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Food Risk Communication. Perceptions and communication of food risks/benefits across Europe: development of effective communication strategies

Final Report Summary - FOODRISC (Food Risk Communication. Perceptions and communication of food risks/benefits across Europe: development of effective communication strategies.)

Executive Summary:
FoodRisC is an EU-funded project involving 13 partner organisations from 9 European countries which has explored perceptions and communication of food risk/benefit issues across Europe. European consumers are faced with a myriad of food related risk and benefit information and it is regularly left up to the consumer to interpret these, often conflicting, pieces of information as a coherent message. This conflict is especially apparent in times of food crises and can have major public health implications. Scientific results and risk assessments cannot always be easily communicated into simple guidelines and advice that non-scientists like the public or the media can easily understand especially when there is conflicting, uncertain or complex information about a particular food or aspects thereof. The need for improved strategies and tools for communication about food risks and benefits is therefore paramount. The FoodRisC project (“Food Risk Communication - Perceptions and communication of food risks/benefits across Europe: development of effective communication strategies”) has undertaken an extensive programme of work to address this issue.
FoodRisC has revealed that social media plays an increasingly important role in communication in the food domain. Although the use of social media channels was found to vary significantly between countries, the volume of social media postings grew substantially from the 2008 Irish dioxin crisis in pork to the 2011 German EHEC (E. coli) crisis in sprouted seeds, and more recent analysis of the horsemeat fraud incident in 2013 revealed further growth.
Investigation of how consumers across Europe react and respond to information and if and how they look for information has revealed significant differences in reactions and perceptions across Europe. These differences related to factors such as the risk and benefit perceptions of the participants, the way they responded to information, the level of information seeking and systematic processing, the communication channels they would use and the trust they expressed in particular information sources.
A number of web-based tools have been developed as part of the FoodRisC project. One such tool is the online research and engagement tool VizzataTM – an. This tool allows researchers to present the target audience with bite-sized pieces of content (e.g. text, images, videos, website screenshots) and elicit the audience’s questions and comments in relation to these pieces of content. Participants can indicate their preference to receive responses from the research team, prior to moving to a second phase where their questions and comments are answered and further questions, comments and answers can be elicited. VizzataTM thus offers the opportunity for ongoing asynchronous interaction between the communicator or researcher and the audience.
The final output of the FoodRisC project was the development of an online Communication Toolkit to enable coherent, evidence based communication of food risk/benefit issues, across Europe (http://resourcecentre.foodrisc.org/). The FoodRisC Resource Centre has the potential to have a wide positive impact in the risk/benefit communication practice and research, and allow for a coherent and integrated European wide communication strategy.


Project Context and Objectives:
European consumers are faced with a myriad of food related risk and benefit information and it is regularly left up to the consumer to interpret these, often conflicting, pieces of information as a coherent message. This conflict is especially apparent in times of food crises and can have major public health implications. A chronology of food scares across Europe in the last number of decades has left consumer confidence in: the safety of the EU food supply; the ability of the regulatory agencies to police the food chain; and the commitment of the food industry to produce safe food, at an all-time low. Just prior to the start of the FoodRisC project, the dioxin crisis associated with Irish pork emphasised that the issue of risk/benefit communication is far from resolved and the need for effective communication in the context of multiple sources of information is one of the biggest challenges (Reilly, 2008). Food related risks and benefits will continue to elicit responses including public outrage and media frenzy, collapse of segments of the food chain, damage to governments, restriction of trade, limitation of food technology developments as well as, rejection of new food technologies and despondency when it comes to diet-related diseases, which have ramifications for the entire EU and beyond, unless common approaches to risk/benefit communication and coherent messages are used. Scientific results and risk assessments cannot always be easily communicated into simple guidelines and advice that non-scientists like the public or the media can easily understand especially when there is conflicting, uncertain or complex information about a particular food or aspects thereof. The need for improved strategies and tools for communication about food risks and benefits is therefore paramount. The FoodRisC project (“Food Risk Communication - Perceptions and communication of food risks/benefits across Europe: development of effective communication strategies”) aimed to address this issue through four core objectives:

1. Describe key configurations of food risk and benefit relationships and the implications for
communicators
2. Explore the potential of new social media (e.g. blogs and social networks) for communicating food risks and benefits and provide guidance on how risk communicators can best use these media
3. Characterise the ways in which consumers attain, interpret, and utilise information to help target populations and tailor messages
4. Propose a strategy and communication toolkit for the effective communication of coherent
messages across EU Member States

During the lifetime of the project, the FoodRisC team have undertaken a comprehensive programme of research to meet these core objectives. The FoodRisC project consists of 6 research work packages (see Figure 1). In order to identify barriers to effective communication and to develop common approaches for communicating coherent messages across Europe this project aimed to provide new evidence in relation to five broad areas:
• Characterisation of food risk and benefit issues and the consequent communication implications
• Potential role of new social media in communicating food risk/benefit
• How consumers respond to information they perceive as uncertain, contested or confusing and to develop relevant segmentation criteria
• Applicability of the concept of information seeking to the design of food risk/benefit communications
• Developing practical ways in which consumer sense making and deliberation can be taken into account in order to provide substantive benefits to stakeholders in developing communications


Figure 1: The overall structure of the FoodRisC workplan

Characterisation of risks and benefits: Characterisation of food risk/benefit configurations (WP1) involved exploration and mapping of the variety and diversity of target population groups, relevant stakeholders, communication tools, information sources, media channels and risks/benefits currently and potentially involved in risk/benefit communication in the food chain. Identifying the parameters of current food risk/benefit communication models in Europe provided baseline information on: a) the variety of stakeholders and population sub-groups involved in food risk/benefit communication, b) the perceived parameters of food risk/benefits among the various stakeholders, c) current communication tools/sources/channels/approaches used for food risk/benefit communication nationally and across Europe.

This work looked at consumers’ knowledge and use of risk/benefit communications and preferred communication routes and tools as well as perceived barriers to effective risk and benefit communication. In addition the opinions of food chain stakeholders and experts regarding food risk/benefit communication tools and information routes as well as perceived barriers to effective risk and benefit communication were explored. This work was conducted in WP1 and the subsequent results were used to inform the research tasks of WPs2-5.

Using classical and new media in food communication: The research in WP2 of the FoodRisC project aimed to investigate media involvement in communication in the food chain and to identify barriers to efficient food communications and potential use of new and classical media channels to communicate food risks/benefits efficiently. This work is concerned with the synergy and inter-relationship between classical media channels and new information routes/technologies in providing effective and efficient information sources for food risk/benefit communication.

The role and use of classical and new media in food risk/benefit communication by both traditional and citizen media journalists was investigated post-event as well as in the context of a real-time food alert. Different communications were tracked and monitored, comparing new media and classical media handling via tracking software, analysis of postings and direct surveys of contributors to online information communities. This work took place within WP2 and the subsequent results used to inform the work of WP3-5.

Investigating the role of consumers in food risk/benefit communication: Key consumer alignments to the communication of risk and benefit information were explored in the FoodRisC project. This research comprised three work packages (see Figure 1) and involved a) characterisation of how consumers respond to information (WP 3) b) characterisation of consumers’ information seeking behaviour (WP 4) and c) exploration of the role and potential use of deliberative engagement in food risk/benefit communication (WP 5).

A Pan-European web-based survey collected data used to map consumers’ food risk/benefit perceptions in WP3 and the modelling of information seeking behaviour in WP4. This work has informed an understanding of how consumers respond to communication of information about food risks/benefits in relation to different risk/benefit scenarios, across different media, and in crisis and non-crisis situations. Research on the role of information seeking in food risk/benefit communication explored the stimuli and contexts which induce individuals to look for information relating to food risk/benefit. This work aimed to provide a) quantitative insight into the main determinants of risk and benefit information seeking, b) consumer segmentation in relation to preferences for use of communication channels, c) experimental evidence on the ways in which online information seeking strategies are affected by the provision of risk and benefit information, and d) details on what information consumers seek from official bodies about food risk/benefits in crisis and non-crisis situations.

The final set of empirical studies took place within WP5 and investigated the role of deliberation in developing risk and benefit communication strategies. This work aimed to consider how consumers make sense of information in the context of two-way information exchange and deliberation, and involved the development of a web-based communication tool. The overall objective of this work was to develop and test a tool that aims to facilitate the efficient and effective deliberative engagement between communicators and particular groups of consumers whose views and concerns they wish to engage with. It should provide communicators with access to consumer reasoning around risk and benefit and provide concrete measures of the extent to which consumers attend to and reflect upon the information with which they are provided.

Development of common approaches and tools for optimal food risk/benefit communication: The empirical research (WP 1 – 5) was then brought together in the development of common approaches and tools for optimal food risk/benefit communication across Europe (WP6). WP6 focused on bringing together the findings from the previous research workpackages to develop a set of tools designed to enable coherent communication of food risk/benefit information in Europe.

