DUBLIN – Consumers in Ireland made significant changes to their purchasing habits after the Europe-wide tainted beef scandal.

More than half of consumers who bought frozen burgers before the scandal are now buying less of these products, while 48 percent of them said they buy the same amount, according to a survey commissioned by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). Behaviour and Attitudes conducted the research, which is based on responses from 1,003 adults in Ireland.

Survey research revealed that of those respondents who previously bought processed foods containing meat such as lasagna or shepherd's pie, 42 percent currently buy less of such products, while 56 percent continue to buy the same amount. A majority of those surveyed (61 percent) said their consumption of fresh burgers was unchanged.

“It is six months since the FSAI uncovered what would eventually transpire to be a pan-European problem of adulterated beef products across almost all Members States,” said Prof. Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI. “Understandably, the issue has given rise to widespread debate about food safety and labeling and this has changed the way people in Ireland view the foods they purchase and consume. When buying processed foods, people are not in a position to identify what raw materials are used and, therefore, they rely on labeling 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 labeled.”

Additionally, 98 percent of adults surveyed said they were aware of the horse meat problem, while 72 percent of respondents said they have confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations. Interestingly, 61 percent of consumers surveyed said they were unconcerned as the scandal unfolded, while 39 percent said they were concerned. Of those expressing concern, reasons cited were:

• Concern about what else might be unknowingly in other meat products (88%)
• Concern about the presence of chemicals, medicines and antibiotics (86%)
• Concern about food safety (83%) and possible health risks (76%)
• Repulsion by the idea of eating horse meat (55%)

“A key lesson for food businesses is that they must have robust supplier controls in place at all times to ensure that they know who is supplying them and that all products and all ingredients are authentic,” said Prof. Reilly. “Purchasing raw materials on face value is a high risk strategy for food processors. Progress has already been made with enhanced controls and sophisticated tools such as DNA testing now being a part of the food safety armory.

“Given the added controls now in place, I believe that the eventual outcome of this food fraud scandal will be a positive one for consumers,” he added.