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The large majority of consumers believe food in Germany is safe

27/2015, 12.10.2015

2nd BfR consumer monitor on the perception of health risks published

German consumers have a rather realistic view of their health risks. They regard smoking, alcohol consumption and an unhealthy imbalanced diet as well as environmental pollution and climate change as their main health risks. 70 per cent of respondents think that food is safe. These are the findings of the BfR consumer monitor, a representative survey conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "Being a representative consumer survey, the BfR consumer monitor is an instrument that gives us valuable insights into the risk perceptions of the population on a six-monthly basis", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "This instrument allows us to control and adjust our activities in the area of risk communication based on those insights." For BfR’s work it is central which consumer health protection topics are publicly discussed and how certain risks are perceived by consumers. In particular, the question arises whether and to what extent popular perceptions differ from the scientific assessment of health risks.

In general, consumers in the first half of 2015 regarded smoking, climate and environmental issues as well as alcohol as the greatest risks to their health. Compared to the last survey conducted in 2014, the evaluation that smoking and alcohol and also a lack of exercise pose a health risk has increased. In contrast, unhealthy and contaminated foods are seen as a less relevant risk than in 2014.

As regards the degree of awareness relating to health and consumer issues there are, as in 2014, great differences. Whereas well over half of respondents are aware of pesticides in fruit and vegetables, mineral oils in body care products and microplastic particles in foods, only a relatively small number of respondents have ever heard about arsenic in rice. The least known issue is the active pesticide ingredient glyphosate, even though the debate surrounding its approval received more media coverage than any other consumer topic during the survey period.

When asked what aspects of food safety worries them, survey participants mention resistance to antibiotics first, closely followed by chemicals and pesticide residues. Germans are still very concerned about genetically modified organisms. Whereas awareness of microbial contamination posing a risk to human health is on the increase, this causes much less concern at the individual level than the risk of health problems resulting from pesticide residues in foods, even though the latter hardly poses any risk at all from a scientific viewpoint. Consumers were least concerned about food hygiene in their own household.

The Germans continue to see the government as playing a major role in consumer health protection and food safety. More than half of respondents would even like to see more concrete measures such as bans and strict regulations to make food safer and to protect consumers. In addition, they would like government institutions to make available objective and reliable information on the basis of which individuals can better protect themselves. Only ten per cent of respondents believe that they can adequately protect themselves without publicly funded institutions.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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BfR Consumer Monitor 2015
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