Food labels influence trust in food system

Food labels provide more than just nutritional information – they’re a “window” into the entire food system, according to PhD candidate Emma Tonkin.

As part of her PhD, Ms Tonkin is researching the ways in which food labelling gives consumers insight into the production of food and, importantly, influences their trust in the food system – from the companies that manufacture foods to the governments that regulate them.

“Back in agrarian civilisations people grew their own produce and slaughtered their own meat so they knew exactly where their food came from and what was in it but now we have limited knowledge – we’ve become really disconnected with food,” Ms Tonkin said.

“The way we deal with that is by trusting in the people who make our food and the governments that regulate it,” she said.

“But because we don’t have any direct communication with these producers, we rely on the labelling on our food for information so it becomes a window into how the food system works.”

As part of her research, Ms Tonkin will begin consumer interviews and choice experiments early next year to find out what information on food labels builds trust.

“We’ll be looking at whether particular aspects of the labels – including information such as the country of origin, allergen statements and expiry dates – cause consumers to have particularly strong reactions to the product and their faith in producers and regulators,” she said.

“We’ll also be looking at whether certification by a third party, for example the Heart Foundation’s ‘tick of approval’, influences trust.”

The results, she said, could provide the groundwork for a wider study led by her PhD supervisor and Professor of Public Health John Coveney into the increased role governments could play in improving the way labelling systems communicate with consumers.

“Professor Coveney’s earlier research has shown that Australians want more government endorsement on food labels because they see it as a symbol that the food’s safe and is being governed appropriately.

“Based on the results of the next study we’ll be looking at highlighting to the Australian Government that food labels have a broader role than just mitigating risk, and could be presented in a more effective way to increase consumer trust in the food system.”

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3 thoughts on “Food labels influence trust in food system

  1. Too true, everything being equal, I will always get the one with the Heart Foundation Tick even if the two options are the same! (and sometimes the tick comes at a premium but I will still fork out that extra cash…!)

  2. Food labelling is an important aspect of making decisions about purchasing / consuming food in our daily lives as a family. I personally believe we need more rigorous labelling, including around contentious issues of preservatives and colourings, sugars and their many guises; and especially mandatory labelling of vegetable fats – with thorough information pertaining to the actual vegetable fat used, its place of origin.
    Keep up the good work Emma!

  3. Hi Emma, my name is muna mohamad and Im doing masters thesis on building trust. and i find your reaserch is very much close to mine but we dealing with differnt issues. so i am just wandering if we can catch up for a chat some where at the uni caffe. so, if you have a time for a chat just email me at


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