Consumers worried about chemicals in food: Eurobarometer


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.

Linda Molander, a former doctoral student on risk and safety at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, has in a recent study concluded that EU policy falls short of protecting consumers and the environment from the hazards of chemicals in textiles, building materials and other everyday products.

She said: "Dangerous chemicals in consumer products must be reduced in order to ensure their safe use, but also to increase the opportunities to recycle materials and their byproducts, such as sludge and ash, in a sustainable way."

“Dangerous chemicals in consumer products must be reduced in order to ensure their safe use, but also to increase the opportunities to recycle materials and their byproducts, such as sludge and ash, in a sustainable way.”

Adopted in 2006, the REACH regulation requires chemical manufacturers to register 30,000 out of the 100,000 or so substances currently on the market and submit them for safety screening and subsequent authorisation (>> read our LinksDossier).

Those that are considered to pose an unacceptable threat to human health or the environment may be phased out and eventually replaced.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has published a list of dozens of chemicals considered of Very High Concern to human health or the environment.

The regulation had been due for a review in 2012, which has only now been completed, setting the stage for a lobbying offensive by industry groups that say the rules hurt competitiveness and consumer and health organisations that want stronger measures.

  • 31 May 2013: Deadline for the second REACH registration for substances manufactured or imported in quantities of 1 to 1,000 tonnes per year per manufacturer.
  • June 2018: Third registration phase closes with substances produced in smaller quantities (1-100 tonnes).

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