October 29, 2013
Most Americans Want To See Labels On Their Nanofoods
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Americans overwhelmingly want to know when they are eating food products that use nanotechnology, and are happy to pay the additional labeling costs, according to a new study published this month in the journal Review of Policy Research.
“Our study is the first research in the United States to take an in-depth, focus group approach to understanding the public perception of nanotechnology in foods,” said Dr. Jennifer Kuzma of North Carolina State University, the study’ s senior author. “We wanted to know whether people want nanotechnology in food to be labeled, and the vast majority of the participants in our study do.”
The researchers convened six focus groups – three in Minnesota and three in North Carolina – and asked the study participants basic questions about nanotechnology and its use in food products. The participants were then asked a series of questions addressing whether food nanotechnology should be labeled. Finally, the participants were sent a follow-up survey within a week of their focus group meeting.
The researchers found that the participants were particularly supportive of new labeling for products in which nanotechnology had been added to the food itself, and also favored labeling products in which nanotechnology had only been incorporated into the food packaging.
However, the researchers note that the call for labeling does not indicate that people are necessarily opposed to the use of nanotechnology in food products. For example, many participants voiced support for the use of nanotechnology to make food more nutritious, or to give it a longer shelf life, although they still wanted those products to be labeled.
“People do have nuanced perspectives on this,” Kuzma said. “They want labeling, but they also want access to reliable, research-based information about the risks associated with labeled products – such as a Food and Drug Administration website offering additional information about labeled products.”
The results of the follow-up survey revealed that roughly 60 percent of the participants were willing to pay an additional five to 25 percent of the product price for either nanotechnology-free products or for nanotechnology labeling.
The research is important because some safety studies on food nanotechnology are emerging that suggest nanomaterials in food can absorb through a healthy gastrointestinal tract, which may produce systemic adverse effects and decrease nutrient absorption, the researchers said.
However, the true extent of any adverse effects of nanomaterials in food will remain uncertain for some time given the lack of human risk-relevant studies.
“Not all nanofood products will be hazardous to human health, though it could be argued that until more testing is done, nanofoods warrant additional labeling on the basis of safety, given the special penetration and reactivity properties of nanomaterials in biological systems,” reads the report.
The researchers say additional studies are needed to further explore the results of the current study.
“The impetus for this work is the view that consumers deserve a voice in decisions concerning food products that affect them and that they may ultimately decide the fate of nanofoods,” the researchers said.
“The results from this study lay groundwork on a wide range of topics to consider for nanofood labeling policy, such as public preferences related to labeling content, labeling characteristics, willingness to pay, willingness to avoid, and information concerning risk and safety,” they added.
There is currently no specific requirement for nanofoods to undergo a mandatory FDA premarket approval processes. However, the regulatory agency issued draft guidelines more than a year ago on the use of nanotechnology in both food and cosmetics.