New food technologies yet to be embraced by consumers

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 27th March 2009

People remain cautious about the emergence of new food technologies according to a review of existing research, published by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.The report, which looks at research since 1999, brings together knowledge from the UK and beyond, on public opinion about up-and-coming food technologies, such as nanotechnologies and cloning.

According to the research, GM and animal cloning remain the areas of most concern for people. However, the review also showed that food technologies tended not to be a burning issue for the vast majority of people and often did not generate strong opinions.

In contrast, functional foods provided the least concern for consumers.

“Our top priority is to ensure the food on the shelves is as safe as it possibly can be, but we also need to be aware of how people feel about new technologies,” Clair Baynton, Head of Novel Foods, Additives and Supplements at the Agency, said. “Because so little tends to be known about emerging food technologies, attitudes towards them are frequently driven by emotions rather than facts. Understandably, people are wary when they’re not sure about the benefits and risks.”

The research looked at public opinion regarding a number of new technologies, with differing results:

* nanotechnologies – awareness is relatively low, but there is some skepticism regarding their use in food. Nanotechnologies in packaging were more warmly received. Women were found to be more skeptical.
* functional foods – There are many people cynical about their benefits but attitudes are quite positive as people see them as low risk. Naturally occurring combinations are preferred. Women and older people are more likely to have positive attitudes.
* synthetic biology – Not enough research has been carried out to get an accurate view on the consumer perception.
* GM food and crops – Not a front-of-mind concern for most but risks still outweigh benefits for the majority. Government and industry are not trusted as relaible sources of information.
* cloning – Awareness is high but understanding is limited. Consumers are not convinced about the safety of cloning and believe big business will prove the main beneficiaries.
* irradiation – Public perception is typically negative, although more research needs to be carried out
* novel food processes – People are quite suspicious but first-hand experience and information about the processing method can alleviate some concerns. Women and older people