Food Safety Magazine

News | July 30, 2013

Irish Horse Meat Contamination Issue Affects Consumers' Buying Behavior

By Staff and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland


The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) on July 29 published research into the impact of the horse meat contamination issue on Irish consumer confidence and trust in the food they purchase. An FSAI release said the survey reveals significant changes in consumers’ purchasing habits, with over half (51%) of people who purchased frozen burgers in the past now buying less of these products (48% buy the same amount). (For more information on the horse meat issue, see our previous coverage here.)

FSAI added that virtually all adults in the country (98%) said they were aware of horse meat issue, with almost three quarters (72%) stating they have confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations (just 13% were not confident, while 15% were not sure).

Overall, the issue has resulted in a marked increase in awareness around food safety, with 50% of respondents saying they are now more conscious about food safety issues in general. Looking at the implications of the issue for consumer purchasing behavior, 45% of consumers say they now spend more time reading labels on food products. Over half (53%) say they are now more conscious of the ingredients that go into manufactured food products, while 56% say they are more conscious about the country of origin of food products.

Of those who bought processed foods containing meat in the past (e.g. lasagna, shepherd’s pie, etc), 42% say they now buy less of these products, while 56% continue to buy the same amount. Buying habits were broadly unchanged for fresh burgers, with 69% saying they buy the same amount as before (16% buy less, 15% buy more). Almost two out of every five (39%) of those who consume meat say they were concerned as the issue unfolded, while 61% were unconcerned. Of those expressing concern, the following reasons were cited:

  • 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%)

Commenting on the research findings, FSAI Chief Executive Alan Reilly said: “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. 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.”

Reilly continued, “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. Purchasing raw materials on face value is a high-risk strategy for food processors."  He also noted that, "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.”

Reilly noted that the FSAI will continue its routine monitoring and surveillance programs to monitor foods on the Irish market to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of food law and that they are safe to eat.

The survey was commissioned by the FSAI and carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes based on responses from 1,003 adults in Ireland.