The survey, the results of which were released to a backdrop of Prime Minister John Key’s current visit to China, was conducted by Massey University in the northwest Chinese city of Lanzhou.
It showed that New Zealand’s food products are currently regarded as carrying a greater food safety risk than foods from many other countries, including Australia and the US.
Some 28% of the 531 participants rated New Zealand’s dairy products as “not very safe”, which is a significantly higher percentage than products from Australia (14.8%), Canada (14.8%), the US, (13.2%) and the European Union (12.5%).
According to the university, the survey was conducted in October last year, two months after Fonterra’s botulism scare, which sparked a global recall of infant formula but turned out to be a false alarm.
Steve Flint, professor of food safety and microbiology at Massey, said that the Fonterra scare was likely to have influenced the results. “If this is true, then this demonstrates the power of media publicity in influencing people’s trust in food safety.”
As such, Flint said, the Kiwi prime minister will have to generate positive media coverage within China as he seeks to restore confidence in New Zealand’s dairy exports during his visit.
“In New Zealand we pride ourselves on our reputation as a provider of safe food to the world. Our economy is based on this reputation,” said Flint.
“China is one of our biggest export markets and we have long been of the opinion that the Chinese trust New Zealand products. If this is not the case, then we have to reassess our international standing when it comes to how our customers view the safety of our food.”
Flint said that the researchers will conduct a similar survey in the future to determine how New Zealand’s reputation as a trusted supplier of food is trending in China.