Products comparable to bacteriophages
This part of the case study tries to provide the possible answers on the basis of the literature study done to the sub questions separately and finally will answer the central question. The literature study has been carried as a part of the desk research and the all the literature has been taken from the scientific articles and publications made before for the topics discussed. The cumulative answer of all the questions which would be a conclusion would answer the central question and lead to a step ahead for the research for the next central question.
As defined before consumer perception can be referred to as understanding how the consumer views a product or service. In context of risk, it is the psychological interpretation of the consumer which leads to specific attributes and behavior of purchasing the food product.(Yeung and Morris, 2001)
Food safety has become a major issue of public concern in many countries, as bacterial outbreaks, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and perceived risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food have reduced consumer confidence in the food products. Restoring confidence in food now presents a considerable commercial challenge to the food industry (Jardine, 1999; Gregoriadis, 1999).
Choice of a food product is often more influenced by the psychological interpretation of product ingredients and processes than the physical properties of products themselves (Rozin et al., 1986). Perception of food safety risk is one such psychological interpretation which influences the attitudes and behaviour of consumers with respect to the purchase of food products. Consumers have a greater perception to safety hazard about food product attributes with which they not familiar to a large extent or are not familiar at all (Zepeda et al., 2003; Caswell and Joseph, 2006). Furthermore, food safety risk perceptions and attitudes are probably related to trust in various sources of information apart from various other factors as socioeconomic factors and culture(Dosman et al., 2001; Lobb et al., 2006, 2007; Mazzocchi et al., 2008). In formulating perceptions about food safety, consumers generally use information from a variety of sources including government, academic researchers, dieticians and physicians. Consumers' risk behaviour is influenced by their trust in risk information and in the providers of this information (Slovic, 1993, 1999; Lo¨fstedt and Frewer, 1998; Cvetkovich and Lo¨fstedt, 1999).
There are mainly 3 risks that are identified while buying a food product namely
The risk from microbiological contamination poses even a bigger challenge to safety of food because of potentially harmful micro organisms which have the ability either to grow rapidly from very low numbers in food or to proliferate in the human body once ingested (Tent, 1999). The research done in Food Marketing Institute of the United States in 1996 suggests that most of the consumers were confident that the food they purchased was safe to eat (Goodacre, Doel, Habron, & Petruv, 1999). However, a major part of the group (49%) of respondents also beleived spoilage of food the greatest threat to food safety. According to a national survey of American consumers (Hoban & Katic, 1998) and of other US surveys and Food Marketing Institute (FMI, 1997) the American consumers thought that the greatest threat to the safety of food they were eating came from microbial contamination 69%, 16% said form the pesticide residues and only 2% thought it from the additives or preservatives and nobody mentioned about the biotechnology. (Hoban, 1999).
Consumer's perception of food poisoning is thought be prone to optimistic bias effects, where the people generally believe that they are at a less hazard than the others. The end consumer believe they are at a lesser risk than other people, then they might ignore risk communications, assuming that these messages are aimed at other more vulnerable individuals. (Weinstein, 1987).
According to the studies of risk communication about food poisoning it demonstrates that, while factors such perception of trustworthiness an individual imparts to other people is as important in the establishment of effective strategies for risk communication for other food hazards, the major barrier to effective communication about microbiological hazards appeared to be optimistic bias (Frewer et al., 1997).
The public perceptions of risk are driven by factors other than technical risk estimates. The psychometric paradigm (roles of affect, emotion, and stigma in influencing risk perception) indicates that every hazard had its own unique pattern of psychologically determined characteristics that were related to perceptions of risk. (Fischhoff et al. 1978)
Also, it was found that microbiological contamination, e.g. Listeria and Salmonella, were high on a "severity" dimension, but low on an "unknown" dimension (which included characteristics like "risks known to those exposed", "risks known to science" and "accuracy of assessment"). Interestingly, Listeria and Salmonella (specific examples of microbiological hazard) were rated as more severe than the more generic phrasing of the hazard type, bacterial contamination.
If it is not possible to reduce the "severity" by some means of effective risk communication, use of the substance or process should be delayed until public concern can be reduced. This would help in not losing the consumer confidence in the safety of food, and in food regulatory agencies.
An alternative approach of reducing the microbiological contamination is to use the scientific and technological interventions. However, people's risk perceptions for these innovative approaches could result in rejection of the technologies being put into place in order to promote consumer safety. For example, food irradiation has failed to have a significant impact on the majority of national food markets. In general, this has caused a conflicting feelings toward the end consumers (Henson, 1995).
In psychological terms, the threat value of technological hazards is compounded by perceptions of unnaturalness, and is increased by beliefs that the associated risks are poorly understood, both by science and the consumer.
Risk-benefit communication has influenced consumer responses to food irradiation, particularly in the USA, where acceptance is higher than in the UK (Bruhn, 1995; Cottee et al., 1995; Resurreccion et al., 1995). Concerns of end consumers in European countries are highly risk-oriented, and include concerns about the potential carcinogenity of irradiated food products, the risks to workers in food irradiation facilities, the risk of radiation escaping from irradiation facilities, and risks associated with transportation of radioactive material. According to the consumers there might be a link between radiation and cancer and that could be the major reason for unwillingness to purchase irradiated food products. In addition, there is evidence that consumers may not place a high value on the potential benefits of irradiation, such as increased shelf life, because consumers do not associate increased shelf life with freshness. There is little positive consumer response to the major benefit of improvement in food safety. Survey data have suggested that the majority of consumers perceive the major beneficiaries of new technologies to be food manufacturers and retailers and, consequently, they question the necessity of the technologies (Henson, 1995). Unless effective risk-benefit communication strategies are developed between regulators, scientists and consumers, the benefits of technologies like food irradiation may not be realised in the UK.
