Europeans concerned about possible food-related risks tend to worry more about chemical contamination of food instead of bacterial contamination or health and nutrition issues, according to a Eurobarometer survey, published by the European Commission.
Most Europeans have confidence in national and European food-safety agencies as information sources on possible risks associated with food, the poll also shows.
‘Understanding consumers’ perception of risk is critical to providing timely, clear and effective communications regarding food safety,’ said Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) executive director. ‘The Eurobarometer findings highlight the importance of EFSA’s work and reaffirm EFSA as a trusted source of information. Moving forward, EFSA will use these learnings to help shape the future of its work in communications.’
When asked about their perceptions of food, most respondents associated food and eating with enjoyment, such as selecting fresh and tasty food (58%), or the pleasure of having meals with family and friends (54%). Forty-four percent focused on concerns such as looking for affordable prices and satisfying hunger. Fewer respondents were concerned about the safety of food (37%) or nutritional issues, such as checking calories and nutrients (23%).
When placed in the context of other risks that could personally affect them, more EU citizens ranked the economic crisis (20%) and environmental pollution (18%) as very likely to affect their lives compared with the possible risk of food damaging their health (11%).
No single widespread concern about food-related risks was mentioned spontaneously by most respondents. Nineteen percent cited chemicals, pesticides and other substances as the major concerns, while one in 10 answered there was no problem with food.
When prompted by a list of possible issues associated with food, respondents named the following risks to be ‘very worried’ about: chemical residues from pesticides in fruit, vegetables and cereals, 31% (up 3% compared to 2005); antibiotics or hormones in meat, 30% (up 3% on 2005); cloning animals for food products, 30%; and pollutants, such as mercury in fish and dioxins in pork, 29% (up 3% on 2005).
Fewer people were ‘very worried’ about bacterial contamination of foods (23%) and even fewer about possible nutritional risks, such as putting on weight (15%) or not having a healthy/balanced diet (15%).
EU citizens expressed the highest level of confidence in information obtained from doctors and other health professionals (84%), followed by family and friends (82%), consumer organizations (76%), scientists (73%) and environmental protection groups (71%), the survey found. National and European food-safety agencies (EFSA) and EU institutions drew a relatively high level of confidence at 64% and 57%, respectively, with national governments at 47%.
Asked how they respond to information on food-related matters communicated in the media or on the Internet, approximately half said they ignored stories in the media or worried about them but did not change their eating habits.
There appears to be a greater tendency to ignore information regarding diet and health issues (29%) than food safety-related risks (24%).