Consumer interest in food safety in Europe falls17 Oct 2022
The extent to which European consumers are engaged with food safety has decreased in recent years, nevertheless it remains a topic of personal interest for one in seven, the results of a recent EU Barometer on food safety shows.
When it comes to making purchasing decisions about food, food safety is the third most important factor for 46% of consumers in terms of the risk associated with eating a certain food, as well as its geographical origin. This closely follows cost, which is the top consideration for over half of consumers (54%), and taste, which comes in second (51%).
Consumers are less interested in food safety than they were in 2019
Conducted in March and April of this year, the 2022 Special Eurobarometer Survey interviewed over 26,500 people across the 27 EU member states on the topic of food safety. The results, which were recently published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), show that despite being a top three concern for most (70%) consumers, interest in food safety has decreased over the course of the past two to three years.
Holding a lens to the changing habits of European consumers in terms of how they purchase food, their awareness of food safety concerns, and who they depend on for information about issues of food safety, the survey reveals that the rising cost of groceries, fuelled by the current cost of living crisis, is today of greater concern for consumers than both the taste and safety of food.
“Much has happened since our last survey in 2019, not least a global pandemic and the outbreak of war in Europe. Such events have dramatic consequences and unsurprisingly we see that for many Europeans a rise in the cost of living is affecting their food choices more than before,” said EFSA’s executive director, Bernhard Url.
“On the other hand, food safety remains important for many EU citizens and it is encouraging to see that almost half of them care about eating healthily as much as they do about food risks.”
Overall, interest in food safety varies significantly between member states, with the highest levels of interest amongst consumers in Greece, Cyprus, and Luxembourg and the lowest in Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, and Sweden. Respondents in 85% of the countries surveyed are less likely to cite food safety as a concern than in 2019. Malta (-30 percentage points), followed by Luxembourg (-14pp), Belgium, Germany and Portugal (-11 pp) recorded the largest declines, while in Austria, Greece, and Ireland, concerns about food safety rose slightly (all by less than +5 pp).
Consumer awareness of food safety related issues is high
When it comes to awareness, over a third of European consumers are well versed in topics relating to food safety, with 21% and 17% respectively having either a very high or high level of awareness in the topics surveyed. Out of 15 areas of food safety included in the survey, consumers on average have heard about at least 13.
Additives like colours, preservatives or flavourings used in food or drinks top the list of known consumer concerns at 70%, followed by pesticide residues in food (65%), antibiotic, hormone or steroid residues in meat (63%) or diseases found in animals (60%). Despite the highest consumer awareness of additives existing in Sweden (90%) and the Netherlands (89%), consumers in Denmark and Romania are the most concerned about them, placing this option first in the list of food-safety related topics.
Compared to 2019, awareness of additives in food and drink has increased significantly in a handful of countries, including Greece (+15 pp), Malta (+14 pp) and Slovakia (+11 pp), however has decreased less dramatically in a further 16.
Consumers are most concerned about pesticide residues in food
Given the high awareness surrounding additives, it’s not surprising that over a third (36%) of European consumers are most concerned about them. This comes third however to pesticide residues in food (40%) and antibiotic, hormone, or steroid residues in meat (39%) which take first and second place respectively.
In contrast, consumers are least concerned about plant diseases, such as those affecting crops (11%), use of new biotechnology in food production, for example genome editing (8%) and nanotechnology applied to food production (5%). The fact that all three of these topics are also the least known, unheard of by less than half of respondents, along with poisonous moulds in food and feed crops (38%), is worth noting, however.
“The 2022 Eurobarometer also shows that a majority of our citizens recognises that the state of the environment, animals, and plants impacts human health. This is encouraging, as we transition towards sustainable food systems and ‘One Health’ risk assessment,” Url said.
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