Last updated on 21 April 2011
Consumers' views on the use of nanotechnology in food
In response to a recommendation by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in its 2010 report on nanotechnologies and food, the Agency commissioned some research on consumer views on the use of nanotechnologies in food and food packaging.
The committee recommended that the Government commission a survey of public attitudes towards the use of nanotechnologies in the food sector, with the aim of informing debate on the subject.
The research was qualitative and undertaken by way of a series of citizens’ forums across England and Scotland examining participants' views on this subject. In total, 120 participants were recruited for the exercise across six different locations in Scotland and England. This qualitative approach was used in preference to a survey, as it was anticipated that that most people would have only a low awareness and understanding of nanotechnologies.
Results and findings
The research showed that the participants' acceptance of nanotechnologies was very much dependent on the type of application being used (some applications were better accepted than others). For example, participants were more positive about the use of nanotechnology to reduce salt or fat content of foods without adversely affecting the taste or texture of food. Participants were relatively more open to the use of nanotechnology in food packaging and were able to identify the potential benefits of extended shelf life and waste reduction.
Participants were concerned about whose interests would be served by nanotechnologies and whether the benefits outweighed the perceived risks. Questions were raised relating to safety, particularly in relation to long term safety, trust in regulators and impacts on the environment. There was a degree of reassurance expressed by participants in relation to the EU regulatory process for novel foods.
Participants wanted transparency about developments and more information to be provided to them.
More about the research and its methodology
This 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.
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 or a particular set of experiences. The aim of qualitative research is to define and describe the range of emergent issues and explore links, rather than to measure their extent.