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From eggs to bacon – why food scares don’t scare us

Months after the WHO warned that it caused cancer, bacon is enjoying a sales streak in the UK. But it’s not the first time consumers have overcome their fears about foodstuffs...

For a while, things looked bad for bacon. After a warning last year from the World Health Organisation that processed and cured meat ranked alongside cigarettes as a cause of cancer, UK supermarkets reported a 17% drop in sales.

But it is a measure of our collective amnesia and lack of concern for saving our own bacon (and, erm, pigs) that rashers are back, thanks to a surge in popularity of the once-endangered cooked breakfast.

According to consumer analysis by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the amount of cooked food eaten in the morning has risen 30% in the past two years, including a 5% leap for bacon.

When food scares break, consumer trust can disappear as quickly as horseburgers from a supermarket shelf. But just as surely as passengers fly again after disasters, the impact of fear is brief.

Get it right and markets can come back stronger. In 1998, 10 years after the start of the BSE crisis, the Meat and Livestock Commission reported that sales were back to normal and that general meat consumption had reached record levels.

But the industry doesn’t bank on consumers forgetting about risk and remembering how much they like burgers; it takes a major effort by food boards, manufacturers and retailers to manage crises.

Few have pulled it off as well as the Egg Marketing Board, now the British Egg Industry Council. When Edwina Currie, then a junior health minister, said in 1988 that “most of the egg production in this country is affected with salmonella”, she almost killed an entire industry overnight.

The response, if not immediate (it came 10 years later), was the Lion scheme – a symbol of national pride added to eggs to show they come from vaccinated hens. The scheme improved safety and restored consumer confidence to the extent that food agencies found last month that runny eggs no longer pose a threat, even to pregnant women.

Which brings us back to breakfast, where a separate report by the British Egg Council (another body with a vested interest, it should be noted) found that morning egg consumption has risen 18% in two years, fuelling the cooked-breakfast boom more than bacon sales.

Source: The Guardian

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