An important means of providing information about the occurrence of microbiological food hazards is done by media whereas at present the public perception of the media regarding the issue of telling about new technological innovations is that of "scare-mongering" (Miles and Frewer, in preparation).
Unfortunately, public trust is often eroded by the hesitation and indolence of government agencies to adopt or enforce consumer protection strategies (Day, 1997), largely due to legislation changes and budgets. (Marwick, 1997).
Technological risks refers to the negative consequences or the negative perceptions of all the technological advancements in food products specifically genetic modification of food.(Marshall,1994; Buckland 1997). There have risks assosciated with GM organisms (Ford & Murphy,1998). Most of the people don't have a wide knowledge about GM organisms because it is a novel and complex technology.
Despite its omnipresence, Americans have reported that they have heard or read very little about GM food, they know little about it, they are not talking about it with each other, they do not know it is for sale in supermarkets, and they do not even know they are already eating it. ( Hallman,W. K., et al. (2003)) .Barely aware that the technology even exists, the public is forced to substitute trust for knowledge. To explore people's trust judgments, we build on three general propositions. We understand that trust in institutions is an important factor in perception and acceptance of risks. Surveys of American consumers suggest that when they do become aware of these products, they still will not have the scientific knowledge to evaluate risks on their own. In terms of regulations, GM foods are treated as equivalent to those produced through traditional means if the GM variety does not introduce allergens or substantially alter the nutritional value of the food. As a result, GM foods in the United States are rarely handled differently than those produced through conventional means.
In addition, if people are concerned about a food-related hazard because it is perceived to have the characteristics associated with high "unknown" and "dread/severity", then scientists would be wise to reduce the level of scientific uncertainty related to it, as well as provide information designed to enhance effective risk communication. Public perceptions of control over exposure might be enhanced through, for example, product labelling. If the "dread/severity" factor cannot be reduced through the application of effective risk communication, approval of the substance or process should be delayed until public concern can be reduced. This would avoid the reduction of consumer confidence in the safety of food, and in food regulatory agencies.
People's perception of food poisoning may be prone to optimistic bias effects, where people believe that they are less at risk from a hazard than other people. People are rarely given personalized information about their vulnerability to a hazard; instead they get information about risk to people in general, from which they are then required to infer their own risk status. This often results in a marked difference between people's perceived personal risk, and their actual risk status. This difference may be the result of an optimistic bias: "It won't happen to me" (Weinstein, 1987). Optimistic biases are important because they may hinder efforts to promote risk-reducing behaviour. If it is the case that people believe they are less at risk than other people, then they may ignore risk communications, assuming that these messages are aimed at other more vulnerable individuals. In such a situation, people could be putting their health at risk.
Public perception of food poisoning shows a marked optimistic bias (Weinstein, 1987). Optimistic bias has been found for food poisoning from food prepared in the home and food prepared by others (Frewer et al., 1994). While the perceived risk from food poisoning caused by home prepared food was the lowest of the ten hazards studied, the risk from food prepared by others was considerably higher. This distinction has been found in other studies; Woodburn and Raab (1997) found that about a quarter of their sample believed that food eaten at home was at a lower risk of causing food poisoning than that eaten out, with particular mention of fast food restaurants. Frewer et al. (1994) also found that respondents felt that they had high control over the risks; they perceived low personal risk and high knowledge about food poisoning in the home. The high perceived knowledge and control for home-prepared food is interesting, from an education standpoint, as it illustrates that people perceive that they are in control of this potential hazard, but they also think that they already know enough to deal with it effectively.
Studies of risk communication about food poisoning have demonstrated that, while factors such as hazard type and source credibility have been identified as important in the establishment of effective strategies for risk communication for other food hazards, such as genetic modification of food, the major barrier to effective communication about microbiological hazards appeared to be optimistic bias (Frewer et al., 1997). Individualization of information and targeting vulnerable individuals through selection of appropriate information delivery systems will help overcome this problem.
A methodology known as the psychometric paradigm has been used to investigate public perception of risk. The seminal research conducted by Fischhoff et al. (1978) was invaluable in demonstrating that public perceptions of risk were driven by factors other than technical risk estimates. The psychometric paradigm indicated that every hazard had its own unique pattern of psychologically determined characteristics that were related to perceptions of risk. Research of this kind was conducted within the food domain, and similar dimensions to the original psychometric results have emerged (Sparks and Shepherd, 1994a). It was found that microbiological contamination, e.g. Listeria and Salmonella, were high on a "severity" dimension (which included characteristics like "concern", "seriousness for future generations", "dread", "threatening widespread disastrous consequences" and "becoming more serious") but low on an "unknown" dimension (which included characteristics like "risks known to those exposed", "risks known to science" and "accuracy of assessment"). Interestingly, Listeria and Salmonella (specific examples of microbiological hazard) were rated as more severe than the more generic phrasing of the hazard type, bacterial contamination.