Over half of consumers concerned about food imports

Imported fresh meat, fish, poor regulations and food production standards in other countries top consumer concerns

30 July, 2009. A new review [1] of imported foods on the island of Ireland has revealed that 54% of consumers are concerned about imported foods from non-European Union (EU) countries. The review undertaken by safefood also revealed 43% of consumers were concerned about food imports from within the EU.

The review, the first in a new series from safefood, also explored key issues such as food safety, nutrition, labelling and environmental issues. The review covered all food imported onto the island of Ireland.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive safefood said “While more food is produced on the island of Ireland than imported, this review revealed greater consumer concern about imported foods. Of those who expressed concern, the main food safety issues for consumers were poor regulations and standards of food production in other countries (48%), the quality of imported foods (27%) and a perception that the distance food travels increases the risk of contamination (24%)”.

Dr. Aileen McGloin, Scientific Support Manager, safefood added “When looking at individual foods, 60% of consumers were concerned about the quality of imported fresh meat, 57% were concerned over the quality of frozen meat/poultry, 52% concerned about imported fresh fish and 29% concerned about imported fruit and vegetables. Our review also revealed that consumers found current information on the origins of food misleading and unclear and would welcome more transparent information on food sources and origins.”

At present, EU legislation states a number of food products must be labelled with information about food origin, including beef, veal, fish, shellfish, wine, fruit and vegetables, honey, olive oil in addition to poultry meat imported from outside of the EU. The origin of other foods or ingredients does not currently have to be labelled, but is being reviewed at EU level at present.

“Our research also indicated consumers perceive locally or home grown products to be more ‘authentic’ or of ‘higher quality’ than imported products”, continued Dr. McGloin. “While consumers may prefer local foods, they should be reassured that imported foods go through a series of rigorous checks at Border Inspection Posts before they are allowed into the EU and that once a food has been imported, it undergoes the same food safety checks as locally produced foods. In the past five years there has only been one outbreak on the island of Ireland thought to be associated with lettuce produced in Europe, but this was unconfirmed”, she added.

The safefood review also highlighted differences in consumer concerns between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland regarding imported foods, with concerns over multiple handling of products, country of origin and mistrusting the source or country of origin listed on pack being higher among consumers in the Republic of Ireland than Northern Ireland.

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For further information please contact

Susie Cunningham / Cliodhna Lamont,

WHPR

Tel: 01 669 0030 / 087 8505055 (Susie) and 087 9250874 (Cliodhna)

Email: susie.cunningham@ogilvy.com cliodhna.lamont@ogilvy.com

Laura Curtin, 

safefood

Tel: +353 0 (1) 4480600 

References

1. safefood Consumer Focus Review “Where Does Our Food Come From?” 2009

Editor’s Notes

  • The review consisted of quantitative research, focus groups and accompanied shops with consumers investigating whether people on the island of Ireland are concerned about the origin of their food.
  • 43% of consumers on the island of Ireland were concerned about food imported from within the EU, and 54% concerned about imported foods from non-EU countries.
  • On the island of Ireland, 60% of consumers were concerned about the quality of imported fresh meat, 57% were concerned over the quality of frozen meat/poultry, 52% fresh fish, 48% processed foods (prepared meals), 31% tinned food, and 29% fruit and vegetables.
  • Of those consumers on IOI who were concerned about imported foods, the highest concerns were:
                 i.Poor regulations/standards of food production in other countries (48%)
                 ii. Poor quality (27%)
                 iii. Fear of contamination (24%)
  • In 2007, total food imports in ROI were valued at €4.6 billion (£4.2 billion), and in NI total food imports amounted to 0.9 million tonnes, which was equivalent to £460 million (€502 million). The highest foods imported onto the island of Ireland were cereals and fruit and vegetables. A significant amount of food imports, especially fruit, cereals and vegetables are imported from non-EU Countries i.e. China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. Meat and dairy produce, these are mostly imported from within the EU.
  • In 2007, the total gross turnover of the food and drinks processing sector for Northern Ireland was estimated to be £2.7 billion (€2.9 billion) and for the Republic of Ireland it was over €18 billion (£16.5 billion). In addition, Northern Ireland exported 1.055 million tonnes of food and food products valued at £537 million (€594 million), whereas, for the Republic of Ireland, food exports were valued at €8.6 billion (£7.9 billion).
  • The table below summarises the EU and non-EU countries which provide the island’s most popular imports.
Product Description European Union Third Countries
Cereals [1] Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Denmark Chile, Canada, Egypt, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Thailand, Canada, Colombia
Prepared foods [2] Spain, Germany, ROI, Greece, France, Portugal USA, Israel, Turkey, India, China, Ghana, Egypt
Fruit and vegetables [3] Italy, Germany, France, Spain Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Honduras
Dairy [4] Germany, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Denmark Kosovo, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, China, Singapore
Beverages [5] Germany, Netherlands, France, Luxembourg Kenya, Israel, India, Brazil, Indonesia, USA, Canada
Meat [6] France, Germany, Netherlands Brazil, Thailand, Argentina, USA
Seafood Germany, Belgium, Iceland, Denmark Seychelles, USA, Thailand, Philippines, India

[1] Cereals and cereal preparations

[2] Prepared foods (sugar, chocolate, confectionary, ingredients etc)

[3] Fruit and vegetables including nuts and fruit preparations

[4] Dairy and dairy preparations

[5] Beverages (coffee, tea, spices)

[6] Meat and meat preparations

* Note: The values presented are based on all food imported into the ROI and NI including ingredients that may be processed and re-exported.