Food safety incidents weaken the public’s trust more in national than local governments, according to a study in China.

The work analyzes how food safety troubles affect Chinese people’s trust in the government using survey data.

Food safety problems involve public health but also have a social and political impact with risks varying across people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, according to the study report. Past incidents have included poisonous ham, contaminated baby formula and degraded cooking oil.

These issues weaken the public’s trust in both the central and local governments. Chinese people tend to attribute responsibility to the central government rather than local leaders when concerned about food safety problems. Even though it is the local government that, in practice, has primary administrative supervision over safe food.

Central government has a leadership role in food safety regulations. It enacts laws and makes rules for regulating the industry. Local government undertakes the supervision, including overseeing the quality of food and imposing penalties on violators.

Risk perception based on background
The national agency has tactics to shift the responsibility to local governments and food producers to avoid criticism but it is not exempt from losing the public’s trust when it comes to food safety problems, according to the study published in the Japanese Journal of Political Science.

Food safety risks are unequally distributed. People of high socioeconomic status have more financial and cognitive abilities to protect themselves, while people with less money and education are more vulnerable to health hazards.

People with higher levels of income tended to be more concerned about food safety than those with low incomes. Even though such problems threaten everyone’s health, those less conscious of the dangers to take proper precautions suffer from higher food safety risks.

Highly educated people lose trust in the central government more drastically when food safety problems become worse. Lower educated people hardly realize the food safety issues around them and are less inclined to withdraw trust in the government as a result. They may blame food producers and processors for the problems.

Those with a low income were more inclined to attribute the responsibility for food safety problems to the central government because of expectations that those agencies look after them.

Impact of official action on foodborne disease
Another study found a mixed influence of government intervention on foodborne diseases by using various sources of Chinese data from 30 regions between 2011 and 2019.

Results show that official intervention can have a significant impact on infections. Foodborne diseases decreased by 1.3 percent when government expenditure in this area increased by 1 percent. By strengthening food safety standards and guiding enterprises to offer safer food, regulators can further improve the situation, said researchers.

However, although government measures alleviates food related diseases in local areas, it aggravates them in other regions. The study found relying solely on regulators to rectify foodborne diseases can cause contradictions and conflicts between different regions.

Authorities can affect food safety in production, circulation and sales by enacting laws, issuing administrative orders, and implementing economic penalties.

Modeling found a 1 percent increase in urbanization corresponds to a 0.43 percent increase in foodborne diseases. If people have been educated for one more year, local infections decrease by 2.43 percent. However, this also leads to a lack of food knowledge in other regions and further worsens the issue.

The study results show the impact of government action on foodborne infections will last for two years and there is a need to focus on long-term policies, according to the researchers.

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