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Majority of Europeans believe food and drinks contain chemicals - study

By Joe Whitworth , 06-Feb-2013
Last updated on 06-Feb-2013 at 13:35 GMT

European Commission study on chemicals

More than three-quarters of Europeans believe that food and drinks contain chemical substances, according to a survey.

The survey of more than 25,500 people in the 27 Member States found that 83% believed that food and drinks contain chemical substances.

However, the results found that respondents were not certain that their view is correct: 46% said that they think there are definitely chemical substances in food and drinks, while 37% said that there probably are.

15% of respondents disagree that there are chemical substances in food and drinks, although only 4% said “definitely not” and 11% said “probably not”.

The European Commission said no definition or guidelines for the term "chemical substance" was given to respondents in the survey as it was designed to find out the understanding of the term by the public opinion.

"By applying such an approach, we could get a more open vision of how chemicals are perceived, without steering the replies from respondents into a particular meaning," an EC spokeswoman told FoodProductionDaily.com.

"The results represent the concerns of respondents with regard to their individual understanding of the term and it allows us to explore a largely unknown area of 'perceived risks'."

Country divide

Opinion on the presence of chemicals in food and drinks varies according to individual country with a difference of 22 percentage points between the country most and least likely to have this view.

There are eight countries where more than nine in ten respondents think food and drinks contain chemicals: Estonia (93%), Greece (93%), Latvia (92%), Poland (92%), Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden (all 90%).

Those countries where people are least likely to believe that food and drinks contains chemicals are the Netherlands (71%), Malta (73%), Spain (75%), Portugal (75%) and Belgium (76%).

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is responsible for the technical, scientific and administrative aspects of Regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the substances included in the first Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) for substance evaluation under REACH.

The survey, conducted by TNS Political & Social at the request of the European Commission, will contribute to the review of REACH, providing information on public perceptions and understanding of chemical substances, and attitudes towards safety and awareness of regulations.

Background effect

Older respondents aged 40 or over are more likely to believe that chemicals can be found in food and drinks (85% compared with 82% of 15-24 year olds and 81% of 25-39 year olds).

Those who left education at 15 or under are the least likely to think that there are chemicals in food and drinks (77%) while those who left at an older age or are still studying are more likely to hold this view (left at 20 or over 87%, still studying 84% and left at 16-19 81%).

There is also some variation in the findings by occupation, with manual workers least likely to think that chemicals are present in food and drinks (79%) compared with 85% of the self-employed, 84% of employees and 83% of respondents who are not working.

Meanwhile, almost half believed that the authorities of the European Union are responsible for the products' safety, 42% think it is carried out by the manufacturers themselves and a third (35%) think it is the national authorities’ responsibility.

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