According to FSAI chief executive professor Alan Reilly, the key lesson for food companies is that they need to have checks in place to make sure they know who their suppliers are, where their ingredients come from, and the authenticity of those ingredients.
“Purchasing raw materials on face value is a high risk strategy for food processors,” he said, following publication of new consumer research on the impact of the horse meat contamination issue on Monday. “Progress has already been made with enhanced controls and sophisticated tools such as DNA testing now being a part of the food safety armoury. Given the added controls now in place, I believe that the eventual outcome of this food fraud scandal will be a positive one for consumers.”
The research, which was carried out by Behaviours and Attitudes, questioned more than 1,000 Irish adults – and found the contamination scandal had significantly shifted attitudes about the food industry as a whole, as well as about food products implicated in the issue.
Nearly all of those surveyed (98%) had heard of the issue, and half said they were now more conscious of general food safety issues. More than half (53%) said had become more conscious of the ingredients in processed foods, with 45% saying they had started reading labels more often. Fifty-six per cent said they were more conscious about foods’ country of origin.
Nearly two in five consumers (39%) said they were concerned as the issue came to light, and most of those (88%) were worried about what else might be in meat products. More than half (55%) were repulsed by the idea of eating horse meat, while 76% were worried about possible health risks.
Just over half (51%) of those who bought frozen burgers in the past said they now bought fewer than before.
Reilly added: “Understandably, the issue has given rise to widespread debate about food safety and labelling and this has changed the way people in Ireland view the foods they purchase and consume. When buying processed foods, people are not in a position to identify what raw materials are used and, therefore, they rely on labelling as their only source of information.”
The FSAI survey follows a Mintel survey of UK consumer attitudes published earlier this month – six months on from the start of the European horse meat scandal – which found that just half (49%) of UK consumers trusted the food industry to provide safe food. Only 23% of consumers in that survey agreed that different parts of the supply chain worked well together.