Nanotechnology refers to the control of matter at an atomic or molecular scale of between 1 and 100 nm. The properties of materials at this scale can be very different from conventional materials. This is due to nanomaterials having increased relative surface area and to the quantum effects that can begin to dominate the behavior of matter at the nano-scale. These factors can change or enhance properties, such as strength, reactivity and electrical characteristics (Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, 2004).
Nanotechnology has great potential to generate new products in the food domain with numerous benefits. New food packaging can be developed by adding nanoparticles or by using nanotechnology. Such new products may have desired properties, such as preventing the invasion of micro-organisms. Nanotechnology may be used to produce packages with stronger mechanical and thermal performance, and nano-sensors may be embedded in the packaging to ***** consumers if a food product is no longer safe to eat (Sorrentino, Gorrasi, & Vittoria, 2007). Nanotechnology may also be used to produce more healthy foods. Delivery systems could be employed in functional foods so that food ingredients are delivered to their specific sites of action (Weiss, Takhistov, & McClements, 2006).
An important aspect of nanotechnology is that it emphasizes building structures on the nano-scale rather than just understanding their properties (Weiss et al., 2006). Since nanotechnology allows the introduction of new properties to materials, it potentially could lead to immense benefits. The use of such materials may also mean that these products may be associated with some risks (Pusztai & Bardocz, 2006). The novel properties of nanomaterials and the rapid development of nanomaterial-based products have also raised many concerns over their consequences for human and environmental health (Nel, Xia, Mädler, & Li, 2006). For example, the impact of intentionally produced nanomaterials with targeted properties fulfilling specific functions has been the subject of recent discussion (Helland et al., 2006 A. Helland, H. Kastenholz, A. Thidell, P. Arnfalk and K. Deppert, Nanoparticulate materials and regulatory policy in Europe: An analysis of stakeholder perspectives, Journal of Nanoparticle Research 8 (2006), pp. 709–719. Full **** via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (10)Helland, Kastenholz, Thidell, Arnfalk, & Deppert, 2006). It has been shown that some nanomaterials may have damage potential if they are exposed to humans or to the environment (Oberdörster, Oberdörster, & Oberdörster, 2005). Most researchers agree that there are too few studies about possible risks associated with nanotechnology foods to draw firm conclusionsPublic perception of nanotechnology
Studies examining public perception of nanotechnology in the U.S. and in Europe show that public knowledge about nanotechnology is very limited (Cobb and Macoubrie, 2004 M.D. Cobb and J. Macoubrie, Public perceptions about nanotechnology: Risks, benefits and trust, Journal of Nanoparticle Research 6 (2004), pp. 395–405. Full **** via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (52)Cobb & Macoubrie, 2004; European Commission, 2001; Lee, Scheufele, & Lewenstein, 2005). In Europe, the public seems to be less optimistic about nanotechnology compared with the U.S. (Gaskell, Ten Eyck, Jackson, & Veltri, 2005). Most studies focusing on public attitudes toward nanotechnology have examined attitudes toward nanotechnology in the abstract (Cobb & Macoubrie, 2004; Gaskell, Ten Eyck, Jackson, & Veltri, 2004; Lee et al., 2005; Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005) as opposed to attitudes toward realistic products (Siegrist, Keller, Kastenholz, Frey, & Wiek, 2007).
