84 per cent, followed by friends and family on 82 per cent. Only 47 per cent had faith in information from national governments.

Almost half of respondents said they ignored food-related stories that appeared in the media or on the internet – with a greater tendency to disregard information on diet and health issues (29 per cent) than on food safety risks (24 per cent).

The survey also found that consumers broadly believe public bodies work effectively to ensure food is safe. Two thirds said that 'there are strict laws in the EU to make sure that food is safe'​, a while 63 per cent believed that 'food produced in the EU is safer than that imported from outside the EU'.​ These results showed a significant increase compared to the first survey conducted in 2005, said EFSA.

Divided opinion

But the research revealed ambivalence in consumer attitudes over whether scientific advice and public authorities are independent from other interests. While 46 per cent agreed that public authorities in the EU view the health of citizens as more important than the profits of producers (up 7 percentage points on 2005), 42 per cent disagreed with this and 12 per cent said they didn’t know. Asked whether ‘scientific advice on food-related risks is independent of commercial or political interests’​, 47 per cent of respondents agreed, with 41per cent disagreeing.

More than 81 per cent of people said public authorities should do more to ensure that food is healthy and to inform people about healthy diets and lifestyles.

“Understanding consumers’ perception of risk is critical to providing timely, clear and effective communications regarding food safety”,​ said EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle.

To read a summary of the survey click HERE

Related topics: Science

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