Consumers against nanotech in food, says BfR

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nanotechnology, Cent, Food

The majority of consumers do not think that nanotechnology should
be used in food applications, according to a survey from German
risk assessor BfR, and they are more likely to trust information
from consumer groups than politicians and businesses.

Nanotechnology refers to the control of matter at an atomic or molecular scale of between one and 100 nanometres (nm) - that's one millionth of a millimetre. Despite still being in its infancy, current estimates on the value of products using nanotechnology put it currently in the range of US$7bn. According to some, the market could be worth as much as $20bn by 2020. It has already found uses in several industries, including food, nutritional ingredients, and packaging. The European Food Safety Authority was recently asked by the European Commission to provide a scientific opinion on safety. The survey, commissioned by BfR, found that 69 per cent of respondents were against the use of nanoadditives in spices to prevent them from becoming lumpy; and 84 per cent rejected the idea of making foods look appealing for longer through the use of nanoparticles. The findings are significant since the food industry is keen to avoid the same mistakes as were made when consumers first became aware of genetically modified foods. There has been a huge backlash in Europe, with many consumers and environmental groups still unconvinced of the long-term safety. They may have their work cut out, however, judging from the survey findings. "We observed that consumers use emotional criteria rather than facts when judging nanotechnology,"​ said BfR president Professor Andreas Hensel. Moreover, they felt they received the most reliable information from consumer groups, and the least reliable information from politicians. They were also sceptical of information originating from the business community. However, consumers were not so resistant to the use of nanotechnology in other, non-food areas. In general, 66 per cent of respondents said they thought nanotechnology presents more benefits than risks and are in favour of further development - subject to further research. The most benefits were expected to be in the area of medicine, but support was seen to be strongest in areas where consumer contact to nanoparticles was the least. For instance, 86 per cent said they approved of their use in paints and varnishes, to increase scratch and abrasion resistance. A similar number accepted their use in dirt-repellent textiles. Packaging and sunscreen uses also had a relatively high level of support. But when it came to improving the action of other, non-sunscreen cosmetics products only 53 per cent of respondents were in favour. The survey found that awareness of nanotechnology has considerably increased in the last five years. A parallel survey in 2005 found that just 15 per cent of respondents were aware of nanotech; this year, 52 per cent were aware. The study is due to be published in the spring of 2008, and the full findings have not been seen For now, the BfR has said that the study was divided into two parts. The first involved a basic psychological study involving 30 people, who were interviewed for their views on consumer attitudes and the image of nanotechnology amongst consumers. The second part was a quantitative survey involving 1000 people.

Related topics: Food safety and labeling

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