Where does our food come from?

Date: July 2009

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graphic of a simple food chainKey facts

  • A large proportion of consumers expressed concern about imported foods, particularly those from outside of the EU. Forty three per cent of consumers on the island of Ireland were concerned about the quality of food imported from within the EU, whereas 54% were concerned about the quality of imported foods from non-EU countries.
  • Consumers are most concerned about the origins of their meat and fish.
  • Among those who expressed concern the main food safety concerns with imported foods were poor production standards and regulations (48%), the quality of imported foods (27%) and the perception that the further food travels, the greater the risk of contamination (24%).
  • The total food imports were valued at e4.6 billion (£4.2 billion) in the ROI in 2007, and e502 million (£460 million) in NI.
  • The foods with the highest quantities imported onto the island of Ireland were cereals and fruit and vegetables. A significant amount of food imports onto the island, especially fruit, cereals and vegetables, are imported from non-EU Countries: China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. Meat and dairy produce are mostly imported from within the EU.
  • Food imports from EU and non-EU countries are necessary for economic reasons, seasonality, trade and because of consumer demand.
  • On the island of Ireland, various controls and legislation aim to control both microbiological and chemical hazards in the supply chain, and, thereby, minimise the risk to consumers.
  • It is recognised that the increase in international trade means that imported foods are potential vehicles for foodborne illnesses. A variety of outbreaks have been recorded in other countries, particularly in foods served raw. However, no confirmed outbreaks have been associated with food imported onto the island of Ireland. In 2007 the FSAI reported 76 food incidents of which 41% were attributed to chemical contamination. In the UK (data unavailable for NI), the FSA investigated 1,312 food incidents, 16% were attributed to chemical contaminants, such as mycotoxins, or irradiation.
  • Food transport, variety of soil, climate and transport conditions has an impact on the nutritional quality of food.
  • The import of food has facilitated a greater availability and variety of food which can benefit healthy eating but could also lead to the increased availability of unhealthy foods.
  • While consumers expressed concern about many food issues, including food origin, production methods and ‘fairtrade’, currently price is the most important factor predicting food purchasing behaviour.