Networks that inspire: the European Food Information Council
Are processed food products as harmful as people say? Does caffeine increase the risk of heart disease? When you read food labels, do you really understand what you’re about to consume? We all have doubts about food and nutrition, but not everyone consults reliable sources. The aim of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is to provide scientific, reliable and understandable information on these topics and help people make healthier choices in their daily lives.
Consumers have always been enthusiastic to learn more about food, but during the COVID-19 pandemic this factor has become more important than ever. According to Dr. Laura Fernández, Managing Director of the EUFIC, the pandemic exposed the enormous need to counter the amount of misinformation presented on social networks and in search engines with reliable sources of information. “It was a very strong motivation for our team and encouraged us to work hard to provide information on COVID-19 and food, and thus alleviate the concerns of many people about how to prevent the disease”. Her contribution during the pandemic was made based on two pillars: firstly, reporting on hygiene measures in terms of the purchase and consumption of food; and secondly, giving details on proper nutrition to strengthen the immune system.
Communicating in the field of food safety and quality, health, and nutrition
The nonprofit organization is facing a great challenge, which is to communicate scientific information appealingly to the media, health and nutrition professionals, and to those that work in education, in such a way that the general public can understand it. Its aim is to inspire and promote healthier and more sustainable options for food and lifestyle so that people can live a healthier life because they know how to do so.
In times of misinformation, we face two problems: firstly, the sheer volume of information available online and people trusting the information provided by their network; and secondly, that not everyone can differentiate a right answer from a wrong one. This is very worrying, especially when people’s health is at stake.
A new obstacle is also added to this. According to Dr. Fernández, nowadays consumers’ trust in sources, science and institutions is somewhat diminished. “We are talking about a time when conspiracy theories are rampant and where opinions replace evidence, and that is difficult to combat and requires concerted action by different stakeholders and organizations”. But they understand that seeking reliable information is only part of the solution.
The organization is trying to encourage consumers to develop more of a critical mind so that they can distinguish between reliable and unreliable information for themselves. “Misinformation spreads much faster than reliable information because it has great echoing power. Part of our job is to help the general public understand how to assess scientific evidence, identify limitations and to understand that one single study is not a universal remedy”.
In the throes of transition towards a new governance
The organization that had begun 25 years ago with the work of a single person without offering an online service, eventually became a prestigious baseline network and is actively involved in projects funded by the European Union, such as FIT4FOOD 2030, which had an extraordinary impact. At present, the EUFIC is in the midst of a transition towards a new governance. Initially, it only relied on the participation of the food industry. However, since 2017 the organization has worked hard to involve other stakeholders, such as research organizations, social networks specialists, institutions that bring together health professionals, civil society organizations and universities from different parts of Europe. Among the organizations that joined recently are World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians (EFAD).
Thus, it is possible to have specialists from different areas and take into account different perspectives to assess each subject from every possible angle, defining priorities and identifying the concerns of consumers. “We would like to continue to expand this participation in order to also act as a contact platform to discuss communication problems with the various stakeholders in a neutral and open manner. We know that in order to develop a greater understanding it’s essential to create discussions about different topics among people with very divergent positions. This duty can be carried out by our networks and members”, adds the director of the organization.