More than half of consumers have changed their shopping habits as a result of the horse meat scandal, a survey for consumer group Which? has found.Public trust in the food industry has dropped by 24%, with 30% of those polled now buying less processed meat and a quarter (24%) buying fewer ready meals with meat in or choosing vegetarian options.
The survey, conducted late last month, also revealed that two-thirds of people (68%) do not think the Government has been giving enough attention to enforcing labelling laws, with half of consumers (50%) not confident that ingredient information is accurate.
It found that 44% now spend more time looking at the ingredients label on meat products, with 83% agreeing that country of origin labelling should be required on such items.
Confidence in food safety has also dropped, from nine in 10 (92%) feeling confident when buying products in the supermarket before the scandal broke to seven in 10 (72%) feeling confident now.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "The horse meat scandal exposed the need for urgent changes to the way food fraud is detected and standards are enforced. These serious failings must be put right if consumers are to feel fully confident in the food they are buying once more.
"Ministers must ensure that everyone involved, including their own departments, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the food industry and local authorities, are crystal clear about their responsibility to protect consumers and are properly equipped to do so."
Which? has called on the Government to take five "urgent" steps, including more surveillance that is better co-ordinated between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the FSA and local authorities, and the immediate scrapping of proposals to decriminalise failure to comply with food labelling legislation.
It also wants the food industry to improve traceability, labelling and testing of products, with the responsibility for labelling policy returned to the FSA from Defra.
Which? said: "Consumers should know what's in their food and where it's from. The Government should push for the EU-wide country-of-origin labelling to cover processed meat used in meat products, like ready meals. It should also scrap its plans to drop national rules requiring clear ingredient labels for meat sold loose, like in a delicatessen."