Views on nanotechnology: research published

The FSA has published a report of consumers’ views on the use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging. 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.

To find out more about this research and to view the report, please visit this page on the Food Standards Agency website.

In the news

‘Low fat, low salt’ nano food (BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 21st April)