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April 27, 2011

UK FSA Publishes Report of Consumers’ Views on Nano in Food and Food Packaging

Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 21, 2011, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Food Standards Agency (FSA) published a report of consumers’ views on the use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging. FSA convened a focus group in late 2010 and early 2011, and asked participants about their views on nanotechnology. According to FSA, the main findings are that:

  • Participants’ reactions to nanotechnology and food reflected a variety of concerns. These included whether this was a necessary development, whose interests it would serve, 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. Participants were negative towards the use of nanotechnology for what they perceived to be “trivial” purposes, however, such as using nanotechnology to develop new flavors 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. Participants questioned, however, 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. Questions were raised, however, 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; and
  • To provide further confidence in the use of nanotechnology in foods, participants wanted transparency about the developments, including providing them with more information. 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 participants recognized that consumers might not use or understand this information without complementary education and awareness raising.