A study utilizing the psychometric paradigm examined a broad set of nanotechnology applications ranging from ammunition to water sterilization (Siegrist, Keller, et al., 2007). Results suggest that applications such as food packaging or water sterilization were perceived as more dreadful risks compared with applications such as car paints or data memory. In another recent study, lay people's perceptions of three nanotechnology food applications and one nanotechnology packaging application were examined (Siegrist, Cousin, Kastenholz, & Wiek, 2007). Results suggested that nanotechnology packaging is perceived as being more beneficial than nanotechnology foods. Results of this study further suggest that trust in the industry may be an important factor for the successful introduction of nanotechnology foods on the market. To the best of our knowledge, no study has examined perceived risks and perceived benefits across a broad range of possible nanotechnology food applications and nanotechnology food packaging. The goal of the present study was to fill this knowledge gap.Psychometric paradigm
The psychometric paradigm seems to be a promising approach for analyzing lay people's perceptions of novel hazards. The psychometric approach has been frequently used to study lay people's perceptions of various hazards (Slovic, 1987). This approach is designed to address the question of why various hazards are perceived differently. To the best of our knowledge, the psychometric paradigm is the only research approach that has been proposed to address this research question. Several studies have utilized the psychometric paradigm to examine lay people's perceptions of food hazards ([Fife-Schaw and Rowe, 1996] and [Fife-Schaw and Rowe, 2000]; Kirk, Greenwood, Cade, & Pearman, 2002; Siegrist, Keller, & Kiers, 2006; Sparks & Shepherd, 1994). Participants are asked to assess, for example, how dreadful the hazards are, and whether people have control over their exposure to the hazard. In most studies employing the psychometric paradigm, averages are taken across all participants, and the data matrix (hazards × rating scales) is submitted to a principal component analysis (PCA). Such an approach neglects individual differences. Additional analyses using three-way component analysis (3MPCA) have shown that statistical methods permitting individual differences may be helpful in creating a better understanding of the cognitive representation of hazards (Siegrist, Keller, & Kiers, 2005; Siegrist et al., 2006).Determinants of individual differences in risk and benefit perception
Surveys show that most people are not familiar with the term nanotechnology (Cobb & Macoubrie, 2004; Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005). When knowledge is missing, people use heuristics, such as trust, to assess the risks and benefits of a new technology (Siegrist & Cvetkovich, 2000). Other research in the domain of gene technology ([Siegrist, 2000] and [Tanaka, 2004]) and nanotechnology ([Siegrist et al., 2007a] and [Siegrist et al., 2007b]) has shown that people who trusted institutions involved in using or regulating nanotechnology attributed more benefits and fewer risks to this technology. We expected to observe similar results for nanotechnology foods and nanotechnology food packaging.
Another important factor that could influence acceptance of nanotechnology foods is perceived naturalness. It has been shown that a GM product that is perceived as more natural is more likely to be accepted than a GM product that is perceived as less natural (Tenbült, de Vries, Dreezens, & Martijn, 2005). In a similar vein, results of a study by Rozin and colleagues suggest that, even when the healthfulness of natural and artificial foods is specified to be *****alent, most people with a preference for natural food continue to prefer it (Rozin et al., 2004). We presumed, therefore, that perceived naturalness or lack of naturalness would influence perceived risks and perceived benefits of nanotechnology foods.Rationale of the present study
In the present study, we examined how lay people perceive various nanotechnology foods and nanotechnology food packaging. Existing and potential applications were described in short scenarios. Participants assessed various risk dimensions and benefits associated with these applications. These assessments may identify the food applications for which public debates will be most likely. Due to the fact that the 3MPCA approach may result in overly complex results, we analyzed only the aggregated data using PCA. Non-aggregated risk and benefit ratings were analyzed to reveal possible individual differences. We examined several factors that may explain differences across consumers’ perceptions of nanotechnology foods.Method
The data for the present study come from a mail survey conducted in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. A questionnaire and an accompanying letter were sent to a random sample of addresses from the telephone book. The questionnaire was addressed to the person in the household next in line for their birthday and over 18 years of age. A reminder letter was sent out some time later. A second questionnaire was sent to persons who did not respond to the letter or reminder.
Three hundred and thirty-seven people participated in the study, with a response rate of 28%. Forty-nine percent (n = 165) of the respondents were women, and fifty percent (n = 169) were men. Three persons did not report their gender. The mean age was 52.8 (S.D. = 16.3). Two respondents did not provide information about their age. The self-reported education level ranged from primary and lower secondary school (11.3%; n = 38), upper secondary vocational school or upper secondary university preparation school (65.6%; n = 221), to college or university (22.6%; n = 76). Two respondents did not indicate their education level.Questionnaire
The questionnaire started with the following de******ion of the term nanotechnology:
“Nanotechnology is considered one of the key revolutionizing technologies of the 21st century and refers to a broad range of advanced applications that deal with particles and structures smaller than 100 nm. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter.
