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Understanding the challenges of the food system

Woman at fruit stall
Published: September 2016


This project explored perceptions of the UK’s increasingly complex food supply chain and the impact of food crises.


There have been a number of different outputs from this study:


Public understanding and concerns

In the absence of a food scare or other trigger, the food supply chain was not a high priority for participants and their understanding was often vague. 

Trust and confidence

The survey data showed that only a third of consumers trusted the government to make sure food is safe to eat and that people trust food from Britain more than food from abroad.

Public concerns and perceptions of risk in the event of a food scare

Analysis of the Twitter data from the 2013 horsemeat scare revealed a transgressive use of humour with people's main concern being the breaching of a cultural taboo about eating horses.

Twitter did not reflect a feeling that trust between consumers and suppliers/supermarkets had been broken. This feeling emerged from the workshops and survey. 

Background and Methods

The research is part of a wider project to understand the challenges of the UK food system under the Global Food Security programme.

The research was conducted in collaboration with the Universities of Warwick and Westminster and the University of Cardiff’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS), and is funded by the ESRC and Food Standards Agency.

There were three distinct components to this study: analysis of Twitter data from the ‘horsemeat scare’ of 2013, qualitative workshops around the UK and a module in NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey.