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German consumers discuss nanoproducts

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German consumers discuss nanoproducts

Mo, 30 Jun 2014
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From 3rd to 5th of June 2014 the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) conducted three focus group discussions with German consumers. The participants discussed about nanotechnology as well as nanoproducts and their labelling. The three groups consisted of 8 to 9 participants and were composed differently. One group consisted of eight women, one of 9 men and one of 4 women and 5 men.

All three groups discussed the same topics. At the beginning participants discussed what they have heard so far about nanotechnology and which experience they had, if any, with products which were based on the application of nanotechnology.

Subsequently a number of different products were presented to the participants. Some products openly advertised the use on nanotechnology while other did not. Participants discussed the perceived benefits of nanotechnology concerning the individual products and spoke also about whether, and if so, how product labelling of nanoproducts should look like. At the same time participants views about the EU labelling obligation for nanotechnology in cosmetics and food were discussed. 

The discussions of the three groups were recorded on video and are currently subjected to a qualitative content analysis. Here a few short first impressions should be delineated.

Overall the male and the mixed gender group showed a positive attitude towards nanotechnology and its applications in consumer products while in the female group a skeptical attitude dominated. In all groups an initially neutral to positive attitude was qualified as soon as information about possible health risks from nanoparticles was provided to the participants.

Concerning product labelling a majority called for distinct labelling for the sake of consumer’s free choice. A minority of participants were of the opinion that distinct labelling was not necessary. The minority argued that it was not clear why nanotechnology should be so different in comparison to other substance groups which are not distinctly labelled either. All groups did not understand that the EU labelling obligation for nanotechnology in cosmetics entered into force before the labelling obligation for nanotechnology in food which participants apprehended as more important.

All groups were surprised how many applications of nanotechnology in consumer products already exist and how many times one comes across nanotechnology in everyday life and that it is not science fiction anymore.

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