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Accepted Manuscript

Awareness and Attitudes towards the Emerging Use of Nanotechnology in the Agrifood Sector
Caroline E. Handford, Moira Dean, Michelle Spence, Maeve Henchion, Christopher T.
Elliott, Katrina Campbell
PII:

S0956-7135(15)00196-6

DOI:

10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.03.033

Reference:

JFCO 4376

To appear in:

Food Control

Received Date: 20 October 2014


Revised Date:

24 March 2015

Accepted Date: 31 March 2015

Please cite this article as: Handford C.E., Dean M., Spence M., Henchion M., Elliott C.T. & Campbell K.,
Awareness and Attitudes towards the Emerging Use of Nanotechnology in the Agri-food Sector, Food
Control (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.03.033.
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Awareness and Attitudes towards the Emerging Use of Nanotechnology in the Agri-food

Sector

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Caroline E. Handford1, Moira Dean1, Michelle Spence1, Maeve Henchion2, Christopher T.

Elliott1, Katrina Campbell1*

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Belfast, 18-30 Malone Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT9 5BN, United Kingdom.

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Institute for Global Food Security, School of Biological Sciences, Queens University

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Teagasc, Food Research Centre, Ashtown, Dublin 15, Ireland

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*Corresponding author: Katrina Campbell, +44 (0) 28 90976535.

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Fax: +44 (0)28 90976513.

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Email: katrina.campbell@qub.ac.uk

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Declaration of financial interests: The authors have no actual or potential competing financial

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interests to declare.

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List of abbreviations:

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GM, Genetic Modification

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IoI, Island of Ireland

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NI, Northern Ireland

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ROI, Republic of Ireland

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SME, Small and Medium enterprise

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Abstract

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Nanotechnology has relevance to applications in all areas of agri-food including agriculture,

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aquaculture, production, processing, packaging, safety and nutrition. Scientific literature

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indicates uncertainties in food safety aspects about using nanomaterials due to potential

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health risks. To date the agri-food industrys awareness and attitude towards nanotechnology

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have not been addressed. We surveyed the awareness and attitudes of agri-food organisations

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on the island of Ireland (IoI) with regards to nanotechnology. A total of 14 agri-food

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stakeholders were interviewed and 88 agri-food stakeholders responded to an on-line

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questionnaire. The findings indicate that the current awareness of nanotechnology

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applications in the agri-food sector on the IoI is low and respondents are neither positive nor

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negative towards agri-food applications of nanotechnology. Safer food, reduced waste and

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increased product shelf life were considered to be the most important benefits to the agri-food

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industry. Knowledge of practical examples of agri-food applications is limited however

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opportunities were identified in precision farming techniques, innovative packaging,

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functional ingredients and nutrition of foods, processing equipment, and safety testing.

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Perceived impediments to nanotechnology adoption were potential unknown human health

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and environmental impacts, consumer acceptance and media framing. The need for a risk

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assessment framework, research into long term health and environmental effects, and better

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engagement between scientists, government bodies, the agri-food industry and the public

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were identified as important.

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Key words: Agriculture, Agri-food, Attitudes, Awareness, Food industry, Nanotechnology

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1. Introduction

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Nanotechnology is the manipulation of materials and structures at sizes in the nanoscale

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range, approximately between 1 and 100 nanometres (European Food Safety Authority,

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2009). Nanotechnology research is attracting large scale investments by leading producers of

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agricultural and food products with some food, beverage and packaging products that

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incorporate nanotechnologies already commercially available in certain countries (Grure,

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2012; Momin, Jayakumar, & Prajapati, 2013). Applications of nanotechnology are relevant to

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all areas of food science (Figure 1), including agriculture, food processing, packaging, safety,

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nutrition and nutraceuticals (Chaudhry et al., 2008; Sozer, & Kokini, 2009; Chaudhry, &

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Castle, 2011; Duncan, 2011; Mousavi, & Rezaei, 2011; Rashidi, & Khosravi-Darani, 2011;

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Arajo et al., 2013; Durn, & Marcato, 2013; Ezhilarasi, Karthik, Chhanwal, &

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Anandharamakrishnan, 2013; Kalpana Sastry, Anshul, & Rao, 2013; Momin, Jayakumar, &

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Prajapati, 2013; Agrawal, & Rathore, 2014; Sekhon, 2014). It is anticipated that

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nanotechnology will bring significant benefits to the agri-food industry and consumers

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including more efficient food production methods, the development of functional foods

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which offer health claims, increased shelf life of food products, more hygienic food

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processing, and improved traceability and safety of products (Chaudhry, & Castle, 2011;

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Ranjan et al., 2014). Nanofoods and nanopackagings have already been commercialised in

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some countries; these are identified in the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Consumer

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Products Inventory (http://www.nanotechproject.org/cpi/), though this list is not definitive.

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For example, Shemen Industries have incorporated nanoparticles into their Canola Active Oil

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to enable penetration of healthy components (such as vitamins), while Voridan has developed

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a nanocomposite to be used in their beer bottle plastics to make them harder and stronger.

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It is difficult to know how widespread the application of nanotechnology is in the

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agri-food sector because there is limited research on the industrys actual awareness of

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nanotechnology or how it is being applied. The industrys awareness and attitudes towards

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the use of nanotechnologies for agri-food applications have not been explored so far.

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Nevertheless, an organisations willingness to adopt such technologies is likely to be

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dependent on a number of factors including existing uncertainties relating to health and

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safety, with indications that the incorporation of nanomaterials into food products and

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packagings may present an entire new array of risks for consumers (Kuzma, Romanchek, &

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Kokotovich, 2008; Bouwmeester et al., 2009; Bradley, Castle, & Chaudhry, 2011; Han, Yu,

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Li, & Wang, 2011; Ile, Martinovic, & Kozak, 2011; Magnuson, Jonaitis, & Card, 2011;

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Silvestre, Duraccio, & Cimmino, 2011; Cockburn et al., 2012; Magnuson et al., 2013).

