In the spotlight

Trust in E numbers

Many consumers view E numbers in food as unnatural and unreliable. Ironically, those additives were actually given this E number to prove they are harmless. Some 350 excipients are designed to improve shelf life, flavour or aesthetics, or prevent separation. Many already exist naturally, like oxygen and citric acid.

Who and what don’t we trust? And why? What do we mean by trust?

Processed food arouses suspicion in consumers. We prefer our food to be fresh and authentically produced rather than come out of an industrial plant. Industrial food production is required to be able to feed all the world’s inhabitants. This is why great techniques to produce healthy food were developed. Food that’s nutritious, has a long shelf life and tastes great to boot.

Food scientist Tiny van Boekel: “The question is if a consumer’s aversion to E numbers says something about the E numbers themselves, or about the uncomfortable feeling we get when it comes to industrial production of food in general.”

Unfortunately, consumers don’t have visual access to the production processes, because they generally take place behind closed doors. This leads to suspicion. Industrial production of food lead to a protest movement. People increasingly prefer organic production. However, it’s not possible to feed everyone in the world if we produce everything organically.

Consumers are said to have a lack of trust in food. In turn, researchers and companies are said to have the same lack of trust in consumers, because they ‘don’t want to listen anyway’. All the media does, is magnify these problems even further. What are the motives and interests of the experts, and why can’t we seem to get along?

A series of exploratory discussions

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) researches production methods, packaging and storage methods in order to assess whether additives are needed or not. Together with news platform Foodlog, WUR is organising a debate about trust in food in Wageningen on 14 November, as part of a series of discussions dubbed Food & Trust. You can join in on the debate via Twitter using #foodtrust.