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The consuming challenge of food safety

(China Daily)

07:57, October 16, 2012

Shoppers selecting vegetables at a supermarket in Rizhao city in East China's Shandong province. Chinese people are very concerned about the quality of what they eat, especially those who are comparatively older (aged 31 to 50), according to a report from Ipsos. [Photo/China Daily]

Food safety is a top concern for Chinese shoppers, especially regarding such produce as vegetables, meat, seafood, grain, cooking oils and dairy goods, according to a report from Ipsos.

It shows Chinese people are very concerned about the quality of what they eat, especially those who are older (aged 31 to 50) and those who earn a higher monthly salary (12,000 yuan a year and above - more than $1,900).

Most people are highly aware of various channels through which they can obtain information on food safety, especially with incidents regarding clenbuterol in meat (showing awareness rates as high as 94 percent), melamine in baby milk formulas (92 percent), swill-cooked "gutter" oil (85 percent) and tainted steamed buns (80 percent).

Food experts

Public concern about food safety results in food experts and third-party institutes being listened to in greater numbers and in more detail.

As a result, the Ipsos report shows that shoppers' trust in experts and authorities has reached 83 percent. A total of 89 percent of the respondents have shown an interest in participating in science activities organized by such experts.

However, people do not always form an accurate picture. When there is negative news about one brand, trust in all brands in that or similar sectors tends to be affected. As many as 70 percent of the respondents said they would doubt not only the brand in question but also similar brands when news of a safety issue emerges.

"Food safety incidents that have occurred in China attracted a lot of attention but the general public still has a very limited knowledge base on the issue. In the United States and European countries, there have been fully fledged food manufacturing practice and response measures toward safety issues," said Jennifer Tsai, managing director of Innovation and Forecasting at Ipsos Marketing in Greater China.

"Therefore, the consumers in those countries are less likely to become over-panicked and form serious doubts about all brands."

Tsai added that an independent third-party body should be set up to provide information about manufacturers' processes in raw material selection, production and distribution. The government should also have a role to play in this. However, this might require several years and the public still needs to learn more about food safety.

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