The FoodRisC project offers a unique approach to the investigation of food risk/benefit communication. The effective spread of food risk/benefit information will assist initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of food-related illness and disease, reducing the economic impact of food crises and ensuring that confidence in safe and nutritious food is fostered and maintained in Europe.

Project Results:
The FoodRisC objectives were achieved through a range of research approaches and methods used in a set of work packages (see Figure 1). WP1 provided a foundation and benchmarking information which was used to inform the development of WPs 3-5. WP2 was concerned with media involvement in communication in the food chain and aimed to identify barriers to efficient food communications and to explore the potential use of new and classical media channels to communicate food risks/benefits efficiently. WPs 3, 4 and 5 were designed to allow exploration of key consumer alignments to the communication of risk and benefit information. WP3 focused on characterising consumers and how they respond to information provided about food risks and benefits that may be conflicting or confusing. WP4 moved the focus from the passive to more active processes of information seeking and sought to characterise information seeking behaviours and predictors of this information seeking in relation to a range of food risks/benefit configurations. The final set of empirical studies took place within WP5 and considered how consumers make sense of information in the context of two-way information exchange and deliberation, and involved the development of a web-based communication tool. Building on WP1 and in the light of the outputs of WPs 2-5, WP6 focused on synthesising findings to develop the FoodRisC communication e-resource.

In accordance with the Annex I for FoodRisC, research ethics were considered in relation to all research activities undertaken. The Research Ethics Policies of all organisations participating in any particular research task were taken into account, and where relevant ethical review was sought within the partner organisation leading on the relevant research task. The following actions were adhered to in relation to all research tasks involving the recruitment of healthy volunteers:
• Ethical approval sought separately for each study to be undertaken.
• Informed consent obtained from all participating volunteers, where appropriate.
• Informed consent included information about the topic, the volunteers’ right to opt out of the research at any time and anonymisation of data. It will be in-line with appropriate ethical guidelines in each participating country.
• All studies undertaken fully comply with Directive 2002/58/EC concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy.
• At the earliest opportunity all data stored in relation to a participant number and personal details were held separately and will be destroyed within 3 months of completion of the project.
• Electronic data collected stored in an unencrypted MySQL database on a Linux server. This server is secured with port monitoring and firewalls, and the OS is patched regularly. Access to the data by partners via SSL.
• When outputted for analysis, all data anonymised. All spreadsheets holding user data, whether anonymised or not, indexed and password protected.
• All subcontractors adhered to the same data protection standards as the members of the consortium.

The work in WP6-8 does not involve human volunteers, therefore ethical approval for the activities in these workpackages was not deemed necessary.

Workpacakage 1 – Identifying the parameters of current food risk/benefit communication models in Europe
The first workpackage of the project focused on exploring the variety and diversity of target population groups, relevant stakeholders, communication tools, information sources, media channels and risks/benefits currently and potentially involved in risk/benefit communication in the food chain. Identifying the parameters of current food risk/benefit communication models in Europe provides baseline information on: a) the variety of stakeholders and population sub-groups involved in food risk/benefit communication, b) the perceived parameters of food risk/benefits, which may include nanotechnology, gene-technology, cloning, emerging pathogens, functional foods etc. among the various stakeholders, c) the current communication tools/sources/channels/approaches used for food risk/benefit communication nationally and across Europe.
An extensive literature review focused on specific areas of interest to the FoodRisC project including: (1) a general overview of the food risk and benefit communication area, (2) linkages between consumer perception and communication, (3) a review of past food crises in Europe, and (4) current state of social media and application to food risk and benefit communication. In addition to the desk research carried out, a secondary analysis was carried out on Eurobarometer data to investigate potential target groups which may be in need of specific communication efforts. In depth interviews were then undertaken to meet the objectives of Tasks 1.2 (Exploration and characterisation of consumer understandings of food risk and benefit communication), 1.3 (Exploration and characterisation of European information supplier experts understandings of food risk and benefit communication), and 1.4 (Exploration and characterisation of private and NGO sector stakeholders understandings of food risk and benefit communication).
Food risks were mainly perceived in terms of being man-made and in terms of the possible consequences. Concepts related to food benefits pertained to health, economic, and ethics issues, like sustainability. Special attention was paid to the risk/benefit trade off. When risks and benefits are combined, a group of the participants embraced the idea of “weighing” the risks and benefits involved in a situation, which differed depending on the person, situation and context. Also the level of certainty influences this assessment. A number of factors can shape the manner in which a consumer weighs up a risk/benefit situation, and such factors ultimately decide why the consumer chooses to give more weight to the risks or the benefits of a situation. A number of sub-themes were found which were deemed to be important in shaping consumers risk/benefit assessments and influencing their weighting. These subthemes pertained to characteristics of the receiver, aspects of the situation and influence of the societal context. The weighing of risks and benefits was confirmed by the Multiple Sorting Procedure, which revealed that consumers are most likely to pay attention to both risks and benefits rather than to carry out a one-sided assessment, though the latter happened more frequently with risks than with benefits. This method also confirmed that consumers distinguish between technological and non-technological hazards.
When consumers talked about food crises, a number of specific themes arouse, given that they predominantly talked in terms of risks. Participants talked at great length about the defining features of a food crisis. Seven subthemes were highlighted: contamination, organisational failure, observable societal impact (negative health consequences, death, recall), observable impact on consumers (shortage of food), scale, expectancy and role of the media as driver and amplifier.
Results of the perception of food risk and benefit communication showed that consumers use different forms of information gathering, ranging from ignoring information, over passive attention to information, until active seeking for additional information. Some participants were willing to invest a lot of time in information seeking, others hardly any time et all. This information seeking was done for two reasons: searching general information or more specific information on food risks and benefits. For general information, participants used the internet and more specific Google. When seeking for more specific information, participants contacted the producer or retailer for information about a product or an expert/official organisation for information around health. Consumer preferences for risk/benefit communication topics, message characteristics and message formats were identified.
Paying attention to encountered information (passive) was done for the main reason to stay informed. The main channel for staying informed were the mass media. If participants wanted more information afterwards, they eventually engaged in actively seeking for it. In times of crisis, many participants depended on the news to keep them informed. However, there was a part of the consumers who will actively seek for additional information. In most cases, information reached the participants through channels and did not come directly from the sources.
Social media tools were found to offer the potential to enforce some of the key principles advocated for effective risk/benefit and crisis communication. When it comes to using or potential use of social media for food risk and benefit communication, there were differences between countries. While a large group of Italian participants saw potential for social media in risk and benefit communication, participants from the Netherlands were much more reserved towards their use, while opinions were quite diverse in Belgium, Ireland and Spain.
Finally, stakeholders and experts opinions about social media were analysed through a SWOT analysis. A total of five perceived strengths, four weaknesses, four opportunities and five threats related to the potential use of social media for food risk/benefit communication were identified.


Workpackage 2 - Media involvement in communication in the food chain: classical and new media
The overall objective of WP2 was to evaluate the role that social and traditional media play in providing effective and efficient information sources for food risks and benefits. Specifically, this work package was concerned with the synergy and inter-relationship between traditional media channels and new social media channels.
The research tasks in WP2 semi-structured interviewing of ‘classical media’, ‘online media’ and ‘citizen media’ journalists (n=35) in four countries, all of whom had reported on at least one of two major food risk events namely; Dioxin contamination of animal feed (Jan 2011) and EHEC contamination of vegetables (May 2011). This research focused on what sources, data validation, use and accreditation of information sources are required and/or available to online and traditionalist journalists. In addition, the barriers to effective food risk communication experienced by the different types of journalists and media channels were explored. In addition, desk-based, content analysis studies were conducted on social and traditional media datasets pertaining to a number of food crisis issues which were the 2008 Irish Dioxin crisis, the 2010/2011 German Dioxin crisis and the 2011 EHEC crisis. These tasks involved identify an appropriate dataset through media tracking tools and coding the content of the dataset for key themes of interest such as ‘source of information’, ‘tone of voice’, and ‘message topic’.

Using specific case studies including the 2008 Irish dioxin crisis and the 2010/2011 German dioxin crisis, social and traditional media coverage of food crises was examined. Findings highlight the importance of Twitter; online news and blogs as communication channels. Twitter was primarily used to inform readers of breaking news and to refer the reader to more detailed information, usually online news, via shortened Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) embedded in the tweet. Results also show that social media users respond very quickly to a food crisis; however, compared to traditional media they lose interest quicker. Therefore it is important that risk communicators do not miss this window of opportunity to communicate with key influencers in social media. Failure to do so will mean that ‘someone else’s voice’ will be heard and that the vacuum may be filled with ‘noise’ (i.e. communications not directly linked with the main issue) which can be destructive if rumour and speculation persist.

