U.K. consumers remain cautious about emerging food technologies

A report by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that people remain cautious about the emergence of new food technologies.

April 2, 2009

A report by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that people remain cautious about the emergence of new food technologies. The report, which looks at research since 1999, brings together knowledge from the U.K. and beyond, on public opinion about up-and-coming food technologies, such as nanotechnologies and cloning. The findings will help to shape the FSA’s future work on emerging technologies.

According to the research, genetically modification (GM) and animal cloning remain the areas of most concern for people. Interestingly, 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. Awareness of emerging food technologies is generally low, and the concept of ‘functional foods’ and food applications in synthetic biology seem virtually unknown. The exceptions to this are GM and cloning which most people have heard of, at least in the U.K. Nevertheless, people may not realize that they are consuming GM foods, even in the U.S. where GM foods are widely available, and awareness certainly does not mean that people feel confident in their knowledge about these technologies. On the whole, attitudes towards novel food technologies in the U.S. and in Asian and developing countries seem to be more positive than they are in Europe.

“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,” said Clair Baynton, Head of Novel Foods, Additives and Supplements at the FSA. “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 concerning:

* Nanotechnologies
* Functional foods
* Synthetic biology
* GM food and crops
* Cloning
* Irradiation
* Novel food processes

FSA report

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