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Consumer responses to communication about food risk management

Authors: Heleen van Dijk, Julie Houghton, Ellen van Kleef, Ivo van der Lans, Gene Rowe, Lynn Frewer

Appetite, Volume 50, Issues 2–3, 2008, Pages 340–352


Recent emphasis within policy circles has been on transparent communication with consumers about food risk management decisions and practices. As a consequence, it is important to develop best practice regarding communication with the public about how food risks are managed. In the current study, the provision of information about regulatory enforcement, proactive risk management, scientific uncertainty and risk variability were manipulated in an experiment designed to examine their impact on consumer perceptions of food risk management quality. In order to compare consumer reactions across different cases, three food hazards were selected (mycotoxins on organically grown food, pesticide residues, and a genetically modified potato). Data were collected from representative samples of consumers in Germany, Greece, Norway and the UK. Scores on the “perceived food risk management quality” scale were subjected to a repeated-measures mixed linear model. Analysis points to a number of important findings, including the existence of cultural variation regarding the impact of risk communication strategies—something which has obvious implications for pan-European risk communication approaches. For example, while communication of uncertainty had a positive impact in Germany, it had a negative impact in the UK and Norway. Results also indicate that food risk managers should inform the public about enforcement of safety laws when communicating scientific uncertainty associated with risks. This has implications for the coordination of risk communication strategies between risk assessment and risk management organizations.

Keywords: Food risk management; Risk communication; Consumer perception; Cross-cultural comparison