As the world recovers from the Covid-19 crisis, University of Reading research shows that trust in food authorities, such as government and food regulators, has fallen.
Using data collected from 23 thousand consumers, all over Europe, researchers found that 30% of consumers report a decrease in their trust of food authorities since the pandemic while only 10% reported an increase.
Professor Richard Bennett, who led the research, said: “This is a significant result. Something occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic that has eroded trust in food authorities – the numbers show us that, very clearly.
“It’s not that easy to speculate on the reasons, but suffice to say that following a huge challenge, such as Covid-19, societal opinion can make major shifts. And if a pandemic, or cost of living crisis is perceived to be handled badly by authorities, then that can reduce trust in authorities across the board.
“It has been some years since major food scandals such as the horse meat scandal in 2012, and earlier issues, such as Salmonella and BSE/CJD. This time, there’s no clear reason for distrusting food authorities, specifically, and so we assume that it is a matter of wide distrust of authorities more generally.”
Interestingly, at the same time, trust in farmers has increased slightly. Professor Bennett said: “Farmers tended to be the most trusted in food supply chains. They are seen as honest and hard working, battling against the weather, pests and diseases to produce our food.”
The project is funded by EIT Food and is part of a University of Reading hub for research into food systems, from farm to fork. The ‘Grand Challenge in Consumer Trust’ project partnered with TrustTracker® project led by Dr Anna Macready to ask consumers across 18 EU-associated countries about how the Covid-19 pandemic had affected their trust in the different actors in the food chain: farmers, food manufacturers, retailers, food authorities and restaurants/caterers.
This EU-wide survey included 1,114 consumers in the UK, and very similar shifts were seen within the UK, 26% of people reported a decrease of trust in authorities while only 12% reported an increase. For trust in farmers, 15% reported an increase in trust, while only 8% reported a decrease.