The lack of trust is revealed in a national survey, that was recently carried out across 1,000 respondents, commissioned by Razor, a PR and issues management consultancy working across the food industry, which has advised numerous UK and European food and drink companies on product recall and food-related safety issues.
The concerns are prevalent despite increasingly stringent legislation and EU directives, forcing manufacturers and retailers to tighten up their traceability and product recall procedures in 2005 and beyond.
It appears manufacturers and retailers would have a tougher task convincing older people than younger age groups that one of their products was safe to eat: only 18% of 45-54 year olds would believe them, compared to a third of 16-24 year olds.
There are also regional differences. Northerners seem to have higher trust levels of food companies with 36% relying on what they say, whereas people in the West Midlands are far more cynical: only 14% would take a food company's word at face value and Londoners are similarly distrustful (16%).
"There is clearly a confidence issue here, one which the food industry in particular needs to heed", said Chris Woodcock, a director of Razor public relations who also sits on the Campden and Chorleywood Research Authority's quality managers' panel. "It's a call to action for food manufacturers to be more open about the raw materials and ingredients they use, more communicative about their production and recall procedures, and less distant from the real concerns of customers and consumers."
"It also suggests that the current tussles between the food industry and government over issues such as salt, labelling and obesity are not helping to restore the confidence levels of a public which has little faith in food safety."
The food industry is facing tougher demands for openness and transparency from new European laws that came into force in the UK at the beginning of this year: manufacturers needing to withdraw a product must now report any recalls to the local authority where the headquarters is based.
"Food manufacturers need to take into account this low level of public opinion when looking for ways to improve their procedures," continued Chris Woodcock. "The regulatory environment is certainly becoming more burdensome, but rather than see this as yet more red tape, the most responsible companies will see it as an opportunity to get their house in order.
They will not only take a fresh look at their recall and traceability policies and procedures-they will also look to see how they can improve upon communication with the public, not just in the good times but also in the bad."
The national survey was carried out with 1,000 people above the age of 16 over the weekend of 7-9 January 2005 by BMRB International. They were asked the question; "Whom do you trust most to tell you the truth about whether a particular food was safe to eat: the government, the media, your local supermarket, the manufacturer?" Full results are available from Natashia Bartlett at email@example.com
Contact Razor on tel: 01869 353800