EU Insights Chemical mixtures awareness, understanding and risk perceptions

chemical mixtures; combined effects; risk perception; risk communication
First published in EFSA Supporting Publications
25 March 2019
18 March 2019
External Scientific Report


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. There were country differences in the way the choice of wording impacted consumer perceptions, which can inform tailored approaches to communication

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The present document has been produced and adopted by the bodies identified above as authors. This task has been carried out exclusively by the authors in the context of a contract between the European Food Safety Authority and the authors, awarded following a tender procedure. The present document is published complying with the transparency principle to which the Authority is subject. It may not be considered as an output adopted by the Authority. The European Food Safety Authority reserves its rights, view and position as regards the issues addressed and the conclusions reached in the present document, without prejudice to the rights of the authors.