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Further, at present, there is little regulation regarding nanotechnologies or nanoproducts

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(Coles, & Frewer, 2013). Only a few government agencies from different countries have

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established regulatory frameworks for the use of nanotechnology; these are considered to be

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extensive enough to cover agri-food applications (Mantovani, Porcari, Morrison, &

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Geertsma, 2011). Further, consumers are found to be more accepting of packaging (nano-

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outside) than products that incorporate nanomaterials within the food (nano-inside) which

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they consider to be more risky (Siegrist, Cousin, Kastenholz, & Wiek, 2007; Siegrist,

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Stampfli, & Kastenholz, 2009; Ravichandran, 2010; Frewer et al., 2011; Henchion et al.,

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2013). Finally, organisational issues are thought to be an impediment to the adoption of

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nanotechnologies; for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), innovation may be constrained

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by limited resources and difficulties to access research and know how to implement such

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technologies (Nooteboom, 1994; Trail, & Grunert, 1997). This is highly relevant on the

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island of Ireland (IoI) where the vast majority of agri-food organisations are SMEs (>90%)

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(Teagasc, 2009).

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The present study aimed to investigate (i) the agri-food industrys awareness and

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attitudes towards nanotechnology and applications, (ii) the industrys current usage of

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nanotechnology, (iii) the perceived risks and benefits of nanotechnology in relation to food,

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(iv) nanotechnology opportunities and (v) obstacles to the adoption of nanotechnologies

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across the IoI. It was anticipated that this study could be used as a measure of the importance

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of nanotechnology to the European agri-food sector through the inclusion of multinational

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corporations.

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2. Methods

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2.1. Interviews and electronic questionnaires

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Informed by a systematic literature review (Handford et al 2014), executive interviews were

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conducted with key stakeholders to explore the research objectives. This was complimented

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by an on-line survey administered to a wide range of stakeholders to enable quantification of

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several issues. All responses were given from an organisational perspective not the

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respondents own. The systematic review involved a search of the commercially available

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electronic databases PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science (ISI) for articles in the English

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language, published between January 2008 and August 2013 as the foundation for the

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interview schedule. The review excludes articles prior to January 2008 as Chaudhry et al.,

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(2008) provides a good review of the same topic over the previous years. Specific key themes

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(nanotechnology and food and application or opportunity or risk) were selected,

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and the search terms used included nanotechnology, application, food, agriculture,

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food packaging, food products, food production, food processing, food safety,

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nutrition, opportunity, legislation, regulation, and risk. Combinations of search

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terms were used to identify relevant articles. Reviews (n=28) were evaluated and formed the

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basis of the systematic review; key applications, opportunities and challenges of

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nanotechnology for the agri-food industry were ascertained. Specifically, the main areas of

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application of nanotechnology identified included primary production, food processing, food

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packaging, nutrition, and food safety (Figure 1). The projected benefits arising from the use

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of nanotechnology for agri-food applications were also established, and included, amongst

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other things, more efficient production methods, lighter and stronger packaging, more

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hygienic food processing and novel foods with improved flavour and textures. Potential risks

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were also identified and were in relation to human health, the environment, public

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acceptance, information and knowledge deficits and regulation.

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Based on these findings, a semi-structured interview schedule was developed; an

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overview of this is presented in Table 1, with the full interview guide available upon request.

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Interviews consisted of six sections with a range of closed and open ended questions to

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collect information on: (1) demographics, (2) awareness and attitude to nanotechnology and

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its applications, (3) organisations current use of nanotechnology, (4) the risks and benefits of

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nanotechnology in relation to food, (5) opportunities for nanotechnology implementation, and

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(6) obstacles to the adoption of nanotechnologies. In this instance, closed questions were

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mainly applied for ease of completion of the demographical questions asked at the beginning

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of the interview, which provided important information on the respondents organisation

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before ascertaining their views with regards to nanotechnology.

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Based on the interview responses, an on-line survey was developed. The general

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structure of the survey was similar to that of the interview schedule. Likert scales were used

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to measure views on different aspects of nanotechnology, and rank order scale questions

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utilised to obtain insight into participants priorities for specific items. Table 2 illustrates an

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overview of the survey design; outlining the specific question categories, with the main

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questions asked and the type of question used. However, the full questionnaire is available

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from the research team on request.

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Pilot interviews (n=5) and surveys (n=15) were conducted to check for technical

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functioning (instructions, question order, response categories, filters and duration) and to

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ensure comprehension prior to finalising the protocols. Therefore, these are not included in

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the main data collection as slight modifications were made to the design of the protocols

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following the pilots, including some changes to the order of the presentation and wording to

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make it more readable. The study protocols for both research phases were approved by the

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Queens University of Belfast Ethical Committee.

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2.2 Sampling and administration

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A database of contacts for agri-food organisations on the IoI (n=1014) was collated using

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Microsoft excel following a search of numerous internet sites including Bord Bia (Irish Food

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Board), Invest Northern Ireland (NI) Food Directory, the NI Food and Drink Association,

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Food and Drink Export Ireland, Food Standards Agency, Food Safety Authority of Ireland,

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Top 1000 Food and Beverage Companies Site, Yellow Pages, Golden Pages to invite

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stakeholders to participate in the study. Sampling included agri-food organisations on the IoI

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involved in different stages of the supply chain the relevant agri-food sectors as well as

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public sector bodies and knowledge providers.

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An expression of interest in the project was distributed via e-mail to all identified

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stakeholders on a monthly basis from August to November 2013. During this time period

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underrepresentation by specific sectors (primary production, food processing, nutrition,

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packaging and food safety), organisation types and sizes was addressed through specific

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targeting. Five interviews were performed by means of face-to-face interaction and nine

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interviews by telephone from the 6th November to 5th December 2013, by one researcher for

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continuity. Interviews typically lasted between 25-40 minutes.

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A questionnaire was administered electronically (via Kwik Surveys) from the 11th

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February to 7th March 2014 and distributed to all contacts from the stakeholder database

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(n=1014) through Safefood Knowledge Networks, NI Food and Drink Association and the NI

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Grain Trade Association and social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) for completion.

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Standard approaches were taken to ensure a reasonable response rate including issuing

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reminder e-mails. Participants were offered the opportunity to win an iPad as an incentive for

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completing the questionnaire.