The breadth of possible fields of application is far-reaching and includes, for example, energy and information technologies as well as the medical and cosmetics industries. In the near future, the food industry plans to realize the potentials of nanotechnology to extend ****f life, customize flavors, or improve human health and well-being. Along with the beneficial aspects, nanotechnology also carries possible risks that we know little about. The biggest worry among experts is that nanoparticles may permeate the human body. The effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment are still widely unknown.”
After the introduction, 19 nanotechnology applications in the agricultural and food sector, which are realizable and may come on the market in the next 5–10 years, were briefly described (see Appendix A). The applications were mainly adopted from the Woodrow Wilson database (Kuzma & VerHage, 2006) and validated by a food science expert and by a nanotechnology expert. Since benefits but not risks are specific for given applications, the benefits for each application were described in the scenarios. Information about generalized risks was summarized in the introductory section of the questionnaire.
Participants were asked to rate these 19 applications on six 5-point scales. The six rating scales, measuring qualitative risk aspects, were adapted from earlier studies (Fischhoff, Slovic, Lichtenstein, Read, & Combs, 1978; [Siegrist et al., 2006] and [Siegrist et al., 2007b]) for the examination of nanotechnology applications in the food domain. In the present study, all of the nanotechnology applications were new, and therefore some of the qualitative scales used in earlier studies could not be used (e.g., new or old hazard). Recently, it has been suggested that affect is an important factor that shapes risk perception (Slovic, Finucane, Peters, & MacGregor, 2002). Therefore, feelings toward nanotechnology applications were measured. The following scales were utilized: (1) Feelings related to the applications (1 = positive; 5 = negative).
(2) Worries related to the applications (1 = not worried at all; 5 = very worried).
(3) Personal control over contact with applications (1 = uncontrollable; 5 = controllable).
(4) Voluntariness of exposure with applications (1 = involuntarily; 5 = voluntarily).
(5) Adverse health effects due to contact with applications (1 = not at all; 5 = very strongly).
(6) Probability of contact with applications (1 = never; 5 = often).
To assess perceived benefits and risks, the following question was asked: “How beneficial (risky) do you consider each of the following applications to be for Swiss society as a whole?” The endpoints of the 5-point scales were labeled “very low” (1) and “very high” (5).
In addition to sociodemographic variables, the questionnaire included six items designed to measure preference for natural foods (e.g., “I appreciate naturalness in all things”, “I have confidence in organic foods”). Respondents were asked to express their agreement or disagreement on a 5-point scale with the endpoints “does not apply at all” (1) and “applies completely” (5). In addition, social trust was measured using the following question: “How much do you trust the information about foodstuff risks provided by the following institutions/organizations?” The institutions were the federal office of public health, science, consumer protection agencies, food industry and food retailers. The 5-point scale had the endpoints “no trust” (1) and “complete trust” (5 Results
Analysis of the aggregated data
A principal component analysis of the aggregated data of the six risk dimensions was conducted, and a varimax rotation was performed. As Table 1 shows, the first of the two orthogonal components of the rotated factor loadings is highly correlated with feelings, worries about risks of applications, adverse health effects and contact with applications. This component is labeled “negative affect.” The second component is associated with control over risk and voluntariness of exposure. This second component is labeled “control.” These two components explain 91% of the variance. The factor scores of the 19 hazards were computed. Fig. 1 gives a two-dimensional plot of these hazards, using factor scores as coordinates. Individually modifiable foods are located relatively high on “negative affect” and low on “control.” This may be an application most prone to be a target of public discussions about nanotechnology in the food domain. Health-promoting green tea, antibacterial milk bottle for babies and bacteria detection spray are relatively high on ‘negative affect’ but high on ‘control.’ Barcodes for guaranteed food security and stronger packing film are located relatively low on ‘negative affect’ and relatively high on ‘control.’ These applications may be most accepted by the public. No nanotechnology food applications are located low on ‘negative affect’ and low on ‘control.’
to be contin)..