On 17 December 2016, the French ministry of Agriculture launched a website where consumers can look up health inspection results for the entire food chain. Health transparency is one step to restoring trust.
Eight European countries (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Norway) have already taken this step, and two others (Germany and Sweden) are planning to do so. In all of the countries where this step has been taken, an improvement in food safety has been seen.
The principle is simple. In France, the consumers goes to alim-confiance.gouv.fr, looks up any establishment in the food chain (eg slaughterhouse, production facility, retailer, restaurant), and gets the results of its latest inspection.
This new inspection transparency reflects growing awareness that consumers need to be reassured about what they eat. But more needs to be done, for the public’s feelings of skepticism go beyond the health issue. Once a sure value, food has become a subject of apprehension.
And because the French are passionate about cuisine, the French media are quick to fan the flames when food health & safety issues arise. Elise Lucet, a French journalist who is famous for going after the food industry, has just been elected “worthiest French woman of the year” by 51%, far ahead of celebrities Marion Cotillard and Amélie Mauresmo.
Ever since the 2013 horse meat scandal, the food crisis has become more than a health issue; it is an issue of durable trust. New food ethics are emerging.
This change in ethics stems from different trends: food abundance, loss of ties with the farming world, a decline in the idea of industrial progress, and growing focus on self-control. There are three facets to the new food ethics: demand for natural, authentic products; the health & body cult; and social & environmental responsibility).
According to a 2016 report by Obscoco (French Observatory of Society and Consumption), 82% of French people polled say that they pay much more attention to the quality of the food products they buy than they did five years ago.
Can we completely rid the public of their fears? The key players in the food world all agree that the answer is “no” but that we can help by providing a new mode of governance.
“Restoring trust, dealing with issues, and responding to ‘anti’ movements” was in fact the theme of a symposium entitled Tais-toi et mange! (“Shut your mouth and eat!”) recently held by three French national research organizations: OCHA, CERTOP and CREDOC.