Horsemeat: Scandal still felt in Ireland

Consumers in Ireland are now more conscious of food safety issues, have changed their purchasing habits and spend more time reading labels as a result of the horsemeat scandal.

Statistics have come from a survey of over 1,000 adults, carried out by the Food Standards Agency Ireland (FSAI), which was the authority first to report the horsemeat scandal, and looked at the impact of the horsemeat contamination issue on consumers.

98% of adults aware

Such was the severity of the scandal that 98% of all adults in Ireland were aware of it. The survey also revealed “significant” changes in consumers’ purchasing habits, with 51% of people who previously purchased frozen burgers buying fewer.

Despite their knowledge of the scandal, three-quarters of those surveyed said they had confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations, with just 13% saying they did not and 15% unsure. However, 53% of consumers said they were conscious of what went into their food and 56% said they were conscious about its country of origin.

As well as some consumers buying fewer frozen burgers, 42% of those asked said they now bought fewer processed foods containing meat, but the rest said they still bought the same amount. Sixty-nine per cent of those who bought fresh burgers before the horsemeat scandal bought the same amount now, 16% bought fewer and 15% bought more.

Horsemeat still debated

Chief executive of the FSAI Professor Alan Reilly said six months on from the discovery of what would eventually become a pan-European problem of adulterated beef products, there was still widespread debate about food safety and labelling. “This has changed the way people in Ireland view the foods they purchase and consume,” he explained.

“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.”

Lessons to be learnt

He said a key lesson for food businesses was that they must have “robust” supplier controls in place at all times to ensure they know who is supplying them. “Purchasing raw materials on face value is a high-risk strategy for food processors”.

However, Reilly noted that progress had already been made with “enhanced controls” and “sophisticated tools” such as DNA testing, which were now being made part of the food safety armoury. He said: “Given the added controls now in place, I believe the eventual outcome of this food fraud scandal will be a positive one for consumers.”


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