The majority of consumers view the development of nanotechnology favourably
The majority of consumers view the development of nanotechnology favourably. However, many are against the use of nanoparticles in food. This is one of the results of a representative survey of 1,000 consumers commissioned by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) which has just been presented in Berlin. 66 percent of the respondents believe that nanotechnology offers more benefits than risks. But they do not accept nanotechnology to the same degree in all application areas. "We observed that consumers use emotional criteria rather than facts when judging nanotechnology. The so-called perceived risks play a major role in how consumers see the new technologies", said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. The study also revealed that over the last three years consumers have become far more familiar with nanotechnology. When it comes to seeking out information, they do not however place the same amount of trust in all information providers. The respondents felt that they got the most reliable information from consumer associations and the least reliable from politicians.
Consumers are now more familiar with the term nanotechnology. In 2004 15 percent of respondents in a survey indicated that they had already heard of the term. In the 2007 survey this figure has risen to 52 percent. The respondents appreciate nanotechnology as a technical development that will lead to improvements in many areas of life. Two-thirds expect more benefits than risks from nanotechnology and are in favour of its further development. However, they also stipulate that research should be carried out on potential risks.
This positive attitude towards nanotechnology does not, however, extend to all application areas. The respondents expect the most benefits from nanotechnology in the field of medicine. Support for consumer applications dwindles as consumer contacts with products grow. 86 percent approve of the use of nanoparticles in paints and varnishes to increase their scratch and abrasion resistance. There is a similarly high degree of acceptance for textiles being given a dirt-repellent finish through nanotechnology. Nanoparticles are also accepted in packaging materials and sunscreen products. However, only 53 percent are in favour of using nanoparticles to improve the action of other cosmetic products. The majority are against the use of nanotechnology in food: 69 percent of the respondents reject the use of nanoadditives in spices to prevent them from becoming lumpy. 84 percent do not want any foods whose appearance has been rendered more appealing for longer through the use of nanoparticles.
According to the results of the study, consumers source information from all the major media - TV, daily newspapers, magazines- but to a lesser degree from the radio. The amount of trust which consumers place in information about nanotechnology depends on where the information comes from. The highest level of trust is enjoyed by consumer associations like the consumer advice centres, Stiftung Warentest and scientific sources (92 percent respectively). The business community and politicians are at the lower end of the trust scale. They are deemed to be trustworthy sources of information by 32 and 23 percent of the respondents respectively.
The study commissioned by BfR was divided into two sections. The first section - a basic psychological study with qualitative interviews with 30 people - examined consumer attitudes to nanotechnology and the image of nanotechnology amongst consumers. The second section involved the quantitative survey of 1,000 people. The final report on the study is to be published in the spring of 2008 and will also be available on the BfR website.