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2.3. Analysis of interview transcripts and questionnaires

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Extensive handwritten notes were taken during all interviews. Additionally, the interviews

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were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim, with the exception of two interviews which

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could not be recorded due to company policy. Each interview transcript/notes was read and

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reread numerous times before the analysis began. Thematic analysis, an approach for

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identifying, analysing and reporting themes within the data, and interpreting these themes

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within the research aims, was undertaken on the transcripts manually (Braun, & Clarke,

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2006).

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Quantitative data from the electronic questionnaires was managed and descriptively

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analysed using Kwik Surveys. A total of 142 respondents completed details for the on-line

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questionnaire, however, 54 responses were eliminated due to insufficient data (i.e. less than

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20% of the questionnaire was completed) or because the respondents organisation was

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outside the IoI. The final response achieved was 9% (n=88) for respondents with fully

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completed questionnaires. For each question the respondent answers were presented as

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frequencies and percentages. Inference analysis of the data was performed by IBM Statistical

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Package for Social Sciences Base 21 (SPSS Inc., Armonk, New York, USA). The data entry

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was checked for errors or missing data. Cross tabulations were performed to allow analysis of

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the data by region, agri-food sector, stage of chain, organisation size and age of organisation.

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Means and standard errors were calculated for rank order and Likert-scale questions.

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Comparisons of responses for awareness, benefits/risks, current use, opportunities and

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obstacles of nanotechnology were performed between the groups. The Fishers exact test was

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used to analyse the significance of association between the variables. Spearman rank order

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correlation analysis was used to investigate the strength and direction of association between

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ordinal variables (Pallant, 2010).

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3. Results

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In total, a sample of 14 agri-food organisations across the IoI participated in the

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interviews. The interviewees were representative of the agri-food sector from primary

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production (n=4 in group one), food processing (n=4 in group two), packaging (n=3 in group

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three), nutrition (n=1 in group four) and food safety (n=1 in group five).

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The demographic information of the respondents completing the on-line questionnaire

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is presented in Table 3. Agri-food organisations located in NI and the Republic of Ireland

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(ROI) represented equal numbers of the sample, which was thought to be under

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representative of the Irish agri-food sector considering there are a higher number of

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companies in the ROI. As expected, the vast majority of the cohort was SMEs (86%), which

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comprise over 90% of the Irish food sector (Teagasc, 2009). SMEs are defined according to

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the European Union (EU) definition (micro <10, small <50, medium-sized <250 employees)

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(European Commission, 2014). Further, 73% of agri-food organisations were involved in

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manufacturing/ processing/ packaging, and whilst many organisations were multi-sectored,

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35% were involved in dairy.

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The interview responses indicated the main sources for information on new

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technologies (including nanotechnology) to be the internet, media (television, newspaper

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articles), universities/research institutes, scientific publications and conferences. The

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internet was reported as being the primary source of information by 80% of survey

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respondents. Large organisations accessed scientific publications, books, conferences

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and research institutes for information significantly more than SMEs (Table 4).

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3. 1. Awareness and attitudes of nanotechnology and its applications

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In the interview, the emerging themes relating to awareness and attitudes of nanotechnology

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in the agri-food sector are presented in Table 5. When respondents were asked to describe

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nanotechnology in the interview some had no knowledge while others were able to provide a

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good understanding of it. In the survey 82% of survey respondents had previously heard of

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nanotechnology. Awareness of nanotechnology ranged from respondents knowing: nothing

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at all (18%); the term but that is all (35%), a little (31%); some (13%) to others

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knowing a lot (3%). A significant association between organisation size and awareness of

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nanotechnology was found (Fishers exact text, p<0.001). Respondents in large organisations

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had the greatest level of awareness of nanotechnology (3.3 1.2, 1= knowing nothing to

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5=knowing a lot) with 25% of respondents claiming to have a lot of knowledge. Awareness

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from respondents in other organisation sizes was: micro (2.5 1.1), small (2 0.7), and

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medium-sized (2.5 0.9).

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Familiarity with the term nanotechnology was mainly found to be in the context of

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agriculture (25%) and food products (25%) primarily due to the selection of agri-food

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participants in the study. Other popular options included physical/chemical/biological

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processes (22%), manipulating substances at sizes in the nanoscale range (19%), micro

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or small science or technology (17%), computing (13%), and packaging (10%).

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However, 15% were unsure and 16% of the sample claimed they were not aware.
In the interview, members from the agriculture group recognised potential uses in

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soil testing, agrochemical delivery, genetic modification (GM), improved nutrition of

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animal feed and disease resistance. This was mirrored in the surveys with the use of

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nanotechnology in animal feed and nutrition being the most widely known agricultural

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application (23%). Awareness of other options included animal disease diagnostics (19%),

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agrochemical delivery (19%), smart sensors (18%), and targeted genetic engineering

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(15%). More than half of the cohort (54%) was unaware.

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Awareness of food industry applications of nanotechnology was slightly higher

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amongst respondents. Interviewees talked mainly in relation to the use of nanotechnology in

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packaging and the utilising of nanotechnology in food ingredients, nutrient delivery,

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preservation, surface cleaning, and food safety were also mentioned. In the survey,

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packaging was also the most widely known application (34%) with nutrition of food

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(30%), food ingredients (27%), delivery of nutrients (25%), food safety (24%), and

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processing equipment (18%) being other applications that were noted. Amongst the cohort,

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41% was unaware.

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In the interview, the awareness of current food or beverage products on the market

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that have been produced using nanotechnology was extremely low, though dairy foods and

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processed deli meats were some of the suggested products. This was confirmed in the

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survey with 31% being unaware and 63% choosing cannot say/ dont know. Similarly,

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some of the known products included yoghurts (5%), slimming products (3%) and

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milk (3%).

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Survey participants were neither positive nor negative towards nanotechnology (3.1

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0.7, 1=very negative and 5=very positive) with slightly more favourable attitudes in relation

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to food safety (3.7 0.9), animal disease diagnostics (3.5 0.8), smart sensors (3.5

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0.8), packaging (3.4 1.1) and processing equipment (3.4 0.9). A significant

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association between awareness and attitude was found (Fishers exact test, p<0.001; r=0.42).

