Fears on the plate, Eurobarometer survey

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Eurobarometer commissioned theEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to conduct a survey on European citizens’ concerns about food safety, the report of which was released on 7.6.19, on the occasion of the first World Food Safety Day, proclaimed by the UN. Europeans want to know where their food comes from and say they are concerned about taking in antibiotic residues through meat, fish and eggs. But there is more to think about.

The five drivers of food purchasing in Europe

European citizens surveyed were asked to give a score-from one to three-to the five drivers that prevail in their food purchasing choices. Following is the ranking list.

1) Origin and provenance of foods turn out to be the first reason for choice for more than half (53%) of respondents. The issue-which has been completely ignored by the Junker Commission-is closest to the hearts of France (71 percent), Slovenia (70 percent), Finland (68 percent), Luxembourg (67 percent), Italy and Germany (62 percent). Less interested are citizens of the large mercantile countries, Holland (27 percent) and England (36 percent).

2) The price of food is the second variable to dominate food choices in Europe. In particular, price is considered a priority by consumers in Portugal (75 percent), Lithuania (65 percent), Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Great Britain (63 percent). It matters very little (37%), conversely, for Italians.

3) Food safety, understood as the absence of risks associated with consuming a food, is the reason that dominates the choices of one in five Europeans. Second after origin, for Italians (61%). The first even in Cyprus (77 percent), Malta (73 percent) and Croatia (69 percent).

4) In contrast, flavor drives food purchases in the Netherlands (62 percent), Bulgaria (61 percent) and Poland (58 percent), Belgium and Lithuania (both at 57 percent). More males than females pay attention to it (53% vs. 46%),

5) Nutritional profile turns out to be the last element considered by Europeans grappling with food shopping. The most interested are found in Finland (64 percent), the Netherlands (63 percent) and Malta (61 percent).

The most common fears at the plate

Europeans’ concerns about the healthiness of food is another chapter in the Eurobarometer survey. The survey reveals widespread and differentiated fears.

Nearly half of Europeans, 43 percent, believe that food products are full of harmful substances. This is perhaps how to explain the success of clean label e free from, even in Italy. This belief is particularly prevalent in Cyprus (66 percent), France (63 percent) and Croatia (61 percent). In Italy, it applies to 40 percent of respondents.

More specifically, food-related fears cover various aspects, from hygiene to the presence of residues. Four themes, however, emerge most frequently in 20 or more states as sources of risk:

Themisuse of antibiotics, hormones and steroids in farm animals, and their residual presence in meat, fish and eggs (44%),

environmental pollutants that contaminate fish, meat and dairy products, such as dioxins and mercury (37 percent),

pesticide residues (39 percent),

food additives such as colorings, preservatives and flavorings added in food and beverages (36 percent).

Confirming the inaction of EU institutions, the same fears were reported by the European population 9 years ago at the previous Eurobarometer survey on food safety (2010).

Other concerns, more deeply rooted in some countries, includefood hygiene (32 percent), foodborne bacterial toxins (30 percent), the presence of diseases in farm animals (28 percent), and the presence of genetically modified ingredients in food or beverages (27 percent).

Microplastics are the absolute new entry among food-related hazards. Nine years ago there was no such thing. Today, 21 percent of Europeans fear their harmful health effects, given the ubiquitous presence of micro- and nanoplastics. In food, water and air, as shown by recent studies.

Food allergies are considered a concrete health risk condition by one-fifth of respondents. A well-founded fear, given the sloppy reporting of allergens in restaurants, bars and other food and beverage venues.

Less awareness emerges, however, toward real but lesser-known threats such as

the risk of toxic release from MOCAs, the materials intended to come into contact with food (16 percent), a possible cause of serious health damage,

Mycotoxins in food and feed (11%), which are severely toxic to humans and children especially,

Plant diseases in food crops (9%),

Nanoparticles in food (8%). In addition to unintentional releases of particles during food processing, the voluntary addition of additives such as titanium dioxide to food is fully included,

Genome modification (4%).

The map of fear

Local scandals and nationwide information campaigns could be the decisive elements in shaping Europeans’ fears about food and drink consumption. One theme is rampant, excelling in 10 countries, and that is the fear of ingesting antibiotic, hormone, and steroid (anabolic) residues. In Sweden it afflicts 75% of respondents. In Italy, it is cited by 44% of the sample, who indicate food additives as the second source of danger (35% of responses).

Pesticide residues in food is the most frequently chosen topic in 6 countries, with the highest percentage in Greece (67%). In Hungary, this is the most common response along with concern about the presence of additives. The latter-dyes, preservatives and flavorings-are awe-inspiring in 5 other countries. In 50% of respondents in Lithuania and Estonia.

Three other themes emerge with less prevalence. Food hygiene in Malta and the United Kingdom, toxins in Portugal and Ireland, and farm animal diseases in Czechoslovakia and Croatia.

The sources of information

About the media of information on food safety issues, TV maintains a primary role (69%), followed by the Web (46%). Compared to sites, contrary to what su might believe, social media, are little used (24%). Italians, more than others, say they receive information at events-such as conferences and seminars (11 percent)-and at information points (7 percent), such as the desks set up by Coop at EthicalCash Mobs. The sources considered most reliable, for European consumers, are overwhelmingly scientists (82 percent) and consumer associations (79 percent).

Upon hearing about possible risks related to the consumption of certain foods, two-thirds of the sample (66 percent) change their consumption habits. Temporarily or permanently, equally distributed. Think of the news about contaminants in palm oil, which have solidified the choice of consumers and large-scale retailers (GDO), in several European countries, to discard theunsustainable tropical fat from all products.

European institutions unfortunately still appear to be far removed from consumers on the issue of food safety. Barely 4 in 10 Europeans (43%) are aware of the existence of EU food safety rules. Incredibly, only 1 in 5 (19%) of the 22,000 respondents in the 28 member countries has knowledge of the existence and role of theEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Sic!

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".