The use of social media by official agencies was also investigated and showed a low level of engagement, i.e. only 30% of organisations have their own Twitter account, 39% have their own YouTube channel and 50% have their own Facebook page. Furthermore, of the organisations that have a presence on social media channels many do not actively promote this via the relevant social media icons on their website. Furthermore, many do not actively engage on these channels, although there are notable exceptions. This highlights the potential scope for official agencies to increase their profile and level of engagement with social media. This is essential considering the global nature of today’s food chain and the necessity for timely communications particularly in times of crisis. Furthermore, to be a trusted and effective source in times of crises, food risk communicators must develop a strong online profile and a connectivity/bond with their audience during 'peace times'. However, it is also important that official agencies do not lose sight of traditional channels such as official websites, email alerts and telephone contact, as these are particularly important channels for journalists when validating source information.

The practice of journalism has undergone significant change in recent years and the ability to report or comment on news is no longer solely the remit of professionally employed journalists working for media organisations. Should they now wish to, anyone and everyone can write and disseminate news as a ‘citizen journalist’. This ability to practice ‘citizen journalism’ has been facilitated by the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and rapid developments in digital connectivity via the internet which allows people to easily create and share content via a range of different channels such as blogs, microblogs (e.g. Twitter), content communities (e.g. YouTube and web forums) and other social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace).
This research investigated the identities and practices of both professional and citizen journalists who report on food risks and benefits. In many respects, similarities were observed between professional journalists and citizen journalists who have expertise in their subject area (e.g. expert bloggers), compared to citizen journalists who have no specific expertise (e.g. hobby bloggers). Furthermore, regarding professional journalists, there has been a significant shift in emphasis from traditional media communications (e.g. print) towards online communications and this can be seen in the declining circulation of print newspapers. Some professional journalists are also communicating via social media channels. Thus, professional journalists can no longer be considered as those solely communicating via classical/traditional media channels.

One of the main challenges for risk/benefit communicators is to communicate the message in a manner that meets the need of their audiences. Different stakeholders/audiences have different needs (and view the same issue through different perspectives). Therefore, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, different stakeholders/audiences require messages to be communicated in different ways. The media (i.e. journalists) are a particularly important stakeholder group as they are involved not only in dissemination of messages to a wider audience but are also involved in the interpretation and framing of messages. Furthermore, this group has the potential to act as an ‘agenda builder’ and to impart influence on its audience. Therefore, every effort should be undertaken by those involved in risk/benefit communication to ensure their message is communicated in a manner which meets the need of the ‘key influencers’ within the media (this is particularly important for official agencies who are one of the primary sources used by journalists). By doing this, one can assume that the potential for subjectivity and error will decrease and that onward communication of an accurate and balanced message to a wider audience will ensue. Food risk/benefit communicators should pay attention not only to the message content (e.g. framing the message, language/terminology and communication of uncertainty) but also to the timeliness of the communications.

The explosion of social media in the last years has increased its potential as a platform for communicating about food risks and benefits, not only by the commercial sector, but also by food policy-makers and other stakeholders. By its nature, social media offers an approach to communicating which enforces many of the key principles of effective risk communication such as timeliness and openness (e.g. two-way dialogue between the source and the audience). However, the use of social media is not without its challenges and the more traditional means of communication (e.g. press release, print, television, radio and internet) still have an important role to play. In fact, both social and traditional communication channels can work together thereby enhancing the outreach of the message.

Social media is playing an increasingly important role in shaping public debates, perceptions and behaviour. Therefore, a need has emerged to monitor and analyse ‘what is being said’ and ‘who is saying it’. Monitoring can provide insight into consumers’ perceptions of food issues and allows detection and tracking of impending issues and on-going debates on topics such as genetic modification and animal cloning. Furthermore, the broad social media landscape can oftentimes be a minefield of widely disseminated information which is incorrect or misleading. Thus, monitoring is essential to ensure any mis-leading or incorrect information is corrected as soon as possible. This is particularly important considering the length of time information remains prominent in social media. This is known as the ‘Echo-chamber Effect’. In this research, methodologies were developed (using a lexicon of words) to examine the content of the messages communicated via social media, i.e. the sentiment, tone and primary story topic. Of particular interest was the finding that sentiment varies between crises, reporting country and time. Most interestingly it also varies across communication channel.

This research identified a range of barriers which include include the absence of industry or academic gold standard for the identification of ‘key influencers’ communicating within the social media, the limited use of social media by official agencies, the time pressure experienced by professional journalists resulting in invalidated information sometimes being published, the evolving nature of social media can make it difficult to track and analyse. Recommendations have been made on possible steps to overcome these barriers.


Workpackage 3 - Characterising consumers and their responses to communication of information about food risks and benefits
The aim of Work Package 3 was to investigate how consumers react to and process information provided to them on food risks and benefits. This aim was met through a number of research tasks involving experimental vignette studies within an online pan-European quantitative survey (Task 3.1) experimental manipulation studies exploring the effect of varying the depiction of risk/benefit messages (Task 3.2) and a series of qualitative studies to explore consumers' responses to expert communications and to assess the usefulness of these responses to experts (Task 3.2).
Based on recent key policy commitments for a more transparent form of communication in the arena of food risk and benefit, one strand of research which emerged from an initial comprehensive literature review as noteworthy of further research was the communication of uncertain and/or conflicting risk-benefit information and how consumers may respond to such. As a result, as part of the pan-European web-based survey, two experimental vignette studies were undertaken to investigate the impact of communicating uncertain or conflicting information on a number of key consumer responses.
Data collection for Task 3.1 was undertaken through a pan-European web-based survey. This survey incorporated vignettes followed by response constructs to assess the impact of information scenarios which communicate uncertain or conflicting risk and benefit information within various communicative contexts on a variety of key consumer responses.
In the first study investigating the impact of conflicting risk and benefit messages on consumer reactions, we found new information emphasising the benefits of red meat, which was perceived to contradict older risk messages, led consumers to judge the original official risk communication as having lower credibility, regardless of who communicated the new information. The credibility of the new communication was judged partly on the channel through which it was communicated: new information communicated by a trusted body was perceived as more credible no matter whether the information it provided was in line with, or contradicted the original information. These findings have important implications for official communicators who seek to minimise the confusion, uncertainty and frustration felt by consumers in the face of numerous food and nutrition messages.
Whilst previous research has investigated how to effectively communicate simultaneous or balanced food risk and benefit messages, the current study found evidence that when risk and benefit messages relating to red meat are communicated, consumers are more likely to perceive conflict compared to the communication of risk messages alone. Although both positive and negative health effects of red meat hold true independently, when these messages were conveyed in tandem to the participants in the current study, the communications were viewed as more conflicting, and as further analysis showed, such perceptions of conflict may pose a challenge to communicators as they appear to lead to negative appraisals of the original information.
We found that credibility in an original risk message on red meat was lowered when followed by a newer conflicting communication that emphasised the benefits of red meat. Consumers believe that communicators and experts are consistently changing nutritional advice. When faced with changing nutritional advice, consumers may rely on a heuristic that the most up-to-date or recent information is the most accurate information. This is worrying for official communicators who feel their communications are being contradicted by non-official sources
A key point in the current study is that the communicator disseminating the conflicting benefit information did not moderate the credibility accorded to the original communication. It appeared that participants gave more weight to the fact that the new benefit information contradicted that which came before it, rather than whether the message had come from the high-trust website of the national medical doctors association or the low-trust anonymous author online. We did not find that trust in the official information source was significantly impacted by the presence of conflicting messages.
In the second study, we found that the type of uncertainty communicated significantly impacts consumers’ responses to risk messages. The current study found that the participants reacted more negatively towards uncertainty which emerged from conflicting experts in terms of experiencing higher risk perception and more concern about the risks of red meat. Scientific uncertainty is an inherent element of risk assessment. In assessment, uncertainty relates generally to imprecision in measurement, leading to an inability to be certain about the risk in question. Uncertainty about food risks can depend on many reasons including a lack of data, confounding factors and insufficient sensitivity in available studies, methodological limits to the sensitivity of any studies that can be carried out, problems in cross-species extrapolation, amongst many others. However, the current study draws attention to the importance of uncertainty which is inferred through the presence of conflicting opinions regarding a risk.
Traditionally within the food safety arena, information about scientific uncertainty was not transmitted to the public, under the presumption that they would not fully understand such technical details, and thus, such information would only serve to confuse and alarm. However, the ethos of openness and transparency in the risk assessment, management, and communication domain which is being emphasised in policy circles means that increasingly consumers will be, and perhaps rightly so, exposed to more and more information, including that of scientific uncertainty. The current study shows the importance of understanding the different impacts that can be felt when different types of uncertainty are communicated. Whilst other domains, such as medical healthcare and climate change have endeavoured to develop taxonomies of different types of uncertainty, there has been little discussion of this within the food risk sector. Within the food risk sector, minimal research has been carried out regarding which specific types of uncertainty are better understood and managed by the public. The current study provides further support for the need to differentiate between difference sources of uncertainty. Future research should seek to further investigate how different types of uncertainty may further influence consumers’ responses to risk information.

