People more conscious of food ingredients – FSAI

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has published research into the impact of the horse meat contamination issue on Irish consumer confidence.

The survey of 1,003 adults in Ireland shows significant changes in purchasing habits. Over half (51%) of people who bought frozen burgers in the past now buying less of these products). Virtually all adults surveyed (98%) said they were aware of horse meat issue, with almost three quarters (72%) stating they have confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations (just 13% were not confident, while 15% were not sure).

Fifty per cent of respondents saying they are now more conscious about food safety issues in general, with, 45% of consumers saying they now spend more time reading labels on food products. Over half (53%) say they are now more conscious of the ingredients that go into manufactured food products, while 56% say they are more conscious about the country of origin of food products.

Of those who bought processed foods containing meat in the past (e.g. lasagne, shepherd’s pie), 42% say they now buy less of these products, while 56% continue to buy the same amount. Buying habits were broadly unchanged for fresh burgers, with 69% saying they buy the same amount as before (16% buy less, 15% buy more). Almost two in five (39%) of those who consume meat say they were concerned as the issue unfolded, while 61% were unconcerned. Of those expressing concern, the following reasons were cited:

• Concern about what else might be unknowingly in other meat products (88%)
• Concern about the presence of chemicals, medicines and antibiotics (86%)
• Concern about food safety (83%) and possible health risks (76%)
• Repulsion by the idea of eating horse meat (55%)

Commenting on the research findings, Prof. Alan Reilly, Chief Executive, FSAI said: “It is six months since the FSAI uncovered what would eventually transpire to be a pan-European problem of adulterated beef products across almost all members states. Understandably, the issue has given rise to widespread debate about food safety and labelling and this has changed the way people in Ireland view the foods they purchase and consume.

“When buying processed foods, people…rely on labelling as their only source of information. They are in effect putting their trust in the hands of manufacturers and retailers who have a legal obligation to ensure that all ingredients in their products are correctly labelled.”

“A key lesson for food businesses is that they must have robust supplier controls in place at all times to ensure that they know who is supplying them and that all products and all ingredients are authentic. Purchasing raw materials on face value is a high risk strategy for food processors. Progress has already been made with enhanced controls and sophisticated tools such as DNA testing now being a part of the food safety armoury.”

Reilly noted that the FSAI will continue its routine monitoring and surveillance programmes to monitor foods on the Irish market to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of food law and that they are safe to eat.

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