EU Insights Chemical mixtures awareness, understanding and risk

EFSA defines ‘chemical mixtures’ as ‘several substances which may have combined effects on the body from their combined exposures’. There are already some methodologies for assessing risks from combined exposure to groups of chemicals, and EFSA together with European partners is developing methodologies to assess the risk from exposure to combinations of chemicals in food. However, consumers’ understanding and views on this topic have not been documented. This poses significant challenges to communication for EFSA and Member State authorities. To address this gap, a study on consumer views and perceptions was conducted. The study has followed a mixed method approach consisting of desk research, an online survey of EU citizens, a focus group with Belgian consumers, and a campaign of qualitative interviews with journalists. The consumer survey and focus group explored consumer knowledge and concerns about chemical mixtures, and reactions to different wordings and messages associated with chemical mixtures. Interviews with media representatives explored wording and messages to communicate about chemical mixtures and preferred ways of receiving information on chemical mixtures from EU bodies. Study findings indicate that consumer are well-aware of man-made chemicals, but less so of naturally-occurring chemicals. Consumers also have low awareness of chemical mixtures and the risk assessment process. Their level of concern from being exposed to combined effects of chemicals in food is high. Findings suggest that risk perceptions on this matter are influenced by the general perception that chemicals are man-made and therefore pose a greater risk to human health than other substances or products considered natural. 

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