The UK Food Standards Agency's third annual Consumer Attitudes to Food survey reveals a small but significant decrease in concern about food safety and an overall decline in the number of people with concerns about specific food issues, the Agency reports.
Most significant are a 16 per cent fall in concern about BSE (45 per cent in 2002 compared with 61 per cent in 2000), and a fall in concern about GM foods - from 43 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2002.
The 2002 survey highlights a number of trends that have emerged since the first Consumer Attitudes to Food survey was carried out in 2000. The most noteworthy of these is a small but steady decline in concern over the safety of meat, with a significant decrease in concern about types of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, and raw meat over the past three years.
The Food Standards Agency also reported that confidence in its role has increased significantly, with 60 per cent of consumers now claiming to be very or fairly confident in the Agency's role in protecting health with regard to food safety, an increase of 10 per cent since 2000.
The results of the survey are based on a representative sample of more than 3000 consumers across the UK and reveal the views and the issues that really matter to them. Although there have been few significant changes in consumer behaviour over the past year, particularly with regards to nutrition, diet and shopping habits, the survey does show that consumers are slowly becoming more confident about food safety and standards. In the past year there have been significant falls in concern about animal feed (50 per cent in 2001 to 41 per cent in 2002) and the use of pesticides to grow food (50 per cent in 2001 to 44 per cent in 2002).
Sir John Krebs, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said: "The small but steady decline in public concern about food safety and some important food issues is extremely positive news, both for consumers and the Food Standards Agency.
"In the past three years we have made some headway in the journey to earning public confidence and trust. This annual survey, by continuing to highlight changing opinion about the issues that matter most to consumers, is a valuable contribution to the continuing public debate on food safety and standards."
People have, however, become more worried about fast food outlets with a significant increase in the percentage of people concerned about them - from 18 per cent in 2001 to 23 per cent in 2002. Where consumers are concerned about hygiene in a particular catering outlet, they stop using that outlet, but only 7 per cent were likely to report their concerns to anyone - a fall from 11 per cent in 2001.
There was no change in the number of people claiming to have suffered from food poisoning in 2002 (13 per cent). As the previous year, this figure is lowest in Northern Ireland.
The majority of those who suffered from food poisoning (75 per cent) attributed their illness to food prepared outside the home, but most of them did not report the illness to anyone.
The report's findings may come as a surprise to many industry observers and consumers. In recent years pressure from lobby groups and a series of high profile, large-scale food poisoning scares around the world have done much to raise awareness of the importance of safety processes for processed and packaged foods. However, in the UK in particular, the control of both BSE and Foot and Mouth disease have probably done much to put consumers' minds at ease.