Europeans think that their health is more likely to be adversely affected by environmental pollution, car accidents or serious illness than by the food they eat.
In general, food has positive connotations, being associated primarily with taste and pleasure. Less than one in five consumers spontaneously link food with health and, when asked to cite
specific food-related concerns, no single issue achieves particular prominence. Previous food scares, such as those surrounding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or dioxins, do not
currently appear to be of major concern to European consumers. Issues such as food poisoning, residues in food, and obesity are more readily recalled.
When presented with a list of potential food safety risks, consumers appear slightly more concerned about external risk factors that are beyond their control. They are less worried about
personal factors such as food allergies and those linked to their own behaviour, such as food preparation, hygiene and weight gain. In general, women tend to be more worried about food safety
Perceptions of public authorities’ actions
Over three in five European consumers are aware of EU food safety policies. A higher level of awareness (85%) is shown for health warnings on cigarette packs, reflecting the high impact of
Overall, there is a strong level of confidence in the actions that public authorities take in the field of health. Most people believe that health concerns are taken seriously (54%) and that
authorities act quickly (55%), but a sceptical 47% of respondents consider that economic interests of producers would take priority over consumer health.
In respect of food safety issues, almost 60% of EU consumers think that public authorities take account of the latest scientific evidence when making policy decisions. Almost half commend the
authorities for their role in informing the public about food-related risks. Although opinions are divided on the progress of food safety over the past 10 years, almost half the population
consider that EU authorities are currently dealing appropriately with food safety risks.
Sources of information
Media coverage of health-related risks reaches most consumers in the EU. Whilst people more readily recall having seen or heard media reports on risks associated with smoking, obesity, alcohol
and infectious diseases, over 60% of consumers can recollect reading or seeing something about unsafe or unhealthy food within the past six months or less.
Of those respondents who were aware of media reports surrounding the safety of a particular type of food, more than half declared that they had changed their eating habits as a result and
avoided that food either temporarily (37%) or permanently (16%). However, over 40% of people either ignore stories about food safety or do nothing despite being worried. This finding has
implications for risk communications, not least because the media has an important role in raising awareness and, ultimately, in motivating dietary change.
Finally, it appears that the most trusted sources of information about serious food risks are consumer groups, doctors/physicians and scientists, followed by public authorities. Media generate
a comparatively low level of trust, but the least trusted sources are economic operators (manufacturers, farmers and retailers).