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Consumer trust in food: A European study of the social
and institutional conditions for the production of trust

Contract number : QLK1-2001-00291
Contract type : Shared Cost Project
Total cost : € 2.005.640
EC contribution : € 1.678.960
Starting date : 1/01/2002
Duration : 36 Months
Scientific Officer : Achim Boenke
Project website : not yet available
Dr Unni Kjærnes
The National Institute for Consumer Research
PO Box 173
1325 Lysaker
Tel.: +4767828800/71
Fax: +4767531948
E-mail: Unni.Kjarnes @

The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, gave considerable attention to questions of food safety in his speech to the Third Annual Assembly of Consumer Associations at the 23rd November 2000. He emphasised the importance of protecting the health of the citizens as well as "...the need to restore their confidence in the safety of food itself, in our food law and the institutions, organisations and structures developing the food law...". The present knowledge indicates that levels of consumer trust in food vary considerably across Europe. Some differences can be explained by the absence or presence of food scandals, but the seriousness of such scandals do not seem to be inversely correlated with consumers' trusting level. The levels of trust and distrust may also be influenced by institutional arrangements, dominant actors and varying responses to problematic events. Consequently, a multidisciplinary study is needed to identify and analyse the factors that determine trust in the food supply by means of comparative analyses including several types of data.

Taking actively into account the last food crises, it is clear that the studies are need in the following two cases: beef - a sector in crisis and transformation, and tomatoes - a less challenged sector.


The overall objective is to investigate the social and institutional conditions for the production and maintenance of consumer trust in food. The specific objectives are to:

  • develop valid measures of consumer trust and distrust in food, its social and institutional determinants in a cross-country context ;
  • describe dimensions and variations of trust among consumers in various countries and social groups;
  • identify main characteristics of and recent changes in national food policy systems that may be associated with consumers' responses to food safety issues ;
  • chart changes and identify strategies and institutional arrangements for the promotion of trust within EU institutions and key organisations at the European level;
  • compare institutional conditions, identify concerns and priorities among strategic actors in the food system across 6 European countries at various levels (regional (when relevant), country, EU) and identify different trust regimes;
  • explore and specify key institutional factors which affect consumer trust from the perspective of norms, decisions and routines;
  • establish a dialogue with consumer representatives to
    1. discuss interpretations of relevant project findings and EU policy objectives and
    2. develop strategic proposals that can strengthen the position of consumers in decision-making processes.
  • invite public authorities to workshops in order to discuss implementation of results and implications for trust enhancing strategies.
  • bring out implications of research findings for relevant user groups.
(expected) Results and achievements
  • A multi-faceted, interdisciplinary analysis of the basis of consumer trust and distrust in food provision in contemporary Europe.
  • A thorough comparative analysis of the effects of different institutional arrangements, country by country, which bear upon consumer trust/distrust in food.
  • An analysis of the degree of convergence of institutional procedures in Europe as a consequence of EU policy initiatives.
  • A policy-relevant appreciation of the role of citizens and consumer organisations in articulating the interests of consumers in the purpose of establishing a trustworthy European food system.
  • A critical analysis of alternative strategies for handling trust and distrust in the food system.


Dipartimento di Discipline della Communicazione
University of Bologna
Via Azzo Gardino, 23
40122 Bologna
Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University
Centre for Bioethics and Risk Assessment
Research Department of Human Nutrition
Rolighedsvej 30
1958 Frederiksberg C
The Victoria University of Manchester
ESRC Centre for Reseach in Innovation and Competition
Grand Floor
Devonshire House
Oxford Road
M13 9QH Manchester
United Kingdom
Faculdade de Ciências da Nutrição e Alimentação
Universidade do Porto
Rua Dr Roberto Frias
4200-465 Porto
Federal Research Centre for Nutrition
Institute of Nutritional Economics and Sociology
Haid-und-Neu-Straße 9
76131 Karlsruhe

Fifth Framework Programme

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