Food safety experts accuse the media of creating food scares.
European food safety experts accuse the media of being solely culpable for producing a food scare or crisis. Consumers on the other hand appear less negative about media influences and motives. Both groups believe that the media plays a crucial role in communicating food safety issues. These are some of the outcomes of a first study carried out by five European research institutes as part of the project SAFE FOODS, an EU-sponsored research project on food safety.
The research results will be published in Appetite, an international research journal specializing in behavioural nutrition. These results are based on a series of discussions with consumers and food safety experts in five countries (Denmark, Germany, Greece, Slovenia and UK). In the study participated: Wageningen University (WU), The Netherlands; Agricultural University of Athens (AUA), Greece; Institute of Food Research (IFR), United Kingdom; The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL), Denmark; Dialogik gGmbH, Germany
The results further show that food safety experts believe that the media functions too much as “agenda setter”, focusing on food safety problems for a period of time and then letting these fade away, causing consumers to think they are no longer pertinent.
Another remarkable result is that the public is suspicious of how priorities are set in food risk management. Consumers are concerned that economic interests prevail over consumer health. An example is BSE, where both experts and consumers argued that the primary motivation of politicians was to protect export markets.
The general feeling within the expert community is that consumers lack essential knowledge about a variety of food-related issues. Hence, during the discussions, they often stressed the importance of consumer education. Consumers on the other hand already reported an information overload.
EU-project SAFE FOODS
SAFE FOODS is a 4-year EU project, involving natural and social scientists from 36 universities and research institutes from 19 European countries. Its goal is to change the scope of decision-making on food safety, taking into account the social context in which decisions are made. The results of a next study, in which 2500 consumers were asked about their ideas about food safety management, will soon be published.