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The results showed that the least aware displayed a very negative attitude and those who were

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most aware had a more positive attitude. However the frequency numbers in some instances

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are low and a larger study could confirm this correlation. In general when awareness was low

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the attitude was neither positive nor negative. Further, an association between organisation

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size and attitude towards nanotechnology was found (Fishers exact test, p<0.05) with

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respondents from medium-sized and large organisations displaying the most positive attitude.

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Ways of improving respondents organisations knowledge base to enhancing

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understanding of nanotechnology showed that of greatest to least importance were: better

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communication and information from scientific organisations, (4.2 0.8), information from

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government bodies (4.1 0.8), networking with universities (4 0.9), nanotechnology

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experts (4 0.9), seminars or training workshops (4 0.8), better communication throughout

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the company (3.7 1) and employment of more technical experts (3.6 1). There was an

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overall agreement that more information was a requirement.

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3.2. Organisations current use of nanotechnology

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The existing level of nanotechnology application is extremely low, with 88% of survey

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respondents indicating that it is not currently used within their organisation, although,

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nanotechnology has been applied in animal production (5%), food processing (3%),

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processing equipment (3%), food safety (3%) and packaging (2%).

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The interviewees indicated that nanotechnology could have been utilised by suppliers to

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develop products which the primary producers are using, or used within their organisation

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unknowingly due to a lack of understanding of the technology. In terms of plans for future

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use in the agri-food supply chain, 10% of those surveyed indicated that their organisation was

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currently researching nanotechnology or had a future research development plan in place.

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A significant association between organisation size and future use of nanotechnology was

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found (Fishers exact test, p<0.005), with large organisations currently researching/

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implementing a development plan significantly more than SMEs. When respondents were

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asked about labelling products developed using nanotechnology, only 18% said they would

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label nanoproducts, while 18% claimed they would only label if it was made mandatory by

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law.

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3.3. Risks and benefits of nanotechnology in relation to food

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In relation to relative risks and benefits of nanotechnology to the agri-food sector, 17% felt

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benefits outweigh the risks, while 14% thought risks outweigh the benefits, with 10%

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feeling that benefits and risks are about equal and 59% being unsure. In the interview,

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some viewed nanotechnology as being beneficial in providing solutions to existing problems

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while others felt that further research is needed to remove any risks before the widespread

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adoption of nanotechnology by the agri-food industry. Nevertheless, a vast range of potential

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benefits to the agri-food industry were identified, with the production of safer food viewed

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as the most important benefit by survey respondents (3.3 2.6) and improved distribution

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and sales (6.9 2.3) the least (Figure 2a).

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In the interview, negative public perceptions were a particular concern due to

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misinformation and bad press from comparisons to GM foods. There were fears that

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misinformation could result in mistrust by the consumers, which in turn could have serious

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implications for the agri-food industry, like in the recent example of the horsemeat scare.

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This was replicated in the survey, with the main challenges regarding the use of

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nanotechnology in agri-food being information and knowledge deficits, public

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acceptance, and long term health implications (each with a mean of 3.7 0.8) (Figure 2b).

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The interviewees stressed the importance of implementing legislation as a means of risk

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reduction. In the survey, the strongest agreement for possible solutions to risk reduction was

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for: transparent and open research activities (4.3 0.8), with agreement also shown for

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adequate guidance on risk assessment (4.2 0.7), implementation of regulation for

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nanotechnology (4.2 0.7), international research collaborations (4 0.8), on-going

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communication amongst all stakeholders (4 0.7), and globally harmonised risk

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governance (4 0.7). Survey respondents supported the view that the agri-food industry

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could be regulated through local governmental bodies (20%), at the EU level (47%), and

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globally harmonised regulations (30%).

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3.4. Opportunities for nanotechnology implementation

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Product innovation was considered to be the most important objective (2.5 2) when

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investing in new technologies by survey respondents, while increasing consumer spending

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was the least (6.3 1.4) (Figure 2c). The interviewees recognised a potential use for

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nanotechnology in a number of different areas from improved precision farming through to

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food processing and packaging applications. In the survey, food safety monitoring

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(42%) and packaging (39%) were shown to be the most promising areas of application with

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food processing (34%), processing equipment (32%), animal production (22%) and

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crop production (18%) other options. However, 23% of the sample claimed that they had

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no use for nanotechnology. Respondents in agriculture realised the potential of

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implementing nanotechnology in crop production and animal production significantly

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more than those not involved in this stage of chain (Table 6). While those involved in

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manufacturing/processing/packaging recognised a potential to apply nanotechnology in food

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processing, processing equipment and packaging significantly more than those not

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involved.

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3.5. Obstacles to the adoption of nanotechnologies

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In the interview, those from SMEs expressed a stronger need for additional resources

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(including funding from external bodies such as Invest NI), new facilities and technical

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expert advice in relation to what equipment to buy and how to use it properly. According to

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survey participants, needs prior to nanotechnology implementation (1=very unimportant and

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5= very important) were deemed important for: more research into long term human health

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effects (4.5 0.9), more information and enhanced knowledge (4.3 1), adequate safety

360

assessment (4.2 1), regulation of nanotechnology for agri-food (4.2 1), public

361

engagement (4.2 0.9), consumer perceptions (4.1 1), effective stakeholder

362

communication (4.1 1), expert training (4 1), and financial investment (3.9 0.9). A

363

significant association between organisation size and the need for nanotechnology to be

364

regulated was found (Fishers exact test, p<0.02), with large organisations being more

365

inclined to view this as very important than SMEs (4.5 1).