A second task within WP3 explored the effect of varying the depiction of risk/benefit messages and of tailoring communications in various contexts to take into account the ways in which consumers react to and process information. This task involved carrying out a series of 3 experimental studies that explored various aspects of processes of association. Study 1 conducted in Belgium explored the possible “protective‟ function of associations; Study 2 conducted in Portugal explored the possible role of categorisation processes in explaining how products can be associated with risk and Study 3 (in the UK) explored the effect of thematic and episodic framing on risk perceptions in different situations.
The series of studies conducted to address the Task 3.2 research objectives produced a number of interesting findings pertaining to risk associations among food products that have implications for risk communication.
From the first experimental study carried out in Portugal, it was found that risk perceptions can transfer from one affected product (carrot) to unaffected ones (lettuce, broccoli, cucumber) when the common taxonomic category to which these products belong (‘legume’) is made salient to consumers. Interestingly, for the target food product (carrot), the risk perceptions were higher when the primed category was taxonomic (‘legume’) rather than script or goal-derived (‘soup’).
The second experimental study carried out in the UK found that risk communications involving typical exemplars of taxonomic categories (cod of the category ‘fish’) can lead to risk associations among other highly typical exemplars (e.g. haddock, tuna), while less typical exemplars (tilapia) can lead to risk associations among similarly untypical exemplars (e.g. pollock, swordfish). It was also found that more risk associations were made among food products of the same taxonomic category (exemplars of fish) than among products belonging to script categories (e.g. chips, potatoes, rice), and that the risk associations with food products belonging to script categories were driven by considerations of typicality. Results also indicated that framing such as episodic vs. thematic did not affect risk associations, but that episodic framing invoked more systematic processing of the risk information.
The third experimental study, which was carried out in Belgium, showed that certain familiar labels among consumers, like ‘organic’ or ‘omega-3’, can act as protective tags against negative risk associations. These labels had an overall positive effect on the safety perception of yoghurt compared to ‘plant sterols’ which were an unfamiliar additive. Moreover, heuristic rather than systematic information processing was associated with higher safety perceptions of the product.
The present series of studies conducted in Portugal, the UK and Belgium, can inform risk communication strategies in a number of ways. Firstly, the results from the Portuguese study draw attention to the fact that when a common category is emphasized, it is likely that risk associations will spread to products of the same category. The findings from both Portugal and the UK suggest that when a risk communication is couched in uncertainty, consumers are likely to make risk assumptions and risk associations using representative exemplars of the food category in question. The results from the Belgian study indicate that certain familiar tags such as organic or enriched with omega-3 can protect foods against negative risk associations. Interestingly, in the Belgian study, heuristic processing of food information led to higher perceptions of safety, while in the UK study heuristic processing let to lower risk associations. It could be argued that when a food product is affected and that food product has an organic or enriched equivalent, the consumers’ attention could be focused on the organic or enriched products to reduce any potential social amplification of the risk.

The third, and final, task in WP 3 (Task 3.3) explored explore consumers' responses to expert communications using an online deliberative tool, VizzataTM, and assessed the usefulness of these responses to experts, for subsequent information provision to consumers. Using the VizzataTM tool, developed within WP5 a series of qualitative studies were run to meet these objectives.
Experts who took part in the parallel expert study on the risks and benefits of red meat (the consumer study formed T5.2) were generally positive towards employing a deliberation and engagement tool with consumers. Overall, the experts’ ratings of VizzataTM were positive and suggest that VizzataTM can be used in exploring consumer concerns about food risks and benefits. In particular, the experts valued the unique value that VizzataTM could offer to understanding consumers’ questions about food-related issues. Overall, the experts’ questions and comments indicated that the experts were able to anticipate and reflect on the kind of reactions, both questions and comments, that consumers would have in relation to the food risks and benefits associated with red meat.
Regarding the first horsemeat VizzataTM study carried out in January 2013, consumers were mainly concerned that the claims on labels did not match the contents of the products. There was very little evidence of concern about health risks – although some wondered how government assurances about safety could be so conclusive given that the discovery of horsemeat was completely unexpected. The participants’ questions at Part 1 concerned five main areas: The routine procedure for testing meat products; How foods are traced to their sources; How cross-contamination happens; How long the situation had been going for; What would happen next and who would be held accountable.
Overall, the expert members commented positively on the horsemeat VizzataTM study results. However, experts raised questions about the representativeness of the sample. While 44 consumers cannot of course be considered representative of the larger public, the aim of the VizzataTM study was not to establish representativeness but rather to focus in-depth on the reasoning and concerns of consumers. Also, given that VizzataTM studies involve analysing the participants’ questions and comments and providing answers to the participants within a few days, it is not feasible to recruit large samples of participants. VizzataTM studies are more akin to focus groups where the aim is not to achieve representativeness but rather to gain deep insight into how consumers think and what information needs they have.
In s follow-up horsemeat study carried out in May 2013, the results indicated that trust had been breached - in the product and the producer or retailer, and that new purchasing practices focused on what is bought and where it is bought from. The consumers expressed concern about the implications of the horsemeat incident, in the sense that it might signal other malpractices in the food industry (the “tip of the iceberg”). Overwhelmingly, the horsemeat incident was treated as a trust issue - not as a safety one. Generally, the participants did not see a problem with horsemeat per se – rather that labelling did not reflect contents, thus echoing the results from the first horsemeat study. The results indicate that the horsemeat incident had high signal value – it crystallised diffuse concerns about product content, mismatch of content with labels, suspicions about food chain and of powerful supermarkets. 53% of the participants agreed: I am buying less products containing processed meat as a result of horsemeat being found in burgers and some ready meals. Those who agreed reported significantly lower levels of confidence in processed food containing meat than those who disagreed. Overall, the second horsemeat study indicated that the horsemeat incident had high signal value by crystallising diffuse concerns about product content, match of content with labels, and suspicions about food chain. There was a certain degree of erosion in the ability to make confident and ‘thought-less’ purchases.

WP4 - The role of information seeking in food risk/benefit communication
Workpackage 4 focused on consumer information seeking behaviour and aimed to provide insights into the determinants of information seeking, the channel forms used by consumers to seek information, the internet resources consumers actually used to find information, and the questions posed by consumers and the opportunities and barriers perceived by consumers and authorities to communicate with each other. These objectives were met through a series of studies which included online pan-European quantitative survey on consumer information seeking and the channels used for this purpose (n=7200; all participating countries) (Task 4.1 4.2) an observational study registering the actual consumer Internet information seeking behaviour by means of an innovative online tool (Task 4.3) and in-depth interviews among food authority communicators (Task 4.4).

The pan-European quantitative survey provided the data for task 3.1 4.1 and 4.2. Task 4.1 investigated the determinants of consumers’ finding of information in relation to the risks and the benefits of fresh vegetables and red meat. The choice for fresh vegetables was motivated by the historical context of the E-coli-crisis which took place about a full year before the survey at hand.

To investigate the main determinants of risk and benefit information seeking a theoretical model was formulated and evaluated through structural equation modelling. The result suggested that the essence of the main process leading to consumers’ finding information is that consumers who consider it to be important of be well informed, are more interested in information on food issues, which motives them to want additional information and subsequently to taking notice of and seeking such information in case they saw a news item. This seemed to be the case for risks as well as for benefits, and for fresh vegetables as well as red meat. Surprisingly it was the perceived importance of being generally well informed rather than the perceived relevance of being well informed about food issues that was the main determinant of interest in food issues, and subsequently taking notice of and seeking information on the risks and benefits of fresh vegetables and red meat.

Task 4.2 focused on understanding channel use, the patterns therein, and individual and situational characteristics that determine the information seeking strategy of the European consumer. A special focus was laid on the use of social media channels in the information seeking process. Measurement took place by presenting the participant with a vignette text and asking him/her how (s)he would respond. The results showed that there seemed to be two major strategies for consumers in Europe to find additional information on a food issue: taking notice of information that is published in the traditional mass media channels, and actively seeking information that is available on the Internet. Social media channels were rarely used to find information on food related issues. The information seeking strategy that the consumer would use was primarily dependent on age, country and individual characteristics such the participant’s general interest in food information, the perceived relevance of being informed and the way in which the participant is used to taking decisions.

The reported information seeking strategy proved to be independent of the situational characteristics such as the urgency of the situation (crisis versus chronic risk), the level of agreement among information sources (contested versus uncontested information) and prior discourse (risk discourse versus benefit discourse).
It was possible to define segments of consumers based on their inclination to use particular communication channels. Four consumer segments were distinguished with respectively ‘a high cross-channel inclination’ (24%), ‘an established channel inclination’ (31%), ‘a moderate cross-channel inclination’ (26%) and ‘a low cross-channel inclination’ (19%). Social media thus seems to act as a complementary information channel for a particular segment of European consumers, but it does not seem to be a substitute for traditional or online media channels.

