UK consumers’ confusion about nanotechnology applied to the food and drink industries, fueled by misinformation and scare stories, could wreck its potential benefits, warns a new report from business communications consultancy College Hill.
More than 90% of the UK population is confused or concerned about whether they would buy food containing manufactured nano-particles, according to research conducted by British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) on behalf of College Hill.
Also 38 per cent of householders would be unlikely to buy foods containing nano-particles while more than half (52 per cent) are unsure about the advantages or risks of such technology in the food and drink industry.
Less than half (44 per cent) of UK consumers were able to define the meaning of nanotechnology as ‘a technology that involves using very small particles’.
Given the low-level of familiarity with nanotechnology, researchers warn that plans to label food and drinks which contain man-made nano-particles could lead to media-fuelled scare stories and ultimately rejection by consumers.
The forthcoming Novel Foods Regulation EC 258/97 could result in the mandatory pan-EU labeling of all ingredients present in the form of nano-materials. Labels would highlight their presence with the word ‘nano’ in brackets following the ingredient listing.
Chris Woodcock, managing partner at College Hill and food and drink market specialist, told FoodNavigator.com: “If no action is taken there is a major risk that public lack of understanding around nanotechnology, and predictable fears raised by previous notorious and ill-managed food scares, will cloud consumer judgment when it comes to purchasing decisions.
“The ultimate danger is that consumers reject foods developed using nanotechnology, not on the basis of making an educated choice, but on the basis of fear of the unknown or suspicion.”
Although still in its infancy, nanotechnology could deliver significant benefits to the food and drink sector, she added. For example: Nanoencapsulation offers the potential to produce functional foods with nanometer-length capsules containing ingredients that are otherwise difficult to incorporate into a mixture. “In short, it could be crucial to both the value and the volume of the food we have to feed the growing population on this planet,” said Woodcock.
Oil droplets containing nano-sized water particles could be ued to reduce the fat content of foods such as mayonnaise, cream and chocolate while retaining good sensory properties.
“The food and beverage industry needs to look at this report and use it as a springboard to consider how they can best educate, prepare and inform the public,” said Woodcock.
Dr Denis Koltsov, co-author of the report and director, of technology and BREC Solutions added: “…there is a major consumer uncertainty surrounding the science (of nanotechnology). This needs to be addressed through exemplary, proactive, two-way dialogue, by the nanotechnology community with all of its stakeholders, from government to the general public.”
The report, An introduction to food and drink nanotechnology, is available from College Hill (Victoria.firstname.lastname@example.org ).