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Survey participants projected an increase in the application of nanotechnology in the

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agri-food sector in the future (32%). In terms of impediments to nanotechnology

368

implementation, the interviewees mainly talked about public perception with consumers

369

being driven towards the idea of natural products and fears that a lack of public

370

understanding could lead to outright rejection. Further, some interviewees felt that it would

371

take longer for nanotechnology to be applied and commercialised in a large organisation,

372

whilst other suggested that SMEs would find it much more difficult due to their limited

373

resources. For survey participants, unknown risks to human health and the environment,

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public acceptance and lack of information and knowledge were the main obstacles (each

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with a mean of 4.3 0.9) (Figure 2d). A significant association between age of organisation

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and the cost of nanotechnology was found (Fishers exact test, p<0.03) with organisations <5

377

years in existence significantly more in agreement and strong agreement of the costs of

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nanotechnology being an impediment to its implementation (4.1 1.2), than organisations >

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5 years old.

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Survey respondents level of trust (on a scale of 0-10) on the information received on

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nanotechnology from 1) government agencies, 2) agri-food industry associations, 3)

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scientists, 4) media, 5) non-governmental organisations and 6) research institutes was highest

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for information provided by research institutes (7.2 1.9) and scientists (6.9 2.1),

384

while the media had the lowest level of trust (3.2 1.8).

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4. Discussion

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The awareness of the term nanotechnology is relatively high amongst agri-food organisations,

389

which is probably due to it already being commercialised in a wide range of industries

390

including electronics, modern textiles and cosmetics (Doyle, 2006). However, awareness of

391

nanotechnology specific to agri-food applications was limited, probably due to the fact that

392

its still a relatively new concept to the agri-food industry (Kalpana Sastry, Anshul, & Rao,

393

2013) with many of the applications still at the research and development stage and years

394

away from being commercialised (Chen, & Yada, 2011; Ditta, 2012; Khot, Sankaran, Maja,

395

Ehsani, & Schuster, 2012; Ranjan et al., 2014; Sekhon, 2014). In this study, participants from

396

large organisations demonstrated a greater awareness of agri-food applications of

397

nanotechnology than SMEs. However, although large organisations displayed a greater

398

awareness, they are only representative of up to 10% of the agri-food industry on the island.

399

This means that the overall awareness of nanotechnology on the IoI is still low.

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Although nanofoods and nanopackagings are available, the number of products on

401

the market is still low. Results showed that the awareness of the use of nanotechnology in

402

food packaging is more prevalent on the IoI, which could be because nanopackaging is

403

currently one of the most active areas of nanotechnology in the agri-food industry and is

404

predicted to account for 25% of all food packaging within the next ten years (Lyons, Scrinis,

405

& Whelan, 2011). Food and beverage applications of nanotechnology were less known on the

406

IoI, although processed meat and dairy products were recognised as using nanotechnology.

407

Overall attitudes to nanotechnology and its applications in agri-food were neither positive nor

408

negative; this is largely reflective of the limited awareness of nanotechnology amongst

409

industry personnel and does not seem to reflect a considered position.

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Specific to the IoI, the current use of nanotechnology in the agri-food industry is low,

411

although there was a feeling that nanotechnology might have been utilised unknowingly, such

412

as in animal feed and cereal fortification. This again reflects the present limited awareness of

413

nanotechnology on the IoI. However, research and development in nanotechnology in the

414

agri-food sector is steadily growing worldwide, although much of the investment to date has

415

been made by large organisations (Grure, 2012). For instance, Unilever have employed

416

nanoemulsion technology to produce an ice cream with reductions in fat from 16% to 1%

417

while not compromising on the flavour (Alfadul, & Elneshwy, 2010). Therefore, the number

418

of agri-food companies having products commercialised/under research and development

419

will vary from country to country. Thus, further investigation needs to be undertaken in other

420

countries before any conclusions can be made about the overall agri-food industrys current

421

awareness and use of nanotechnology.

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Participants recognised a number of potential benefits of nanotechnology to the agri-

423

food sector, with the production of safer food, reduced waste and increased product shelf life

424

being the most important. Nevertheless, these do not necessarily align with the kinds of

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benefits that consumers might want/value; studies have shown these to be in relation to a

426

lower price and health and taste related benefits (Henchion et al., 2013). Thus, the benefits

427

associated with a specific application will influence consumer acceptance. Our results

428

indicate some fears over comparisons of the commercialisation of nanotechnology with the

429

GM of foods in terms of consumer rejection. Previous research suggests that some of the

430

negative public perceptions of GM foods might be associated with nanotechnology in terms

431

of it being perceived as relatively high risk, as well as views of unnaturalness, and ethical

432

concerns (Frewer et al., 2011; Frewer et al., 2013; Bieberstein, Roosen, Marette,

433

Blanchemanche, & Vandermoere, 2013). Thus, engaging with the public about the different

434

potential nanotechnology applications is important to establish consumer perceptions, which

435

could also help organisations to determine which applications to prioritise. Further, results

436

show that there are concerns about the unknown long term effect of consuming nanotech food

437

products. Support from academia through continuous research into the potential risks

438

associated with the use of nanotechnology for different agri-food applications is considered

439

important. The development and implementation of a risk assessment framework for

440

adequate regulation is also fundamental to control and monitor potential risks associated with

441

the use of nanotechnology, particularly were knowledge and individual control is seemingly

442

lacking. This is in line with Momin, Jayakumar, & Prajapati, (2013) which indicated that

443

existing laws are insufficient to assess risks posed by nanotechnology food products and

444

packaging. Therefore, a robust regulatory framework is seen as an important means of giving

445

consumers trust in nanotechnology and increasing their acceptance of it. Further, to

446

increasing consumer trust it is vital to provide clear and balanced information, for example,

447

functionality labelling can provide consumers with more control, as they can make an

448

informed choice about products they are consuming. However, it is also argued that labelling

449

may change public perception of such products and may result in higher perceived risks and

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450

lower perceived benefits. It is also suggested that information provided on the label may be

451

insufficient in enabling informed decision-making by consumers as it would represent an

452

over-simplification of the process and related issues (Handford et al., 2014a).