The four segments had distinct psychological profiles. Focusing on the segments that used social media in conjunction with all other channels, it was found that consumers who showed an inclination to use social media in conjunction with other channels considered it more important to be well informed, were more in need for additional information, were more sensitive to risks in general and perceived the likelihood of a food incident in the future to be larger.

Task 4.3 related to the characterisation of the responsiveness of web-based information seeking strategies to web-based information provision. This study investigated how people search for information online. An innovative tool was developed that enabled monitoring the nature of online activity in response to a food risk or benefit scenario. This browser tracker was developed by White October, the SME that also developed Vizzata™. Mothers were recruited in the Netherlands, Spain and Latvia to take part in the research, and were asked to search on what was written on the Internet on the risks and benefits of organically grown products or genetically modified foods. Researchers looked at 1) how the mothers searched on the Internet (where, for how long, search terms), 2) how they evaluated their searches and their results in terms of easiness to find the information, usefulness, satisfaction and comprehensibility, 3) what their preferences were regarding source and website characteristics and 4) how the duration of their search for the answer to the query related to information processing, perceived capability of finding sought information, trust, and risk and benefit perceptions. Results showed that on average the participants searched for a 3 to 5 minutes in total before providing an answer to the query. They predominantly visited websites containing user generated information (social media) and news media sites. They also visited webpages on health and environment, webpages by a governmental authority and by food producers. Webpages by consumer organisations were hardly visited. There were considerable differences in visited websites by queries and by country. In the Netherlands and Spain, the participants were positive about their searches and their results, in Latvia they were on average neither positive, nor negative. On average, trust in sources was highest for consumer organisations and governmental authorities. The participants indicated to prefer websites that present concise information, have a clear design and navigation and present information that is personally relevant. The participants did not seem to particularly value consumer experiences, citations and references and pictures. Systematic processing was the only variable that predicted the duration of the search for the answer to the query, but for the query on organically grown products only.
This objective of task 4.4 was to examine the opportunities for consumers to ask questions relating to food risk/benefits from official bodies that have communication as their remit and will assess the significance of consumer questions to them. Understanding how food safety authorities respond to consumers enables institutions and official bodies to improve their public attention services, both in normal scenarios and in crisis situations. A total of 48 professionals from 31 organisations were interviewed. The communication procedures, the channels used by the organisation and consumers, and the information provided by each were studied.

Traditionally, the most used channels were telephone and letter, then email. Nowadays, there still is a group of consumers who prefer to telephone and make personal contact rather than to look at a website, such as the elderly and other consumers who are digitally unconnected. More recently, there has been a migration towards more Internet-based channels, especially social media. Social media represent a different and new way of communicating. They are not only used for one-sided communication, but also for interactive purposes: to receive and respond to consumer queries and comments. Although interaction with consumers might not be a prime task or goal for many food safety organisations, these organisations indicate to try to meet the needs of consumers for information.

Overall, the organisations considered the channels they used to be safe, sufficient and effective in terms of the resources invested versus ensuring access to quality information.

This research identified several barriers and opportunities faced by organisations in communicating information on food related issues to consumers. The major opportunities provided by social media mentioned by the participants were:
• a change in image from a formal authority to a group of helpful employees,
• a higher level of engagement with the public and a higher level of willingness among the public to use the organisation as an information source,
• the opportunity to share large amounts of content,
• the opportunity to reach a wider audience,
• the opportunity to learn what topics and questions are important for consumers and
• the opportunity to educate consumers through posts and interactions.

The following barriers were mentioned by the participants:
• lack of human resources,
• lack of financial resources,
• lack of expertise in the use of social media, and the inability to establish structures that could enable the organisations to use social media as a tool,
• consumer expectation of a rapid response regarding an issue that needs time to be resolved properly,
• awareness that the broad audience to their publicly available responses could create panic or anxiety among consumers and
• ‘thoughtless’ statements by consumers.

Responding through social media in times of a food crisis is perceived to be a challenge, especially with respect to Twitter and Facebook. Consumers are allegedly expecting instant replies to their questions, but the organisation’s resources are limited, which means that it may take some time to prepare an adequate answer to the question. Overall, a key finding in WP4 was that there were profound differences between the countries in information seeking. These differences related to the intensity of information seeking and the channels used to seek information. Consumers in the participating countries in southern Europe were much more likely to seek information on food related issues. Those participants were also much more likely to use social media to seek this information.

WP5 - The role of deliberation in developing risk and benefit communication strategies
The hub of WP5 has been the development and deployment of a digital deliberation tool: formerly called EnGauge but as the commercialisation of the tool became a possibility it was renamed and trademarked as VizzataTM. VizzataTM aims to facilitate efficient and effective deliberative engagement on line. This process involves engagement between two parties. The first is often those that are responsible for developing policy or practice or for communication and the second is often with a subset of the general public. Depending on the situation they might be citizens/consumers or patients etc. This engagement is generally mediated by a research team. VizzataTM may be used more explicitly within a research context, as was the case within FoodRisC, and as such the engagement was between the research team and consumers drawn from the general public. Task 5.1 was concerned with the technical development of the tool and the subsequent tasks in WP5 were concerned with testing the tool (Tasks 5.2 and 5.3 as well as Task 3.3 in WP3).
The aim of Task 5.2 was to investigate how consumers deliberate around information provided to them online on food risks and benefits using VizzataTM. The study in this task focused on risks and benefits associated with red meat, with deliberation being measured mainly in terms of the questions and comments the participants left in relation to the study material. The results of this study 6 dimensions of deliberation: clarification (asking for more factual information or details in relation to the information provided); contextualization (turning the abstract into the concrete, or qualifying the information through references to location, practices, or constraints); extrapolation (making links to similar or opposite examples, contexts, foods, or formulating cause-effect and if-then relations); elaboration (expanding the ideas in the communication by bringing examples from personal experience or specific instances); comparing the communication to baseline knowledge (comparing what one knows with the information provided); and challenging the communication (expressing frustration, surprise, amusement, or disbelief at the communication on red meat).
Additional measures of deliberation included the time spent on the information pages (the content testers) and the number of times the participants clicked on glossary terms (i.e. highlighted words or expressions offering additional information). The content testers that elicited the most questions and comments were the ones showing the synthetic meat video and the red meat news article, respectively. Mutagenic and avoid were the most frequently accessed glossary terms, while carbon footprint and sustainable were the least. We termed the respondents who left questions and comments as active deliberators, and those who did not, as passive deliberators. The active deliberators were also the ones that accessed more glossary terms and spent more time on the content testers. Parents left significantly more questions and comments than non-parents. The respondents who perceived the information in the study as complex spent less time reading the information pages. The participants who reported a general avoidance of negative information about red meat produced fewer questions and comments, and accessed fewer glossary terms. Higher positive perceptions of red meat (in terms of nutritional value, tastiness, etc.) were a significant predictor of leaving questions and comments and of accessing glossary terms. Leaving questions and comments and accessing glossary terms were significantly related to higher levels systematic information processing and with lower levels of heuristic processing. Overall, these relationships in the data are indicative of deliberation. The present findings demonstrate the feasibility of VizzataTM as a tool for eliciting deliberation online, and show that food risks and benefits are topics which lend themselves easily to consumer online deliberation.

