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Majority in EU agree food products are safe, but many still concerned

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More than half of consumers agree that food is safe in Europe but there is wide variation from country to country, according to a survey.

The EIT Food Trust Report surveyed consumers in different European countries to measure trust in the food system and confidence in food products. EIT Food was established by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

The TrustTracker study looks at consumer confidence in food product integrity — measured by a combination of five factors: taste, safety, healthiness, authenticity and sustainability.

Variation by country
In total, 55 percent of European consumers think food products are generally safe and this rises to 74 percent in the UK, but 22 percent think that they are generally unsafe and this goes up to 45 percent of respondents in Turkey. Almost 40 percent in Romania and Czech Republic also think food products are generally unsafe.

Saskia Nuijten, director of communication and public engagement at EIT Food, said there are considerable differences between countries when looking at all five factors that make up the rating.

“These variations could be due to a number of reasons, such as differences in culture, consumer priorities and socioeconomics. In terms of safety, these variations could be considered concerning given the high safety standards set in Europe and European law,” she said.

“It is clear that there is more work to be done for consumers to trust the safety of their food and it is therefore crucial that insights such as these are used to bring the agrifood sector together to make positive changes, ensuring that food safety is trusted without variations.”

European citizens had the least to say about the agencies regulating food safety and standards. The general feeling was that the necessary regulations exist but that control and execution by authorities could be better.

Food safety was also one of the main factors influencing Europeans’ food purchases based on results from a recent Eurobarometer survey.

In the EIT Food survey, 40 percent of respondents had confidence that the food products they buy are generally authentic — real, honest, genuine, not fake or artificial — versus 34 percent that disagree. The age group 18 to 35 year olds show significantly higher confidence in the taste, authenticity and sustainability of food than older respondents.

Farmers are the most trusted by the public, with two-thirds of European consumers reporting that they trust them. For government agencies and food manufacturers, less than half of consumers across all countries trust these groups. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of respondents distrust government authorities and manufacturers.

Improved food safety
In its first year, 2018, the TrustTracker surveyed more than 5,000 consumers online in five European countries. In 2019, it was 11,000 consumers across 13 EU nations, and in June 2020 the survey involved 19,800 people across 18 EU countries. They were surveyed by Ipsos.

Since 2018, when looking at a five-country sample of France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK, people’s confidence in food safety has improved with 8 percent more saying food is generally safe in 2020 than two years ago. The proportion having confidence in the authenticity of food is up by 5 percent compared to 2018.

Nuijten said it is no surprise that more people think food is generally safer compared to 2018.

“This could be in relation to COVID-19 and the fact there has been an increased focus on safety and hygiene, but the recent push from consumers for greater transparency and traceability means that information is becoming more widely accessible and understood by consumers,” Nuijten said.

Many EIT Food projects work with consumers to increase transparency, said Nuijten.

“The events of 2020 have shown many consumers how vital our food infrastructure is, ranging from keeping products on supermarket shelves to considering how our food production impacts the environment,” she said.

“As we look to our economic recovery in the coming year, helping to build trust between consumers and the food sector will be critical to improving food for everyone. Ultimately, to create a future-fit food system, we must put consumers at the center of the development, production, distribution and promotion of food.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)


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