Most of the participants in this study saw a potential for nanotechnology to be

454

incorporated into one or more areas of their organisation. The potential areas for

455

implementation are relative to the stage of chain and agri-food sector. For instance, those

456

involved in agriculture identified a greater potential for nanotechnology to be used in animal

457

and crop production, than those not involved. Overall, the most promising areas of

458

application appeared to be in food safety and packaging, which is largely reflective of the

459

benefits associated with these specific applications. However, this could also be because the

460

participants considered these applications to be less risky than those which incorporate

461

nanoparticles into the food itself, which was found in previous work with consumers

462

(Siegrist, Cousin, Kastenholz, & Wiek, 2007; Siegrist, Stampfli, & Kastenholz, 2009;

463

Ravichandran, 2010; Frewer et al., 2011; Henchion et al., 2013).

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Information and knowledge deficits were considered to be a major impediment to

465

nanotechnology adoption. Thus, better communication and information from scientific

466

organisations and governmental bodies is important to inform and educate all agri-food

467

industry personnel about what nanotechnology is, the different areas of application, how to

468

implement it, and finally, what the associated benefits and risks are. Cost versus benefit

469

analysis is also an important consideration for organisations interested in implementing

470

nanotechnology; the potential impact for the new technology and the level of return of

471

investment. Our results showed that for newer organisations (<5 years in existence), the cost

472

of nanotechnology was an impediment to its implementation. Other considerations are

473

thought to be dependent on the scale and scope of the organisation, and the form in which

474

nanotechnology will be used. Our results indicated that it may take a long time for

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nanotechnology to be adopted and commercialised by large organisations due to their vast

476

size. Though for SMEs, which are limited in their size, resources and access to information,

477

they may require collaboration with universities and funding from external bodies to facilitate

478

the implementation of nanotechnology.

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5. Conclusions

481

Nanotechnology has shown promising application in all areas of the agri-food industry.

482

However, in order for it to be widely adopted, further research needs to be conducted to

483

obtain a more accurate overview of the global agri-food industrys current awareness and

484

attitudes towards nanotechnology. Scientists and governmental bodies need to engage with

485

the agri-food industry, media and consumers to increase awareness and understanding of

486

nanotechnology. Other important needs include adequate safety assessment of individual

487

nanotechnology applications, further research into the long term health effects associated

488

with consuming-nano derived food products, and finally, the implementation of a

489

comprehensive legislative framework for the use of nanotechnology in agri-food applications,

490

with the inclusion of a risk assessment framework. Large companies that are more aware of

491

the technology could expect to see a traditional adoption diffusion pattern with smaller

492

companies following larger companies if they see success stories. Peer-peer learning and

493

networking with larger companies can help smaller companies implement nanotechnology.

495

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Acknowledgements

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This research is published as part of the project: Nanotechnology in the Agri-food industry on

510

the island of Ireland: applications, opportunities and challenges. The project was funded by

511

Safefood from a research tender call in 2013 (05-2013). The study was conducted jointly by

512

the Institute for Global Food Security at Queens University Belfast and Teagasc, National

513

Food Research Centre, Dublin.

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List of Figures

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Figure 1: Identification of key emerging themes from the systematic review (Handford et al

751

2014b); applications of nanotechnology in the agri-food industry.

752

Figure 2: Means (standard errors) for the respondent organisation views on the potential (a)

753

benefits (b) risks (c) opportunities and (d) obstacles in the application of nanotechnology to

754

the agri-food industry.

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List of Tables

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Table 1: Overview of the semi-structured interview guide

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Table 2: Overview of the on-line survey

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Table 3: Difference between organisation size and the sources utilised for information on

760

nanotechnology.

761

Table 4: Demographic information of the questionnaire respondents

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Table 5: Emerging themes relating to awareness and attitudes of nanotechnology in the agri-

763

food sector.

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Table 6: Differences in potential areas of nanotechnology application amongst organisations

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across the different stages of the chain.

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Table 1: Overview of the semi-structured interview guide

Part IV: Risks/benefits of nanotechnology


in relation to food

Part V: Nanotech opportunities

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Part VI: Obstacles to the adoption of


nanotechnologies

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Part III: Companys current use of


nanotechnology

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Part II: Awareness and understanding of


nanotechnology and its applications

Key questions
-Which area of the food industry is your company involved
in?
-Approximately how old is the company?
-How much have you heard about
nanotechnology?
-Are you aware of how nanotechnology can be used in the
agri-food industry?
-Are you aware of any food/beverage products currently on
the market that have been produced using nanotechnology?
-Is nanotechnology used within your company? If yes,
how/why is it used? And for what products?
-As a company, where did you first hear about
nanotechnology? How did you implement this new
technology?
-What are the benefits for the agri-food industry?
-What are the risks for the agri-food industry?
-Should nanotechnology be regulated at the local level for
industry, the European level or globally harmonised?
-Based on what you know about nanotechnologies, do you
think it would potentially be useful for any area of your
company?
-If your company was to consider implementing
nanotechnology, what would you need?
-Do you foresee the application of nanotechnology in the
agri-food sector increasing in the future? Why?
-What would you consider to be the impediments regarding
the implementation of nanotechnology in your company?
-How do you think nanotechnology can be made less
complex for companies?

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Question category
Part I: Demographics

ACCEPTED MANUSCRIPT
Table 2: Overview of the on-line survey
Key questions
-Which type of organisation do you work for?
-At which stage of the agri-food supply chain is your
organisation involved?
-Approximately, how old is the company?

Question type
Multiple choice

Part II: Awareness and


perceptions of
nanotechnology and its
applications

-As an organisation have you heard of any of the


following food industry applications of nanotechnology?
- Please indicate the view of your organisation for the
following food industry applications

Multiple choice

RI
PT

Question category
Part I: Demographics

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SC

Part III: Risks/benefits of


- What would you consider to be the most important
nanotechnology in relation to benefits (1) to the least important benefits (9) arising from
food
the application of nanotechnology in the agri-food
industry?
- Please indicate to what level your organisation agrees or
disagrees with the following issues associated with the use
of nanotechnology for food and related products.

5-point Likert
scale

Rank order scale

5-point Likert
scale

- Does your organisation currently use nanotechnology or


nanomaterials at any stage in the agri-food supply chain?

Multiple choice

Part V: Nanotechnology
opportunities

- What objectives are important to your organisation when


considering investing in new technologies?
- As an organisation how important are the following prior
to the implementation of nanotechnology in your
company?

