Many EU consumers believe that their food, cleaning and beauty products contain chemicals, and are most likely to check food products for chemicals before buying, according to a new Eurobarometer survey.

As many as 83% of consumers are worried that their food and drinks contain chemical substances, according to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in October 2012 among a representative sample of EU citizens (aged 15 and older) living in the 27 member states.

Ninety percent of the respondents also believe that cosmetics or beauty products contain chemicals. Slightly fewer consumers think that chemicals are present in clothes and shoes (85%), children’s toys (75%) and furniture (74%).

Johannes Kleis, a spokesperson at the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC), told EurActiv that the high number of worried consumers didn't come as a surprise.

"Consumers do have a reason to worry as some products still contain chemicals that are health-damaging such as endocrine disrupters," Kleis said, adding that some products don't even have a list of the chemical substances they contain.

According to the survey, food is the product that respondents are most likely to check, with a large majority (81%) saying that they look at the ingredients before buying. This is followed by cosmetics and beauty products (59%), toys (56%) and cleaning products (53%).

EU responsibility

The Eurobarometer survey will contribute to the European Commission’s 2012 Review of REACH, the EU's regulation on chemicals, which entered into force in 2007.

It will also provide information on the public’s perception and understanding of chemical substances, as well as attitudes towards their safety and awareness about regulations.

In the survey, almost half (48%) think that EU authorities should ensure the safety of chemical substances rather than the manufacturers themselves (42%) or national authorities (35%).

"The EU has a big responsibility," Kleis said, "and in this perspective it's very unfortunate and a missed opportunity that the review of REACH after five years did not result in a closer look at endocrine disrupters and nanomaterials or foresee any actions regarding those two types of chemicals."

The BEUC spokesperson added that regarding nanomaterials specifically, it was important that the Commission considers having a European database where chemicals containing nanomaterials are registered.