Food risk governance in Ireland: consumer connectivity, perceptions and awareness in everyday contexts

It has long been acknowledged that consumer confidence, consciousness, awareness and behaviours alter in times of food crisis (for example, during BSE scares, foot and mouth disease outbreaks or the recent horse meat scandal). This is often influenced by increased attention given to such issues in the media during food scare events – just recall the number of horse gags and joke photos found in the tabloids in January of this year! What is less apparent however is how consumers respond to and personally manage food risk in everyday, non-crisis contexts.

Addressing this gap, Dr. Laura Devaney was recently invited to the Food Safety Professionals Association annual conference to speak to food industry members and food governing actors about how consumers assess and perceive food risk in food ‘peace-time’ (that is, during a period with no major indigenous food risk events). Drawing on focus group findings conducted as part of her PhD research at TCD Geography, Laura discussed several themes relating to everyday consumer food risk awareness, experiences and expectations in Ireland. Representing a significant component of contemporary food politics, this included the exploration of themes relating to food risk consciousness amongst consumers and the reality that most individuals inherently trust the safety of Irish food. Rather, Irish consumers were reportedly more concerned with other food issues in everyday situations, including calorie content, taste, cost and country-of-origin. Perceptions of risk coming from the ‘outside’ into Ireland also featured heavily in the discussion, with a lack of consumer trust obvious in food coming from other places, other food industry members and other national governing structures. Instead, community level actors such as local butchers and farmer’s markets were more trusted by consumers; both in terms of the safety of the food available and accurate food risk advice.

Finally, Laura presented the differences that were found to exist between consumer food safety beliefs and actions taken in reality. In this regard, consumer purchasing and consumption actions were not found to reflect idealised notions of vigilance, including relating to the consultation of country-of-origin labelling and/or GM content. Therefore, while the majority of consumers highlighted food risk concerns when probed, most admitted to not considering these issues in everyday purchasing and consumption scenarios. Citing defences such as a lack of time, income and knowledge, it appears tiresome, impractical and irrelevant to remain concerned about food risk in everyday life, with many consumers simply resorting to routine purchasing habits and ignoring risk for the advantage of an easy life. Saving time, effort, mental capacity and money, allows the pursuit of everyday routines to be uninterrupted and enables continued participation in a fast paced life where, for many, the weekly food shop is just another hassle, chore and routine event in the everyday.

For more information and photos from the event see: http://www.fspa.ie/gallery-details.php?ID=18

For associated news coverage visit  e.g. http://www.cameo.ie/news-dtl.php?item=222

FSPA photo

Image 1: (L-R) Dr. Laura Devaney, TCD; Ian Thomas, Regulatory Law Solicitor;

Lorraine Oman, FSPA; Ray Ellard, Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Note: Dr. Laura Devaney was an invited speaker at the Food Safety Professionals Association Conference, held at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on the 15th November 2013. Laura is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin, and is involved in the CONSENSUS research project exploring matters of sustainable food consumption.

Authored by: Laura Devaney, TCD Geography

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