Horsemeat scandal 'changed habits'
Almost half of people who bought processed food and ready meals before the horsemeat scandal have cut them from their shopping, food safety chiefs have said.
While consumers' habits have changed in the fall-out from the scare, a survey has shown that almost two thirds of meat eaters said they were not concerned by the fraud.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) research on confidence and trust in food found 51% of people who purchased frozen burgers in the past now buy less of these products.
And shoppers who bought processed foods and ready meals containing meat like lasagne and shepherd's pie have also changed their habits, with 42% cutting some of these from their shopping baskets.
Professor Alan Reilly, FSAI chief executive, warned that food processing companies which buy raw materials on face value are taking high risks.
"It is six months since the FSAI uncovered what would eventually transpire to be a pan-European problem of adulterated beef products across almost all members states," he said. "Understandably, the issue has given rise to widespread debate about food safety and labelling and this has changed the way people in Ireland view the foods they purchase and consume."
The horsemeat food fraud was uncovered by FSAI testing and tracing the source of contaminated meat spread from factories in Ireland to the UK and across Europe. In some products about one third of the meat was found to be from horse.
Prof Reilly said that he believes it will ultimately be seen as a positive for shoppers. He said: "When buying processed foods, people are not in a position to identify what raw materials are used and, therefore, they rely on labelling as their only source of information.
"They are in effect putting their trust in the hands of manufacturers and retailers who have a legal obligation to ensure that all ingredients in their products are correctly labelled. A key lesson for food businesses is that they must have robust supplier controls in place at all times to ensure that they know who is supplying them and that all products and all ingredients are authentic."
The FSAI survey found 13% of consumers do not have confidence in Irish food safety controls and regulations. It also found that half of respondents say they are now more conscious about food safety issues in general and 45% of consumers say they now spend more time reading labels on food products.