Consumer health protection is a key task for the state!

For the vast majority of Germans consumer health protection is an important, key task that should be assumed by the state. This is one of the results of a representative survey commissioned by the agency Leipziger & Partner and carried out by Leipzig University and the independent market research institute, Kontur 21 GmbH, at the end of 2004 on behalf of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). People also expect measures designed to protect consumers to be founded on scientifically-based risk assessment. At the same time, the interviewees call for the state institutions to provide comprehensive information about potential health risks.  

A representative sample of 1,200 people selected from the population and 400 experts including scientists, politicians from the committees of the Bundestag and regional parliaments responsible for consumer protection, media and association representatives were interviewed. The survey was part of the Corporate Identity Project of the recently founded BfR. The goal was to obtain insight into the relevance of consumer health protection for individuals and how they would like to see this regulated. In the opinion of both laypersons and experts, consumer health protection also involves monitoring the safety and quality of foods. This survey also threw light on what people know about the organisation of consumer health protection in Germany, how they source information and just how familiar they are with institutions like BfR, that are involved in consumer health protection in Germany. 

The survey results point to major gaps in knowledge amongst both the population at large and experts.  The general public is scarcely aware at all of the fact that the two central components of consumer protection – risk assessment and risk management – are assumed by two separate entities in Germany: the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Agency for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). Even amongst experts, only a small minority is familiar with this organisational division, too.

The quality of BfR’s work was also assessed in the survey. The result: experts familiar with BfR are satisfied with the Institute’s work. The list of satisfied customers is headed up by media  representatives, who are normally rather critical, closely followed by association representatives. Both groups indicated that they were very happy with BfR’s work. By contrast, representatives of political circles were dissatisfied.

Unlike experts, the general public was still largely unfamiliar with BfR and its work two years after the Institute was founded. Only three percent of the interviewed persons had heard of the Institute’s name and, of these three percent, only 15 percent were familiar with its tasks.  

Another result of the survey is that print media ranging from daily newspapers over weekly magazines down to trade journals are still the main source of information for subjects to do with consumer health protection. This applies both to the general public and to experts. The Internet, much vaunted as the optimum source of information for everyone, is used by less than 10 percent of people for this purpose. 25 percent of experts, however, do use this information medium. Audiovisual media like radio and TV are in second place behind print media for both groups. Multipliers like doctors and pharmacists are another important source of information on consumer health protection topics for the public at large. 

BfR will channel the survey results into the further development of its communication strategy. The public BfR fora on consumer protection and the BfR status conferences on key topics and problems of consumer health protection are a first step in this direction. They are designed to involve the representatives of all relevant social groups and stakeholders and reflect their positions in risk assessment and risk communication work, something that both experts and the public call for according to the survey. The Institute believes that one special challenge involves raising the profile of BfR amongst the general public. On 10 September 2005 the Institute, therefore, plans to extend an invitation to its “Open Day” boasting a comprehensive popular science programme.

The report on the survey is available in German on the BfR website ( under “Das Institut/Risikokommunikation”. Information on the Open Day can be accessed under “Events”. We would be very happy if as many people as possible were to grasp this opportunity to get to know us.

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