Rank order scale

- As an organisation do you foresee the application of


nanotechnology in the agrifood sector increasing in the
future?
- Please indicate to what level you agree or disagree with
the following as to what you consider to be the main
obstacles to the implementation of nanotechnology at your
organisation.
- How much trust does your organisation place on the
information you receive about nanotechnology from the
following bodies?

Multiple choice

AC
C

EP

Part VI: Obstacles to the


adoption of
nanotechnologies

TE
D

Part IV: Organisations


current use of
nanotechnology

5-point Likert
scale

5-point Likert
scale

Rating scale

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Table 3: Demographic information of the questionnaire respondents

Age

Country of organisation
Type of organisation

N=88 (%)
58 (66)
30 (34)
25 (28)
41 (47)
21 (24)
1 (1)
44 (50)
44 (50)
28 (32)
24 (27)
24 (27)
12 (14)
20 (23)
64 (73)
21 (24)
14 (16)
3 (3)
3 (3)
4 (5)
18 (21)
9 (10)
31 (35)
20 (23)
22 (25)
16 (18)
17 (19)
12 (14)
12 (14)
16 (18)
22 (25)
19 (22)
2 (2)
2 (2)
18 (21)
25 (28)
20 (23)
9 (10)
16 (18)
29 (33)
7 (8)
14 (16)
10 (11)

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SC

Stage of agri-food chain

Male
Female
18-35 years
36-50 years
51-65 years
66 years and over
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Micro enterprise (<10 employees)
Small enterprise (11-50 employees)
Medium-sized enterprise (51-250
employees)
Large organisation (>500 employees)
Agriculture/primary production
Manufacturing/processing/packaging
Wholesale and distribution
Retailing/marketing
Regulatory/monitoring body
Research and Development
Other
Animal feed and grains
Pesticides and nutraceuticals
Dairy
Bakeries and confectionary
Beef and/or lamb
Poultry
Pork
Fish
Eggs
Fruit and vegetables
Food ingredients and additives
Beverages
Other
Not applicable
5 years
6-20 years
21-35 years
36-50 years
51years+
Managing director
General manager
Technical manager
Research and Development/New Product
Development manager
Quality control manager
Production manager
Administration
Owner
Accounts manager
Marketing co-ordinator
Business development manager
Sales manager
Food technologist
Other

RI
PT

Gender

AC
C

Company position

EP

Age of company

TE
D

Agri-food sector

4 (5)
2 (2)
4 (5)
3 (3)
1 (1)
2 (2)
2 (2)
2 (2)
1 (1)
7 (8)

Note: For stage of agri-food chain and agri-food sector the sum does not total 100% as participants could give multiple responses.

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Table 4: Difference between organisation size and the sources utilised for information on
nanotechnology.

4
0
4
8

EP

TE
D

Note: Statistical significance of differences shown between the groups when p<0.05* (Fishers exact test)

AC
C

Large
% (n=12)
0
75
25
83*
33*
33*
75*
83*

4
0
0
4

17
8
0
0

RI
PT

4
4
0
4

Medium
% (n=24)
21
67
46
58
33
4
29
42

SC

Small
% (n=24)
8
79
46
29
8
0
29
29

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Mass media
Internet
Government agencies or regulators
Scientific publications
Science magazine
Books
Scientists presenting at conferences
Scientific organisations/ research
institutions
Patents
Suppliers
Investment bodies
Unsure/ don't know

Micro
% (n=28)
25
93
32
7
7
7
289
21

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Table 5: Emerging themes relating to awareness and attitudes of nanotechnology in the agrifood sector

Food industry
applications

It has been used in a lot of starches, floursfibres (Group 2)


we do have cereals which are fortified. I wouldnt be aware
that in order to fortify a cereal a company uses
nanotechnologyits never been mentioned that, thats the
technology. (Group 4)
we would probably have suppliers that would come in with
such products as mycotoxins binders.were using that
technology but we sort of havent developed it as suchits never
been explained, well to me anywayas a nanotechnology
(Group 1)
You know the benefits are fantastic, but you cant reap those
benefits until you know if there are risks and what the risks are.
(Group 5)
...the big benefit is safer food...food with longer life. (Group 1)
... to reduce the amount of packaging around foods, which means
that less is going to landfill. (Group 2)
...your health benefits and then cost benefits due to reduced
waste. (Group 2)
The risks are unknown effectsto the human body and within
theecosystem. (Group 2)
newspaper tabloidsyou get a lot of articles that people
havent understood exactly what it is and it puts doubt in the
consumers mind, so they read all that and they thinkwe dont
know what it is, and it might be dangerous. (Group 2)
...if whoevers actually manufacturing it sent out proper
instructions. (Group 3)
.correct legislation but not inhibitive legislation (Group 1)
globally, it would need to be you know because there is that
much produce now.. theres no seasons anymore, you just move to

TE
D

Organisations
use

Nanofood/
beverage products
on the current
market
Current application
Nanotechnology
used unknowingly

RI
PT

Agricultural
applications

Illustrative quotes
creating and using devices/ structures which would have a
novel property within their sizemanipulating on an atom scale.
(Group 5)
...they can use nanoparticles to go into the gut of an animal to
displace campylobacter. I know this whole business of magic
bullets were they will deliver chemicals in a different and more
efficient way to animals orplants I guess precision farming...
(Group 5)
in terms of crop productionyou would basically haveantifungal productsprogrammed exactly to attackdiseases and
infestations. (Group 1)
...I think things like anti-bacterials in particular... and just
extension of life used in packaging... also imagine it being used
actually as perhaps rapid technology for detecting presence of
bacteria. (Group 1)
you know yoghurts and things that you can replace the oil
droplets with water and reduce fat. (Group 2)
Cheesestrings for examplethey have been using stuff for
shelf life durability and thats how they have been able to get into
the European market. (Group 2)

SC

Sub-category
Familiarity with
nanotechnology

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Category
Awareness and
attitudes

Benefits vs risks

Benefits

AC
C

Benefits/risks

EP

Used by suppliers

Risks

How the risks can


be reduced

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Potential areas of
application

