Managing Risk in a Complex Food System: The Importance of Inter-Personal, Professional and Organisational Trust

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Annabelle WILSON , Discipline of Public Health, Flinders University, Australia
Paul WARD , Flinders University, Australia
Trevor WEBB , Food Standards Australia New zealand, Australia
Sue LLOYD , City University, United Kingdom
Sian CALNAN , University of Kent, United Kingdom
Dean MCCULLUM , SA Health, Australia
John COVENEY , Discipline of Public Health, Flinders University, Australia
A challenge of managing food safety risk is the multi-sectoral nature of the complex system set out to do so, with responsibilities lying with expert actors from both food industry and food regulation. Amidst this complexity, a unified message must be conveyed to consumers so that food risks are managed.  This paper presents research conducted to navigate this complex system. We investigated the role of expert actors from the food regulatory and food industry settings in developing/ breaking/ repairing/ maintaining trust with consumers about food. Qualitative interviews were undertaken in Australia (n=30), the United Kingdom (n=15) and New Zealand (n=5). Respondents identified that risk management, including increased consumer trust, could only be established if trust existed within and across the expert actors. As such, the nature of the trust between actors became central to the research.  Inter-personal, professional and organisational trust between these actors was observed. Interpersonal trust and relationships were developed between actors through transparency, good communication and regular phone and face to face informal meetings. Organisational trust was built and maintained through documents such as memorandums of understanding and regular, formal meetings. Professional trust was particularly apparent between actors within the regulatory and industry systems who both had responsibilities for managing food risk. Some actors indicated that they did not understand the perspective of the other system, because of the different processes and systems in which they worked. Despite this, each system had a common goal (to avoid foodborne illness). When this common goal was recognised by industry and regulatory actors, stronger trust was formed which enabled a unified message to be communicated to consumers. Therefore one way to manage the complexity of the food regulatory system, and ultimately better manage food risks, is to develop inter-personal, professional and organisational trust between expert actors in the food system.