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Food Nanotechnology: Understanding the Parameters of Consumer Acceptance


We have proposed a three part project, with a quantitative examination of the public perceptions of nanotechnology in food followed by a national telephone survey and an experiment in a food tasting laboratory. <P>
This project, the first of its kind in the United States, will establish the baseline parameters of acceptability of the application of nanotechnologies and nanoscale materials to food. In addition, it will create a more sophisticated picture of who may be most open to nanotech foods, and the factors that influence their acceptance. Moreover, essentially nothing is known about consumer attitudes toward the acceptability of nanoparticles and films as food additives. Thus, this project is designed to generate knowledge regarding the acceptable characteristics and uses of these materials that would dramatically enhance the possible consumer acceptance of these nanoscale materials in food, and help to guide further research in this area, including that of the existing NRI-funded research on nanosensors that is specifically linked to this proposal. <P>
We plan to publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals, present them at national and international conferences, and to conduct additional outreach as appropriate. These publications and presentations will help to guide scientists in developing new applications of nanotechnology for food. In addition, it will guide policy makers by identifying the parameters of public acceptance of food-based nanotechnology.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Nanotechnology is viewed as an enabling and transformative technology destined to revolutionize nearly every sector of the economy. Seeking competitive advantages through its use, companies around the world have invested heavily in nanotechnology applications designed to dramatically improve the production and benefits of existing products, and to create extraordinary new ones. The practices of food production, processing, and packaging are already undergoing dramatic changes as the result of the adoption of nanotechnology and nanoscale materials. Hundreds of companies around the world are actively involved in the research and development of foods and beverages involving nanotechnology, and economic analysts expect that the market for nanotech foods will increase dramatically over the next few years. We plan to investigate how the public feels about nanotechnology in food products through three studies. The first will involve one-on-one interviews where we will talk with people about their understanding of nanotechnology and how it applies to food. The second will involve a national telephone survey where we will ask the public questions about what types of nanotech products in their foods would be acceptable to them. The final study will take place in a food laboratory, where we will ask people to eat food that we (falsely) claim has nanotechnology in it and ask for their opinions of the food. These studies can be used by people seeking to develop novel nanotechnology applications for food and by policy makers seeking to understand how the public feels about these products.

APPROACH: To enhance our understanding of how consumers are likely to perceive nanotech foods we propose a coordinated set of studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The first of these is to use in-depth qualitative methods to explore how people are likely to view food-related nanotechnology given their existing limited knowledge about nanotechnology in general. This study will explore salient initial impressions, concerns, and reactions to realistic nanotech food products, beginning with edible nanosensors and nanocomposite films. The results of this study will be used to guide food science researchers in the development of these food nanotechnologies so that their products can be created with characteristics and uses within parameters that consumers may find acceptable. This study will also help to refine the measures intended for use in Study 3. The second study is designed to explore the broad parameters of acceptable uses of a variety of nanotechnologies and nanoscale materials in food production and enhancement. Using quantitative survey methods and a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, this study will elicit and explore consumers' receptivity to and stated preferences regarding the characteristics and uses of nanotechnology related to food. In the third study we will use a revealed preferences approach, presenting a panel of consumers with realistic food products purportedly containing nanoparticles with particular characteristics and asking the panel to evaluate the sensory and hedonic qualities of the products, and to indicate their preferences and receptivity to the products after having been asked to taste them. This sensory panel data will be compared to, and validate, the expressed preference data collected in Study 2.

Hallman, William
Rutgers University
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