Ignorance blinds us to the real risks in our food, study claims

If you enjoyed a joint of roast beef yesterday then you are among those who have overcome the decade-old scare about BSE in beef and concluded that the traditional Sunday lunch is too good to miss – reassured, presumably, by scientific evidence showing it is safe to eat.

But over many other food risks, public perceptions fly in the face of science and are instead driven by prejudice, superstition and the often misleading advice of friends, a survey has found.
An investigation by the Food Standards Agency which compared the risks perceived by the public with the scientific evidence behind them concluded that there was often no link between the two. As a result people are needlessly avoiding certain foodstuffs while putting themselves at risk by consuming others, the agency said.

Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those surveyed said they were worried about the safety of genetically modified foods, despite scientific evidence showing GM foods were no more risky than non-GM foods.

The agency's board concluded in 2000 that the safety assessment procedures for GM foods were "sufficiently robust and rigorous" to ensure that they posed "no additional risk".
On bird flu, nine out of 10 people questioned said they would be concerned about eating chicken from a factory contaminated with the disease, despite evidence showing the illness cannot be contracted from consuming properly cooked poultry. Bird flu is a respiratory condition transmitted during close contact with birds.

Yet when a real risk presents itself, many ignore it. One in four of those questioned assumed there was little or no risk from consuming raw (unpasteurised) milk, despite evidence that it is frequently contaminated with faecal matter and contains harmful bacteria.

The survey was conducted to mark the launch of the Independent General Advisory Committee on Science, intended to increase public trust in science by advising how the FSA collects and uses scientific evidence.

Professor Colin Blakemore, chairman of the committee, said: "This survey is just a snapshot of people's opinions about food and risk but it prompts some interesting questions about how and why we judge some food to be risky.

"The good news is that people are clearly more aware of some risks to their health – particularly too much salt in the diet. However, it also seems to show that people are more likely to listen to advice about risk from friends than from scientists. Scientists need to communicate reliable evidence in a way that everyone can understand."

Source - Independent

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