The focus of Task 5.3 was on the comparison of the outcomes of online and off line deliberative engagement around food risk and benefit information. Using the same food risk and benefit communication issues as in Task 5.2 a series of 6 focus groups were conducted in each of the three countries in which the online VizzataTM study had been carried out. In total, 109 consumers participated in 18 focus groups in Portugal, Belgium, and the UK, the number of participants per group ranging from 5 to 7. Of the 109 participants, 53.2% were female. The participants’ ages ranged from 21 to 65, Mean = 39.75 SD = 10.43 Median = 40. The focus groups participants’ discourses indicated processes of deliberation very similar to those identified among the VizzataTM participants, e.g. clarification, contextualization, extrapolation, elaboration, etc., as well as similar themes in relation to the content of deliberation, e.g. ‘synthetic meat may not be safe’, ‘the media article on red meat is worrying’, ‘everything is good in moderation’, etc. However, the social interaction among the focus group participants enabled other processes of deliberation: claiming a meat-eater identity, using personal stories as sources of legitimate knowledge, comparing diet and health to that of parents and grandparents, and using commonplaces (e.g. ‘everything is a risk’) in reasoning around food risks. The social interaction in the focus groups also enabled more elaborate and diverse discussions, which reflected additional patterns in thinking about risks and benefits in comparison to VizzataTM: the belief that a healthy life is not necessarily a good life, a nostalgic discourse about how food and diet were better in the past, a general mistrust in the sources of risk and benefit information, and a particular value attached to red meat not only as a food but also as a treat (e.g. steak).
The social interaction in the focus groups enabled the exploration of arguments that participants used to account for their reasoning or point of view, and it provided insight into the operation of group and social processes in the articulation of knowledge. By contrast, the VizzataTM online deliberation does not allow such aspects to become apparent during individual deliberation. However, that is not to say that social interaction is a necessary condition for deliberation: as we observed in the VizzataTM study, the consumers were able to engage with the information presented and to deliberate in various ways (e.g. by contextualizing red meat consumption, by elaborating on their practices, etc.). Given the complex nature of social interaction, it may be that under certain circumstances, particularly when communicators wish to test a risk or a benefit communication, social interaction may prove to be a hindrance rather than an advantage as it can shift the focus of the participants’ attention away from the communication itself. Indeed, it was noted that in the focus groups the participants’ talk diverged from the topic in the stimulus materials more often than in the VizzataTM study. While this may provide insight into how the public make sense of risk/benefit information, divergence may be of little use for communicators who aim to refine their messages or to improve their communication strategies. Therefore, focus groups are not always the best method to choose. Furthermore, the focus groups method may be less able than VizzataTM to elicit questions in relation to the essence and format of the risk/benefit communication. As it was noticed in the focus groups, the participants formulated fewer questions than the VizzataTM participants, therefore, VizzataTM may be better enabled than focus groups to provide insight into the questions that consumers have in relation to food issues, particularly when the aims of the communicators is to test a benefit or a risk message.

VizzataTM can offer a simpler and more practical solution to gaining access to what consumers think about risk and benefit communications. Focus groups can offer richer insights into how consumers think about food issues, as the social interaction facilitates longer and more elaborate discussions, however in some circumstances such richness may pose a challenge to communicators operating under constraints of time and resources. By contrast, VizzataTM can reveal consumer reasoning around food issues with minimal involvement from risk communicators and with a lower need for data transcription and analysis. Most crucially, VizzataTM can test risk and benefit messages more effectively than focus groups as the lack of social interaction enables the consumers to focus solely on the body of the communication rather than on the interpersonal exchanges and multiple points of view.

WP6 - Development of common approaches and tools for optimal food risk/benefit communication in Europe
Within WP6, the work focused on development of an e-resource to assist a range of professional communities and stakeholders, in their decision making and production of responsive, authoritative and meaningful communications of food-related risks and benefits, in different scenarios of food risk communication. The collection of inputs from WPs 1 through 5 allowed the identification of their implications for tasks 6.1 through 6.4. In addition to this information, existent food risks and benefits communication resources were also included (e.g. the European Food Safety Authority’s - EFSA – document “When food is cooking up a storm”, containing guidelines for food risk communication).

In the development stage, all the contributions from the planning stage were considered and included in four key tools developed in four different WP6 tasks: 6.1. Media Channel Selection Tool; 6.2 Vizzata Tool; 6.3 Process Design Tool; 6.4. Method Selection Tool. This stage included the tools content and structure development, by building information on various specific themes associated with each tool (content) and how they would relate to each other (structure). This took into consideration the information collectd in the planning stage, namely the results from previous workpackages - WP2, WP3, WP4 and WP5 - as provided by their task leaders and existent resources from outside the project. Moreover, the food risk and benefit communication framework developed in WP1 was integrated within the work done in task 6.3. This provided systematic guidance to assist with the development of coherent food risks/benefits communication strategies, taking into consideration the context of their implementation and the associated communication goal. Apart from content, other aspects of the tools development included the creation and inclusion of dynamic and practical resources, in the form of European case studies, practical guidelines (“How to”; “Try it out”) and interactive decision aid tools (e.g. method selection decision aid). These resources and content were developed by the WP6 project partners accompanied by consultation of the FoodRisC Stakeholders advisory board (including stakeholders from European and national food safety authorities and other relevant stakeholders in food risk and benefit communication) and also from the other project partners not directly included in this WP. In addition, experts external to the FoodRisC consortium, were involved in providing feedback to specific features of some of the WP6 tasks. One example refers to the method selection tool, which included short questionnaires and contacts with experts in research methods, who provided feedback that allowed a ranking of methods based on research goals and available resources (see task 6.4 development summarized below; the complete information with regard to this, can be found in D6.6).

The outputs resulting from the development stage were presented to stakeholders/potential end-users of the FoodRisC toolkit (e.g. representatives of European and national food safety agencies), at an evaluation workshop in February 2013. In addition to the workshop, further feedback was collected through face-to-face conversations with stakeholders in each of the FoodRisC partner’s countries and through web based surveys, across the partners countries. The feedback gathered provided additional inputs to the subsequent final stage of their development: the tools integration. The workshop held also marked the beginning of the first contacts aimed at developing protocols, either for policy makers and other food risk/benefit communicators to use the outputs of the FoodRisC WP6 as a whole - in the form of a web based resource centre – or specific tools associated with it, as in the case of the VizzataTM tool. The development of protocols is expected to be carried on after the end of the project, as part of a sustainability strategy to maintain the e-resource centre after the project ends.

Finally, in the integration phase, based on the stakeholders feedback and in order to accomplish the WP6 goal of creating a toolkit, rather than developing the four tools separately, they were integrated across six sections. This was done as part of the development of a web based resource centre - the e-resource for food risks and benefits communication – including these six sections: “Evaluate your situation”; “Understand your audience”; “Create your message”; “Media channels”; “Monitor communications”; “Public involvement”. The Channel Selection tool (task 6.1) was integrated as part of the “Media channels”, “Monitor communications” and “Understand your audience” sections. The VizzataTM tool (task 6.2) was integrated as part of the “Public involvement” section and as a standalone website (associated with this tool). The Process Design tool was integrated across the “Evaluate your situation”; “Understand your audience”, “Create your message” and “Public involvement” sections. Finally, the Method Selection tool was integrated in the “Understand your audience” and “Monitor communications” sections. The outputs of this integration phase can be found on D6.6 and online at http://resourcecentre.foodrisc.org

Potential Impact:
The last thirty years have witnessed growing attention to the question of how best to communicate risk and benefit in relation to food (Renn 2008). The primary aim of communicating food-related information is to inform and/or educate consumers in order to improve their knowledge, and change their perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs, in the hope that this will bring about behaviour modifications that are in line with key health or safety-related recommendations. Good communication practice seeks to bridge the divides between scientific experts, policy makers, health practitioners, industry marketers, and consumers. Very little work has been done examining the implications of the explosion of new media and web technologies for food risk/benefit communication. This growth in new social media offers particular potential for improving the communication of food risk and benefit but must be considered alongside the classical media channels, the more traditional role of journalists as well as those whose access to new media is limited. The EU-funded FoodRisC project was developed to address these issues and to provide evidence-based knowledge and recommendations for effective and efficient communication of food risk/benefit issues.
The results of this project have furthered the knowledge we have on how best to communicate with the public on food risk/benefit issues across Europe. The results of the FoodRisC project demonstrate that how consumers perceive both risks and benefits depend on a number of factors, with risks being weighed more heavily than benefits. For example, the predominant outcome causing people to weigh risks more heavily than benefits was related to expected negative health consequences. Where consumers are appreciative of the multidimensional aspect of food risks and benefits, it would seem that they consider a much smaller pool of information when making a personal decision. Food safety authorities and risk communicators could benefit from taking into account the weight consumers give to different types of food risk and benefit messages when designing communications for the public. It was also revealed that while there is an abundance of information available, it is important to understand that more information does not necessarily mean that consumers are better informed. For various reasons consumers might be interested in finding out information on a food-related issue. Therefore, bombarding the consumer with information is not necessarily the best approach to ensuring a message is heard or understood. The potential impact of the FoodRisC project relates also to the channels for communicating to the public. Food safety authorities and risk communicators are recommended to recognise that social media is used as a source of information by the public and to use their resources to inform and guide information seekers to information about food risks.

Social media offers the opportunity to communicators to have a voice on many different social media channels, and in effect, showing a strong presence in delivering information when most needed and when most expected. If consumers perceive that communicators are making every effort to get information across, this may build credibility and trust in the message and the communicator. Younger consumers may be more likely to pay attention to food risk messages on this channel, particularly if delivered in a manner known to be effective (e.g. making use of viral marketing techniques such as competitions or infotainment).

The potential impact of social media will likely increase in the future as a growing percentage of the population is raised within a social media environment. Neglecting consumer attempts for deliberation can even result in others taking over the role of the communicator and providing potentially inaccurate information to the public. In order to limit the spread of unreliable information, it will be necessary for food safety authorities and risk communicators to actively engage with users online and to correct any fallacies before further amplification or attenuation of a risk can occur.

