Worry about GMO food probably extends to nanotech

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If someone is skeptical about the safety of genetically modified foods, chances are they’re wary of nanotechnology, too, researchers report.

A new study shows that an individual’s perception of genetically modified organisms might impact their judgments about whether or notnanotechnology-enabled products should be labeled in stores.

GMOs are foods and organisms that have been genetically modified to alter their characteristics to achieve a specific outcome. For example, altering a tomato to increase its hardiness against pests.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating a material’s atoms and molecules at the nanoscale to improve their function, such as making a T-shirt’s fibers more resistant to sunlight, or altering a golf club’s surface to help it hit balls harder.

No nano labeling, for now

“Most people do not have the time nor resources to keep up with every scientific advancement, and so they might rely on past experiences or judgments to make decisions about new technologies,” says Heather Akin, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and coauthor of the study, which appears in the Journal of Responsible Innovation.

“For example, individuals have indicated their support for labeling GMO products if they believe they pose a risk to their health or the environment. So we wanted to know if people’s opinions on GMOs influence how they feel about nanotechnology.”

The United States doesn’t currently require labeling the more than 1,800 nano products on the market. Because most of the public is unaware of nanotechnology, people might associate it with GMOs, another complex topic that involves manipulating materials at the molecular level.

Shoppers’ choice

Akin surveyed nearly 3,000 adults in the US to get their views on GMOs, nanotechnology, and labeling products available for purchase. She discovered that people who believe GMOs are beneficial are less likely to support labeling of nano products, even if they don’t believe nanotechnology has many benefits.

Further, people who are less trusting of scientific authorities are more inclined to favor labeling nano products if they don’t think GMOs are beneficial to society.

The findings could help businesses and regulating agencies understand how consumers view emerging technologies and better inform shoppers’ purchasing decisions.

“If consumers are grouping together these two different technologies, they could potentially be basing their attitudes on nanotechnology on past beliefs, instead of the facts,” Akin says. “That means they could be limiting their choices and missing out on effective products.”

Additional coauthors are from the University of Utah, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Arizona State University. The National Science Foundation funded the work.

Source: University of Missouri