How to communicate food safety after radiological contamination: The effectiveness of numerical and narrative news messages

Hanna Valerie Wolf, Tanja Perko, Peter Thijssen

    Research outputpeer-review

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    Food risk and the safety of foodstuffs in the aftermath of contamination are highly sensitive issues to communicate. Food risks receive extensive attention from the news media, which requires messages to be carefully drafted to minimize harm and avoid unnecessary boycotts. Once a food risk is deemed eliminated, communication efforts must rebuild trust among consumers. The latter is a particularly difficult task after radiological contamination. This study tests whether numerical messages, narrative messages, or messages combining both elements are more effective in persuading the public to consume foodstuffs from Fukushima, a region that continues to battle stigma since the nuclear accident in 2011. We employ a survey-embedded experiment on a sample of the general Belgian population (N = 1085), during which respondents are presented with a mock news article presenting either a (1) numerical, (2) narrative, or (3) a combined message and test their subsequent evaluation of the article. We find that the numerical message leads to significantly higher perceived credibility and message acceptance than both the combined and the narrative message. Furthermore, we find that attitudes towards nuclear energy have a strong independent effect on message acceptance and evaluation, with those respondents who report a more positive stance towards nuclear energy more readily accepting the message. Food risk and safety communication may thus benefit from adopting a more detached, numerical approach for sensitive issues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number4189
    Pages (from-to)1-19
    Number of pages19
    JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
    Issue number12
    StatePublished - 12 Jun 2020

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