The FoodRisC project has pioneered the way to providing comprehensive evidence on the role played by social and traditional channels in the communication of food risks and benefits and the synergy or relationships between them. This research is essential in this era of modern communications where the proliferation of social media channels, e.g. blogs, microblogs and Facebook provides the public with a new means for receiving, and importantly, providing information. In addition, the emergence of smartphones and tablets means that access to the Internet is not limited by time or location. Social media therefore offers an approach to communicating which enforces many of the key principles of effective risk communication; however, use of social media as a communication channel is not without its challenges. The findings from this research have enabled identification of barriers to effective food risk communication and proposed recommendations on possible steps to overcome these barriers. If these are recognised by communicators it will ensure best use of social media for communication of food risk/benefit issues.

The work of this project, as well as impacting on regulators and those with an official risk communication remit is likely to impact on journalists and how food risk/benefit issues are communicated by the media. This project has highlighted the role of the consumer as a ‘source’ of information. Food risk/benefit communicators must be aware that the ability to report or comment on news is no longer solely the remit of professionally employed journalists working for media organisations. Should they now wish to, anyone and everyone can write and disseminate news as a ‘citizen journalist’. In fact news media outlets now actively seek breaking news and comments from ‘citizen journalists’ to supplement their own sources. Furthermore, professional journalists themselves and online news sources no longer communicate solely via classical/traditional media channels, but have their own social media accounts. The media are a particularly important stakeholder group as they are involved not only in dissemination of the message to a wider audience but are also involved in the interpretation and framing of messages. Furthermore, this group has the potential to act as an ‘agenda builder’ and to impart influence on its audience. Therefore, every effort should be undertaken by those involved in risk/benefit communication to ensure their message is communicated in a manner which meets the needs of ‘key influencers’ within the media, in particular the most influential professional journalists and expert bloggers. By doing this, one can assume that the potential for subjectivity and error will decrease and that onward communication of an accurate and balanced message to a wider audience will ensue. This project also provides recommendations to official agencies, as the primary sources of information, to enable accurate reporting of their message by the media, as well as recommendations for ensuring best use of social media by such organisations.

Traditionally within the food safety arena, information about scientific uncertainty was not transmitted to the public. There was a presumption that they would not fully understand such technical details, and thus, such information would only serve to confuse and alarm (Frewer, 2004). However, the ethos of openness and transparency in the risk assessment, management, and communication domain which is being emphasised in policy circles (FSA, 2000) means that increasingly consumers will be exposed to more and more information, including that of scientific uncertainty. Findings from research carried out within Work Package 3 (WP3) shows the importance of understanding the different impacts that can be felt when different types of uncertainty are communicated. This research showed that consumers may react more negatively towards uncertainty, providing further support for the need to differentiate between difference sources of uncertainty. It is also evident from this research that conflicting information perceived by consumers about food and nutrition communication has the potential to cause negative appraisals which could be detrimental for communicators, but also for consumers if they opt to disregard future advice as a result of scepticism and mistrust about confusing information.

One of the most striking results of the investigations into information seeking across Europe was the differences between the countries. These differences related to the risk and benefit perceptions of the participants, the way they responded to information, the level of information seeking and systematic processing, the communication channels they would use, and the trust they expressed in particular information sources. There were differences in all relevant aspects that determine the impact of food risk and benefit communications. The implication of the country differences is that a food communication strategy designed at the European level should be adjusted to the country in which it will be applied. What might work in one country, might very well not work in other countries.

In one VizzataTM study, public reactions to the benefits and risks (both nutritional and non-nutritional) of consuming red meat were explored. In light of the patterns of consumer reasoning observed (and in a series of focus groups conducted in a parallel study) it was noted that communicators should be aware that the public interpret food information in light of their personal lives and practices. Thus it is necessary to be aware of, and to engage with, consumers’ own interpretative frameworks of food risks and benefits. These include the central importance of trust, perceptions of naturalness and notions of ‘moderate consumption’.

The communication of healthy eating messages is likely to take place in the context of a set of beliefs that a good life is not simply a healthy life. The FoodRisC project has demonstrated that consumers feel the need to control red meat intake and to have a balanced diet, whilst at the same time expressing preferences for leading a good life and enjoying red meat. This was the case even when cooking unhealthily, especially in the contexts of celebration and special occasions. A ‘good life’ includes enjoyment, self-indulgence and at least occasional excess. Food communication takes place in the context of such beliefs and the associated practices and communicators should consider the challenge of how to be relevant against such a backdrop.

Communicating balanced information about food is a difficult task. The widespread use of the internet and the emergence of social media allows for an increased level of interaction between the public and communicators. Although the integration of social media in public or private communication strategies might worry some food policy makers and communicators, results of the VizzataTM study confirm that engaging into a dialogue with the public can lead to better informed and engaged consumers. Therefore, it is also necessary to reflect on what motivates or discourages consumers to engage in dialogue. A task that is perceived as too complex can lead to a sense of incompetence and the situation of not being able to understand information. Results indicated that participants who perceived information as too complex might therefore prefer to avoid this instead of feeling incompetent in dealing with the information.

The research of the FoodRisC project culminated in the development of a toolkit for communicators, based on sound scientific evidence. The FoodRisC e-resource centre for food risk and benefit communications includes six components aimed at providing input for communication professionals and policy makers depending on their communication goals, needs, and available resources. Overall, this e-resource provides relevant and usable information and guidelines for a range of professional communities and stakeholders, in different scenarios of food risks and benefits communication, and suggests concrete strategies for action. This was developed both for experts in the field of food risk or benefit communication who can use it to extend their knowledge in specific areas of expertise, e.g. in the use of social media channels for communication, and for novices whose supervisors can use this as a training resource. It should also be of interest to academics and researchers as a teaching resource.

As the aim is for a dynamic and evolving e-resource centre, the plan is for its content to be updated as new research and evidence-based knowledge emerges in the field of risk and benefit communication. In this regard, it has the potential to become a community of content, built around key stakeholders in the food risks or benefits domain. Accordingly, it can integrate various resources originating from within the European Union and outside it, and thus, provide more effective dissemination of scientific knowledge among stakeholders. It has the potential to have a wide and positive impact in risk or benefit communication practice and research, and for a coherent and integrated European-wide communication strategy to encourage healthy eating messages in general or during specific crisis and non-crisis situations.


Dissemination and exploitation of results
From the start of the project, the FoodRisC team have proactively promoted FoodRisC news and activities from the project among the target groups: opinion leaders/regulators, media, food and drinks industries, RTD performers, consumer associations and society. Dissemination of project information has been to a wider audience of relevant stakeholders at a European level, including policy makers, opinion leaders, food and drink industry and SMEs, communication agencies, as well as other communicators, scientists, professional associations, consumer organisations and NGOs, media, and the broader public. The communications planning was developed using partner input and from the outset it was apparent that new media should play a large part also in dissemination activities as it did so in the rest of the project. The first dissemination task undertaken was the creation of the FoodRisC Communication and Dissemination plan and creation of the project identity produced in close collaboration with the consortium partners. Part of defining the communication priorities for FoodRisC involved developing a corporate image. A visual identity was finalised in August 2010. The identity has provided visibility and recognisability of the project throughout its communication efforts. The EU flag was included on communication materials. Several options of the FoodRisC logo were presented at the kick-off meeting. The feedback was then used to work towards the final logo, which is illustrated in Figure 2. The soft green word ‘food’ signifies ‘benefit’ vs. the harder grey RisC. The speech bubbles convey the two-way conversation of new media. The style and use of gradients give the sense of social media. In addition, a PowerPoint template and poster were developed which have been used by partners when promoting the project. FoodRisC videos of TV news clippings about food crises for use by consortium partners in their presentations about the project were also produced.


Figure 2: The final FoodRisC logo

A specific project web site was developed by partners EUFIC and White October during the first months of the project. The website (www.foodrsic.org) was launched in December 2010 after a few technical problems before launch (see Figure 3 for a screenshot). It is designed to be the main information resource on the project, describing the project objectives and phases, including details of partners, objectives, work areas, main results, publications, links to other projects, etc. As the project has a focus on social media, it was also a priority to have links to these activities from the website.


Figure 3: Screenshot of public FoodRisC website (www.foodrisc.org)

Since January 2011 to September 2013 the FoodRisC website has achieved 40,594 page views of which 30,738 were unique page views. Visitors were shown to spend an average of 1 minute 14 seconds on a page, or set of pages. From January 2012 to September 2013 the FoodRisC project has received 477 mentions on Twitter, blogs and other online websites. Source: Focus Business Communication Limited media monitoring reports. In addition, from October 2010 to September 2013 there have been 73 posts published on the FoodRisC Facebook page. Source: Facebook. On 6 June 2012, a summary of the FoodRisC project research activities from 2010 to 2012 was published on the FoodRisC website. It has received 264 page views and visitors spent an average of 1 minute and 42 seconds on the page. Source: Google Analytics.

