Food risk in Ireland: consumer perceptions, trust and dependence

Laura Devaney


It has long been acknowledged that consumer confidence, risk consciousness and consumption behaviours alter in times of food crisis, often influenced by the significant media attention given to such issues. What is less apparent, however, is how consumers conceptualise, respond to and mitigate food risk in everyday, non-crisis scenarios. Drawing on empirical research conducted with consumers across the Republic of Ireland, this paper addresses this gap by examining how consumers assess and perceive food risk outside of the specific conditions created by major food scares such as BSE. Unpacking results from eight consumer focus groups, several themes are explored in this regard relating to everyday consumer perceptions, awareness, experiences, expectations and connectivity with food risk. Providing conceptual and empirical insights, this includes exploration of themes concerning: (1) food risk consciousness and the presence of a variegated food risk society; (2) perceptions of risk coming from the ‘outside’ into Ireland and related spatiality of trust; and (3) differences between consumer food risk beliefs and practices. Unpacking the conundrum of low consumer awareness of risk in the face of increasingly risky and complex contemporary food chains, this paper is relevant to food practitioners, policymakers and scholars alike. It demonstrates the value of including consumer opinion in food risk regulatory agendas to increase transparency, accountability and trust in food governance systems. The need for increased consumer reflection on food risk is also proffered, linking this with broader requirements to challenge prevailing risky food provisioning systems.

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