Report: 60% of global population worries about food safety

An international study on the global food safety has revealed more than half the world’s population (60%) worry about the food they eat and 51% concerned about the safety of the water they drink.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, which is the first of its kind, showed 17% of respondents – equivalent to one billion people worldwide – suffered significant harm from the food they ate in the two years prior to polling.

It also highlighted 14% (or an estimated 823 million globally) had been seriously harmed by the water they drink.

With around 10% of its respondents reporting serious harm in the last two years, the UK ranks 126 out of 142 for the experience of serious harm from eating food – placing it among the top 20 countries in the world for food safety.

The World Risk Poll is the first global study of worry and risk across the world. The poll was conducted by Gallup as part of its World Poll, with over 150,000 interviews completed in 142 countries.

The World Risk Poll intends to transform our understanding of worry and wellbeing to pinpoint how people across the globe perceive and experience risks, to ultimately engineer a safer world.

Awareness and intervention

Markus Lipp from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation explained: “The World Risk Poll gives us the first-ever global view of people’s attitudes and awareness of the risks posed by unfit food and drink.

By understanding how people view food safety risks, what they worry about and what they never consider, we can create interventions that are relatable and practical so people can act in their interests and keep safe and healthy.

The poll indicates that the burden of food-related diseases is not spread equally across the world and is highly related to economic development levels, with low-income and middle-income countries disproportionately affected.

The greatest levels of harm from food occurred in East Africa (29% experienced harm) and the Middle East (27% experienced harm), with the top three countries listed as Liberia (52%), Zambia (51%) and Mozambique (45%).

However, the World Risk Poll reveals that in these regions levels of worry about food are lower than the levels of harm experienced, with East Africa (25% worried) and Middle East (22% worried).

Dr. Sarah Cumbers, director of evidence and insight, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “Despite the global nature of the safety threat from contaminated food and water, policymakers and professionals have been hampered by the lack of rigorous and comprehensive data on the level and nature of hazards and the prevalence of associated illnesses.

The results of the World Risk Poll also reveal that food safety authorities need to consider carefully the channels they use to disseminate crucial information if it is to be effective.

“They should seek out ways to build trust amongst the people most threatened by unsafe food and water, tailoring their messages and the communication routes to vulnerable people according to the different audiences they are addressing.”

Many of the countries with the highest levels of worry about food and water are low-income economies and those experiencing severe weather events.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations shows that each year around three million people across the world die as a result of eating food tainted with bacteria, viruses, pesticides or chemical residues.

In addition, 600 million people a year fall ill through eating contaminated food, adding to the toll of human misery on the planet but also costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a further 485,000 people die each year from drinking contaminated water.

Global views on GM foods

Although the world’s population suffers many problems from the food they currently eat, genetically modified (GM) food is seen as ‘high risk’ by 48% of people worldwide, who said they think that GM foods will mostly harm people in their country over the next 20 years.

However, this is a view predominantly held in higher-income countries where GM foods are seen as a safety issue.

In lower-income countries, 42% of people think that GM foods will mostly help people in the next 20 years.

The World Risk Poll also shows that only 15% of the world’s population trusts government organisations in their countries as their number one source of information on the safety of food and water.

It found 31% would rather trust information provided by family and friends and 22% preferring to trust medical professionals.