Two leaflets were produced during the FoodRisC project. The first was a generic leaflet (2,500 copies printed) that introduced the main aims and objectives of the project and is available for download at http://www.foodrisc.org/foodrisc-publishes-new-leaflet_45.html The second, a final leaflet was produced and summarised the results from five work packages of the FoodRisC project – 2,000 hard copies printed. The leaflet is available for download at http://www.foodrisc.org/what-are-the-main-results-of-the-foodrisc-project_65.html and has also been translated into 11 languages which are Dutch, Czech, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak and Spanish. Both leaflets have been distributed at a number of conferences including the European Nutrition Conference in Madrid in October 2011, the final FoodRisC/European Food Safety Authority conference ‘New Challenges when Communicating Food-Related Issues’ , and the International Congress of Nutrition in Granada, Spain, from Sunday 15th September 2013 to Friday 20th September 2013.

On 30 April 2013, EUFIC published a Science Brief article called, ‘Differences in social media and traditional media in reporting a food crisis’. The Science Brief was based on a research paper published by FoodRisC researchers, ‘Food crisis coverage by social and traditional media: A case study of the 2008 Irish dioxin crisis’, that appeared in the journal, Public Understanding of Science on 1 February 2013. It can be viewed at:
http://www.eufic.org/page/en/show/latest-science-news/page/LS/fftid/Differences_in_social_media_and_traditional_media_in_reporting_a_food_crisis/

On 29 October 2013, EUFIC published a Science Brief article called, ‘Proactive social media strategies can enable positive engagement with target audiences and impact government policy’. The Science Brief was based on a research paper published by FoodRisC researchers,
‘Social Media and Government Responsiveness: the Case of the UK Food Standards Agency, that appeared in Electronic Government, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 8074: 310-321.

It can be viewed at: http://www.eufic.org/page/en/show/latest-science-news/page/LS/fftid/Proactive_social_media_strategies_can_enable_positive_engagement_with_target_audiences_and_impact_government_policy/

Six podcasts and one final webinar were recorded for dissemination purposes during the FoodRisC project. The podcasts have included an overview of the project by Professor Patrick Wall, an overview of the development of research tools during the project by Professor Julie Barnett and Ms Kate Trollope who is a memebr of the the FoodRisC Scientific Advisory Board. She shared her thoughts on the challenges of communicating food benefits and risks to consumers and how easy it is to lose the public’s trust due to slow, inaccurate, or partial information. The podcasts are all available on http://www.foodrisc.org/news_7.html.

During the lifetime of the project four press releases were issued. The first was to announce the launch of the FoodRisC website. The press release was also translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and further distributed by partners. The press release was picked up by various media outlets, for example Cordis, Food Monitor Germany, Italian TV Primo Tempo Focus. On 3 December 2012, a second press release was published on the FoodRisC website called: ‘FoodRisC Press Release: Social media to improve food risk and benefit communication’. It summarised a paper called ‘The use of social media in food risk and benefit communication’, which was published in the leading international journal, Trends in Food Science and Technology. The paper was written by FoodRisC researchers from Ghent University and University College Dublin, and a communications company in the UK. The third was published on 20 February 2013, titled, ‘Health risks were not consumers’ first concern over horse meat contamination’ published on the FoodRisC website. It highlighted the findings of a research study by FoodRisC researchers from Brunel University and University College Dublin on consumer opinions to the horsemeat issue. On 12 September 2013, the final FoodRisC project press release was published during the FoodRisC/European Food Safety Authority Conference ‘New Challenges when Communicating Food-Related Issues’, where researchers presented key research outcomes, including the FoodRisC e-resource centre (http://resourcecentre.foodrisc.org/) on food risk and benefit communication. The e-resource centre is also available on EUFIC’s homepage at the top left-hand corner under the title, ‘Food Risk Communication’ (http://www.eufic.org/index/en/show/consumers/). The press release was titled: FoodRisC project facilitates communication on food risks and benefits. The press release copy was published on the news service AlphaGalileo to 7,000 media users and announced on the FoodRisC BaseCamp email service to our entire consortium, in order for them to promote it. The press release was also distributed to EUFIC’s journalist database of over 1,400 journalists by email.

EUFIC also created a section on www.eufic.org which presents the FoodRisC project (http://www.eufic.org/article/en/show/eu-initiatives/rid/foodrisc/). EUFIC is a multi-lingual website that received over 535,000 visitors per month on average and 6.4 million visits in 2012, making EUFIC an excellent dissemination multiplier. Two articles in the EUFIC ‘Food Today’ newsletter were published and sent out to over 46,000 subscribers in 11 different languages. Additional opportunities were utilised to disseminate the work and findings from the FoodRisC research including attendance at a number of scientific conferences including the Global Food Safety Conference 2012 in Dublin, Ireland, the Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting in San Francisco, US, in December 2012, the European Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meetings in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The FoodRisC partner URV held an international workshop, ‘Communicating Food for Health Benefits’ in November 2012, on how communication could be incorporated within the European Food Research Agenda. For a complete list of dissemination activities please refer to the Periodic Activity Reports of Period 1 and 2.

The final FoodRisC conference entitled ‘'New Challenges when Communicating Food-Related Issues’ was held on 12 September 2013 in Brussels. In total, 140 registrants attended the FoodRisC/EFSA conference, including speakers, panel members and moderators. Attendees included senior communications and policy advisors, consultants, EU food law advisors, heads of unit of the European Commission, lawyers, journalists, academics and health professionals. Conference participants came from a wide selection of business and economic sectors, such as universities, consulting firms, non-government organisations, national food safety authorities, food and drink industries, multinational life science and material science companies, the European Commission, food associations, consumer organisations, news websites, trade unions, research centres, veterinary organisations, agricultural departments and retail federations. The conference participants came from the following counties: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The conference highlighted key research results from the past three-and-a-half years of the FoodRisC project. To ensure dynamic and widespread promotion of the conference content, attendees were encouraged to use the hashtag #foodrisc when tweeting about the conference. The final project press release was published on the project website and received 648 unique views. The average amount of time that a visitor spent viewing the page was 3 minutes and 24 minutes (source: Google Analytics). As mentioned above, it was also distributed by email to EUFIC’s journalist database of 1,400 and published on the news wire service Alpha Galileo to over 7,000 media contacts.
FoodRisC researchers presented the results of qualitative research of in-depth interviews, web-based surveys of over 6,000 consumers from nine European countries, studies of recent food crises (including the 2008 Irish dioxin crisis in pork, the 2010 German dioxin crisis in pork, chicken and eggs, and the 2011 German EHEC crisis in sprouted seeds), and tools developed by the project. The tools presented were the online VizzataTM tool (www.vizzata.com) which enables communicators to explore consumer responses to new, conflicting or uncertain messages, to obtain insights and facilitate future communications. Another tool developed by FoodRisC was an e-resource centre (http://resourcecentre.foodrisc.org) based on the research and stakeholder feedback carried out within the project. It provides information, guidelines, cases studies, tips, practical examples and research tools for policy makers, food authorities, food industry, non-governmental organisations and others involved in food risk and benefit communication. The online centre is designed to facilitate effective and coherent communication on issues related to food risks and benefits. Presentations at the conference were done by FoodRisC researchers and external guest speakers were also invited from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), London School of Economics, City University London, Science Media Centre, as well as two speakers based in the US from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and International Food Information Council (IFIC). In all, 15 presentations were made throughout the conference day on food risk and benefit topics.


List of Websites:
www.foodrisc.org

Consortium contact details:
1. University College Dublin. Contact: Patrick Wall Patrick.wall@ucd.ie
2. University of Surrey. Contact: Monique Raats m.raats@surrey.ac.uk
3. University of Twente. Contact: Margot Kuttschreuter Margot.Kuttschreuter@utwente.nl
4. Food and Veterinary Service of Latvia. Contact: Dace Vilcane dace.vilcane@pvd.gov.lv
5. Universiteit Gent – Ghent University. Contact: Wim Verbeke wim.verbeke@ugent.be
6. Centro de Investigação e de Intervenção Social. Contact: Luisa Lima luisa.lima@iscte.pt
7. Focus Business Communications. Contact: Adrian Moss adrian.moss@focusbiz.co.uk
8. European Food Information Council. Contact: Josephine Wills jo.wills@eufic.org
9. White October. Contact: Dave Fletcher dave@whiteoctober.co.uk
10. Free University of Berlin. Contact: Markus Lehmkuhl kuhle@zedat.fu-berlin.de
11. Hylobates Consulting Srl. Contact: Luca Bucchini lucabucchini@hylobates.it
12. Asterisc Communication Research Group, Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Contact: Jordi Farre Coma jordi.farre@urv.cat
13. Brunel University. Contact: Julie Barnett j.c.barnett@bath.ac.uk