Food allergens and ingredients labelling is, from a food regulatory perspective, the number one concern for Irish food businesses, according to research from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
The research, undertaken by Amárach, surveyed senior executives from a diverse range of food businesses on their concerns about food safety and the food industry’s current operating environment.
The research shows that more than 7 out of 10 food businesses are increasingly confident about food safety regulation in Ireland, with almost three quarters (73%) stating that food produced in Ireland is safer than it was five years ago.
Despite the increased confidence, numerous food safety concerns remain for food businesses. The food industry is apprehensive about allergens and ingredients labelling; food hygiene and handling requirements; and other widely noted food safety concerns including the use of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and additives.
Allergens and ingredients labelling comes out on top as the greatest food safety worry for Irish food businesses, with over half (53%) listing it as one of their top three concerns.
Food hygiene and handling requirements (36%) and carcinogenic chemicals in foods (30%) also ranked highly amongst those surveyed.
There is a strong confidence in food safety measures among the industry, however, around one fifth (18%) are calling for more food safety regulation and enforcement.
Around one third (31%) of food businesses do not feel well enough informed in terms of food safety information, despite a high proportion claiming to cover this in-house or via consultants.
“While the majority of food businesses acknowledge their own responsibility for ensuring the food they serve is safe to eat, it is unacceptable that over 1 in 10 see this as the responsibility of the FSAI, which it is not – the responsibility lies with food businesses,” said Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO of the FSAI.
“The consequences of allergen information not being provided and food hygiene standards not being adhered to are very serious and the FSAI, together with the food inspectorate, is continuously working to ensure that businesses are not flaunting these requirements.”
Some 7 in 10 (69%) of Irish food businesses view the availability of skilled workers as a serious concern. This reflects the large decrease in unemployment as the economy has gradually recovered and moved towards full employment in recent years, reducing the pool of workers available to food businesses.
Brexit is the second greatest future worry for food businesses, with over two thirds (67%) identifying its unknown impact as a business concern. However, a study from Bord Bia showed that the majority of Irish food and drink firms are prepared for Brexit.
That said, the FSAI findings reveal that food businesses are particularly concerned about increases in costs of supplies, tariffs and exchange rates in respect of Brexit on the Irish food industry.
For example, nearly 8 out of 10 (78%) businesses think Brexit may increase the cost of supplies, while almost three quarters (74%) of businesses fear tariffs could increase costs.