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Posted 18 January 2011

Online social media key to communicating food risks & benefits

Improvements in the delivery of information and advice on emerging food risks could lead to fewer food-related illnesses, a reduction in economic losses related to food scares, and improved consumer confidence in foods.

To this end, the FoodRisC project funded by the EU under FP7 will create a communication toolkit and ‘best practice’ recommendations to help EU wide organisations improve their communication, information and education services to the public.

“Some of the recent’ ‘food scares’ such as BSE, Dioxin contamination in Belgium and Ireland and the case where milk was contaminated with melamine in China have, undermined consumer confidence in food,” says Dr Áine McConnon of UCD School of Public Health and Population Science who is manager of the FoodRisC project.

“With the food industry now being a global manufacturing and distribution business all possible forms of public communication need to be understood and used.“

By comparing the use of traditional and social media for news and information dissemination within the EU, and evaluating the public’s use of and information seeking behaviour, the FoodRisC project will produce concrete tools to improve communication on food risks and benefits to the general population. A key step in this development is the launch of the new FoodRisC website.

In Europe, the use of social media has increased by 50% in the last 12 months in many countries. Facebook alone has over 570 million registered users worldwide and if you add up the users of all types of social media they exceed 1.25 billion people. In the US, many emergency and crisis management agencies and groups are now actively using these new communication channels. For example, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made social media officially part of their recent N1H1 communication and information exchange. They found that subscribing to CDC’s Twitter was just as popular as subscribing to email. Europe has in fact overtaken the US in the personal use of social media. For example, almost 80% of Italian internet users read blogs, compared to 60% in the US.

Social media offers a tool for two way communication where the public has become more than just a passive consumer of information. The online conversation can be spread further and faster than other traditional communication tools. For example, news of the Chinese earthquake in 2008 was transmitted to the world via social media before either the Chinese Government or traditional global news organisations had done so.


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About FoodRisC

The FoodRisC consortium is comprised of experts in key fields relevant to food risk and benefit communication from research institutes, consumer organisations, and SMEs in nine EU Member States. The consortium is supported by an Advisory Board of representatives from eight renowned organisations in health communication (including the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization) and coordinated by Professor Patrick Wall of University College Dublin’s School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science.
FoodRisC Objectives

The FoodRisC project has four major objectives:

  1. Describe key configurations of food risk and benefit relationships and the implications for communicators.
  2. Explore the potential of new social media (e.g., blogs and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter) and provide guidance on how risk communicators can best use these media for food risk and benefit communication.
  3. Characterise the ways in which consumers attain, interpret, and utilise information to help target populations and tailor messages.
  4. Propose a strategy and communication toolkit for the effective communication of coherent messages across EU Member States.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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