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Posted 15 December 2008

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Public perception of food risks - What is real and what is not and why do we think one thing but act another?

Researchers at the UCD Institute of Food and Health are currently leading the first large-scale study into food risk perceptions among the Irish population to understand how people process and interpret the risks associated with food.

Recent high profile food scares include: Dioxins in Pork (current); outbreak of the Avian flu (2007); eColi in bagged salads (2006); Sudan Red dye, an illegal food colourant which could increase the risk of cancer, in a wide variety of foods (2005); Belgian dioxin scares (1996); BSE (early 1990s); and Salmonella in eggs (late 1980s).

Scientists and the general public have different perceptions and reactions to food risks. Although scientists are likely to isolate any apparent food risk and react to it in a pure cause and effect way, the general public’s perceptions and reactions are more likely to be influenced by a wider array of factors including social, cultural and economic.

Scientific researchers at the UCD Institute of Food and Health are working to understand these differences to better predict food risk behaviour among the Irish population. This will assist with the development of more effective government campaigns and policies which aim to positively impact on public health.

The research is funded by The Department of Agriculture under FIRM which aims to enhance the understanding of the mismatch between attitudes and perceptions of food safety and nutrition and food behaviour.

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