Reporting on food safety, a public health issue
Journalists from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia completed a project on food safety with the aim to draw public attention to the importance of food safety problems in the South East European region. As a result, they produced 12 stories for the print, broadcast and online media, and formulated their recommendations to improve the coverage of food safety. During the study tour in March 2008 in HUngary, they met international and Hungarian experts and fellow journalists to discuss and analyze the food safety situation and their coverage in the South East region.
The project was implemented by the Center for Independent Journalism, Budapest (CIJ) as part of the activities of the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM). The project was supported by the Open Society Institute Network Media Program.
The Center for Independent Journalism, Budapest launched this project to draw attention to the importance of food safety problems. International organizations, including Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations, have recognized the gravity of the situation all over the world and have been calling for actions to strengthen food safety controlling systems both at national and international levels. Media should also tackle food safety stories more often as
- food safety is a public health issue, concerning all people;
- acute food safety crisis may lead to large scale food borne diseases and disasters, may be accompanied by serious social and economic burdens;
- lack of information, or false information and low awareness of risks of food safety problems may cause panic and distrust among people;
- limited awareness of consumer rights to information, combined with limited access to information and official documents contribute to persisting problems and potentially dangerous situations;
- media should report on food safety problems adequately, accurately and proportionately.
Food safety problems are usually very complex, and their coverage would require journalists to obtain substantial knowledge of scientific facts and data, a careful approach and in many cases use of investigative techniques.
The first phase of the project included a study tour from 4 to 8 March, 2008 in Hungary. The program provided journalists with an opportunity to explore the complexity of food safety issues in relation to public health, basic consumer rights and the right to access public information. Through presentations and discussions, journalists learnt about various aspects of food safety regulation, monitoring, food science, communication and strategy, consumer consciousness, challenges of globalization, and a number of other important problems. During the field trips to Egerfood Regional Center Research in Eger and later Univer Babyfood Plant in Kecskemet, participants could learn about new research results of food traceability methods and and various aspects of food processing regarding safety and quality standards.
Journalists also delivered presentations identifying major food safety problems and challenges of covering food safety in their own countries. At the end of the study tour they formulated their conclusions about common or country specific problems of food safety situation in South East Europe and completed the draft of their recommendations on food safety coverage. Based on the experiences of the study tour and the newly acquired knowledge, they put together a list of potential story ideas on food safety.
In the second phase of the project, journalists produced stories on various food safety issues – wrote in-depth articles, produced radio and television programs for their media organizations -, and further elaborated recommendations of food safety reporting. The Budapest Center for Independent Journalism published the results of the project also at the SEENPM website.