A potential risk to health did not appear to be consumers' main concern in the first few days after the horse meat contamination story broke, a new study has found.
Last month, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed that a number of beef burger products on sale in various supermarkets had tested positive for horse DNA.
The contaminated products were traced back to three food plants - two in Ireland and one in the UK. Later that month, the FSAI said the source of contamination had been traced back to raw materials used in Poland.
Since then, this has become a Europe-wide issue.
However just days after the initial announcement from the FSAI, researchers decided to carry out an online survey of consumers in Ireland and the UK about the contamination story.
A team from University College Dublin (UCD) and Brunel University in London surveyed 22 Irish consumers and 22 UK consumers, all of whom were meat eaters and all of whom shopped in at least one of the supermarkets that had stocked the affected products.
As well as asking questions of them, the online survey also allowed the participants to ask questions and post comments.
Surprisingly, the results indicated that health risks were not the consumers' first concern. Instead, they appeared to be more concerned with the fact that the claims made on labels did not match the contents of the food products.
There were also a lot of questions in relation to the testing process, such as whether these tests are routine and if not, why were they carried out in this instance.
The participants also wondered whether products other than beef products were affected and how long this has been going on for.
Some also wondered what was going to happen to all the withdrawn products and who would be held accountable.
"The online survey allowed us to identify exactly what questions consumers were asking. This provides important evidence at a very early stage of what, for some institutions at least, is a crisis. It is vital to be responsive to consumer views and, where possible, to monitor how these change over time as new issues arise," the researchers said.
The survey was carried out as part of the EU-funded project, FoodRisC.
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