Public perception

TE
D

Obstacles

M
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SC

Needs prior to
implementation

RI
PT

Opportunities

a different country.. so if one country has regulations you have


to have conformity. (Group 3)
...needs to be some kind of statutory testing programme. (Group
5)
if we can improve the length of the shelf life of the product,
its going to help in how we buy and thewastage that we have.
(Group 3)
...using flavour technology as well. (Group 1)
...to analyse the amount of fat...in products. (Group 1)
its like anything, the more information you have about
something thats the start pointing. (Group 3)
youd have to have a greater knowledge base or youd have to
have greater training among others or, for example, take a team
and have them do, you know a course or a degree or something in
thatthey would then be experts in it. (Group 2)
it has to be done in a way that you are getting the information,
but you are also seeing the practical application of what it is.
(Group 2)
I think people need to be aware and there needs to be
publicity and if there are no risks, have it proven to them that
there are no risks. (Group 5)
probably need investment, plus we need a lot of outside
expertise help, you know to develop it and understand it. (Group
2)
we probably would need new facilities or different facilities.
(Group 1)
I guess its like anything else thats new; its very sensitive in
the way these things are handled. If they are not handled properly
then it turns into a scare, and we have seen a scare a load of times
before, were they talk about irradiating foods, for example, which
turned into a whole publicity nightmare. (Group 5)
its well relatively newif companies dontfully understand
what it is and how it can help, then obviously thats going to
hinder. (Group 2)
a) the cost of it and b) what return we are going to get that on
implementing itinto our business. So theres a sort of weighing
up period; what benefits its going to bring. (Group 3)
we dont want to add anything artificialbecause everything that
weve got at the moment is natural(Group 3)
its probably more difficult in a medium-sized industry or a
medium-sized company because they dont necessarily have the
scale and the equipment; they are relying very much on humans
toyou know recreate things consistently. (Group 2)

Knowledge base

AC
C

EP

Cost and
commercial
viability
Consumers want
natural products
Organisation size

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Table 6: Differences in potential areas of nanotechnology application amongst organisations across the different stages of the chain
Stages of Agri-Food Supply Chain
Retail/marketing

Research and
development

No
(n=74)
%

Yes
(n=3)
%

No
(n=85)
%

Yes
(n=3)
%

No
(n=85)
%

Yes
(n=4)
%

No
(n=84)
%

18

33

18

33

18

25

18

Yes
(n=21)
%

No
(n=67)
%

Yes
(n=14)
%

18

21

35*

13

17

21

19

Animal production

40*

16

25

13

14

Food processing

20

38

41*

17

43

Processing
equipment
Food packaging

35

31

39*

13

38

30

42

45*

21

Food safety

55

38

45

33

None

20

24

20

29

Regulatory/
monitoring

Other

24

14

23

22

22

25

21

31

36

34

35

33

34

25

35

30

43

30

33

32

33

32

33

TE
D

Crop production

RI
PT

Wholesale and
distribution

SC

Manufacturing/
processing/
packaging
Yes
No
(n=64) (n=24)
%
%

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Potential Areas of
Nanotechnology

Agriculture/
primary
production
Yes
No
(n=20) (n=68)
%
%

39

21

42

33

39

33

39

25

39

57

37

43

42

44

67

42

50

42

24

22

43

19

33

22

33

22

24

EP

38

AC
C

Note: Respondent organisations may be involved in one or more stages of the agri-food chain. Responses were included under the Involved category if the respondent selected the stage of chain as applicable to their
organisation; if a stage was not selected by the respondent then their response was included under the Not involved category. P value <0.05* (Fishers exact test) indicates significant differences between those involved
and not involved in the different stages of the chain with potential areas for nanotechnology application.

ACCEPTED MANUSCRIPT

AC
C

EP

TE
D

M
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SC

RI
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Figure 1: Identification of key emerging themes from the systematic review (Handford et al
2014b); applications of nanotechnology in the agri-food industry.

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Figure 2: Means (standard errors) for the respondent organisation views on the potential (a) benefits (b) risks (c) opportunities and (d) obstacles
in the application of nanotechnology to the agri-food industry
Importance of Potential Benefits of Nanotechnology

Risks for the Implementation of Nanotechnology

(Most Important =1 Least Important =9)

(Strongly Disagree =1 Strongly Agree =5)

Safer Food

Lack of Information and Knowledge

Reduced Waste

Public Acceptance

SC

Longer Shelf Life

Long Term Health Impacts

Precision Farming
Enhanced Traceability

Lower Costs
Cheaper Food
Improved Distribution

M
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Environmental Impacts

Healthier Food Products

Media Perceptions
Risks to Workers

Inadequate Regulation

TE
D

Mean Score

Importance of Opportunities for Implementing Nanotechnology


(Most Important =1 Least Important =8)

Reduced Costs of Resources

Expansion in Core Markets


Environmental Friendly Products
Changed Pricing

1.5

2.5

3.5

4.5

4.5

Mean Score

Obstacles to the Implementation of Nanotechnology


(Strongly Disagree =1 Strongly Agree =5)

Public Acceptance
Lack of Information

AC
C

Retaining Customers

0.5

Human Health and Environmental Risks

EP

Product Innovation

Need for Risk Assessment


Availability of Expertise
Media Perceptions
Cost of Nanotech

Focus on Emerging Markets

Time and Long Term Value

Increasing Consumer Spending


0
0

Mean Score

0.5

1.5

2.5

Mean Score

3.5

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1

Awareness and Attitudes towards the Emerging Use of Nanotechnology in the Agri-food

Sector

3
Caroline E. Handford1, Moira Dean1, Michelle Spence1, Maeve Henchion2, Christopher T.

Elliott1, Katrina Campbell1*

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6
7

Research highlights

Agri-food industrys current awareness and attitude towards nanotechnology

Agri-food organisations current use of nanotechnology

10

Risks and benefits of nanotechnology in relation to agri-food

11

Opportunities for nanotechnology implementation

12

Obstacles to the adoption of nanotechnology

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SC

AC
C

EP

TE
D

13