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Consumers Change Purchasing Habits in Light of Horse Meat Issue

30 July 2013

IRELAND - A study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) into the impact of horse meat contamination of beef products has shown significant changes in consumers’ purchasing habits.

The research looked at Irish consumer confidence and trust in the food they purchase and found that more than half (51 per cent) of people, who bought frozen burgers in the past, are now buying less of these products (48 per cent buy the same amount).

Virtually all adults in the country (98 per cent) said they were aware of horse meat issue, with almost three quarters (72 per cent) stating they have confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations.

Just 13 per cent were not confident, while 15 per cent were not sure.

The FSAI said that overall, the issue has resulted in a marked increase in awareness of food safety, with 50 per cent of respondents saying they are now more conscious about food safety issues in general.

The implications of the issue for consumer purchasing behaviour, showed that 45 per cent of consumers now spend more time reading labels on food products.

More than half (53 per cent) say they are now more conscious of the ingredients that go into manufactured food products, while 56 per cent 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, etc), 42 per cent say they now buy less of these products, while 56 per cent continue to buy the same amount.

Buying habits were broadly unchanged for fresh burgers, with 69 per cent saying they buy the same amount as before (16 per cent buy less, 15 per cent buy more).

Almost two out of every five (39 per cent) of those who consume meat say they were concerned as the issue unfolded, while 61 per cent were unconcerned.

Of those expressing concern, the main reasons were:

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

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 are not in a position to identify what raw materials are used and, therefore, they 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,” said Prof. Reilly.

“Given the added controls now in place, I believe that the eventual outcome of this food fraud scandal will be a positive one for consumers.”

Prof. 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.

In the meantime, the Irish farmers have hit out at the lack of progress to prosectute those responsible for the contamination of products with horse meat.

Following the call from British MP’s for urgent action to bring those responsible to court, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association said “we’ll believe it when we see it”.

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan was speaking in the aftermath of criticism from British MPs on the lack of prosecutions and the reply by Minister Coveney that it takes time to build a case.

“Farmers are cynical about the different treatment that they get from the authorities compared to the way in which meat companies are being dealt with,” he said.

“If a farmer breaches any minor regulation, even down to small paperwork errors, there are severe financial consequences.

“Yet when there are serious issues around horsemeat being passed off as beef, there seems to be no urgency about penalties. Farmers think it’s one law for the little people and another law for the big boys in the meat industry.”


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