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Posted: Apr 21, 2011
Food Standards Agency publishes a report of consumers' views on the use of nanotechnology
(Nanowerk News) The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has published a report of consumers' views on the use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging – "FSA Citizens' Forums: Nanotechnology and food" (pdf). The focus group research, which asked participants about their views on nanotechnology in late 2010 and early 2011, was carried out as part of the FSA's programme of work on nanotechnology.
The main findings of the research are that:
Participants' reactions to nanotechnology and food reflected a variety of concerns. These included whether this was a necessary development, whose interests would be served by it and whether the benefits outweighed the perceived risks.
Acceptance around the use of nanotechnology was conditional. For instance, participants were more positive about the use of nanotechnology to reduce the salt or fat content of foods without adversely affecting the taste or texture of food. However, participants were negative towards the use of nanotechnology for what they perceived to be 'trivial' purposes, such as using nanotechnology to develop new flavours and textures.
Participants were relatively more open to the use of nanotechnology in food packaging, and readily identified the potential benefits of extended shelf life and waste reduction. However, participants questioned whether consumers would receive the benefits of nanotechnology or whether these developments would be of most benefit to the food industry.
The current way of regulating nanotechnologies in foods, the European Novel Foods Regulation, provided participants with a degree of confidence that the framework in place ensured the safety of nanotechnology in foods. However, questions were raised about the ability to predict long-term health effects of nanotechnology in food, and whether wider social and environmental implications would be taken into account.
To provide further confidence in the use of nanotechnology in foods, participants wanted transparency about the developments, including more information to be provided to them. A register of foods that use nanotechnology established by a body independent from industry and Government was received positively. The introduction of an 'n' label for nanotech foods was also proposed, although it was recognised by participants that consumers might not use or understand this information without complementary education and awareness raising.
Andrew Wadge, FSA Chief Scientist, said: 'This research suggests that although consumers may be sceptical about the motives behind the introduction of nanotechnology in food, they are more likely to look more favourably on its use when they perceive a real benefit to them. I believe it's for regulators and the industry to be transparent and to work together to explain to people what nanotechnology is and how it can be used in food.'
The Food Standards Agency is working with interested parties to gather intelligence on the use of nanotechnologies in food, and is also developing a UK register of foods that use nanotechnology. This work is being overseen by the Agency's Nanotechnologies and Food Discussion Group.
The science behind the story
The consumer research was undertaken by TNS-BMRB between November 2010 and February 2011. Research was undertaken in six areas, with 120 members of the public recruited to reflect a cross-section of society. Research was conducted in three waves and was deliberative – with materials and information provided to participants to enable an informed debate.
It is important to note that the methods employed in this research were qualitative in nature. This approach was adopted to allow for individuals' views and experiences to be explored in detail. Qualitative methods neither seek, nor allow, data to be given on the numbers of people holding a particular view, nor having a particular set of experiences. The aim of qualitative research is to define and describe the range of emergent issues and explore linkages, rather than to measure their extent.