Up to 60 percent of people worldwide are worried the food they eat will harm them in the next two years, according to a poll.

More than half also expect they will be seriously harmed in the coming couple of years by eating unsafe food. The survey was conducted by Gallup as part of its World Poll and is based on interviews with 150,000 people in 142 countries in the second half of 2019.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll also found more than half of those asked are concerned about the safety of water they drink. The charity is funded by profits from Lloyd’s Register.

Seventeen percent of respondents — representative of one billion people worldwide — said they or someone they know suffered harm from the food they ate in the past two years, and 14 percent or 823 million, have been seriously affected by the water they drink. Globally, 4 percent of adults identified unsafe food or water as one of the biggest threats to their daily safety.

Genetically modified (GM) food is seen as a high risk with 48 percent of people worldwide saying they think these foods will mostly harm people during the next 20 years. This view is mostly held by people in higher-income nations where GM foods are seen as a safety issue such as in Greece where 84 percent of those asked think GM foods are more likely to harm them. In lower income countries 42 percent think that they will mostly help people during the next 20 years.

Geographical breakdown
Markus Lipp, from the Food and Agriculture Organization, said the poll has the first 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,” he said.

The poll indicates the burden of food-related diseases is highly related to economic development levels, with low and middle-income countries disproportionately affected. Data on issues relating to harm from food and water is sparse and often poorest in the regions where problems are most significant.

The greatest levels of harm from food occur in East Africa where 29 percent experienced harm, and the Middle East where 27 percent were harmed. Countries and territories that experienced the most harm from food were in the developing world; the top three were Liberia at 52 percent, Zambia at 51 percent, and Mozambique at 45 percent.

However, in these regions levels of worry about food are lower than the rate of harm with East Africa at 25 percent worried and the Middle East with 22 percent worried. In North Africa, a quarter of people have experienced harm from food and water but only 16 percent worry about it.

In Southern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, levels of harm experienced from food are high at 26 percent and 22 percent respectively, but levels of worry are higher at 43 percent and 33 percent.

Trust in official agencies
“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,” said Dr. Sarah Cumbers, director of evidence and insight at Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

“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.”

Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s World Risk Poll will be repeated three times in the next six years. The next round of data collection gets underway in 2021.

The survey found that only 15 percent of people looking for information about food and water safety trust their government the most to provide it. People who have first-hand experience being sickened by food or water are the least likely to trust governments for information.

Almost a third of respondents prefer to trust information from family and friends and one in five from medical professionals. About half of people in low-income economies sought food safety information from celebrities or religious leaders.

Populations of developed countries are more likely to trust their governments but levels are only slightly above half in Norway at 54 percent and Sweden at 56 percent.

In France 58 percent of people did not believe their government was doing a good job keeping the food they buy safe. In Eastern Europe, more than half said their governments was not doing a good job of this. Nearly half of those in the Latin America/Caribbean region, Southern Europe and the Middle East also gave governments poor ratings on food safety.

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