chapter  5
Consumer Conference on the Perception of Nanotechnology in the Areas of Food, Cosmetics, and Textiles, Germany
Pages 14

The Consumer Conference was launched as a pilot project by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The process started in March 2006 and was finalised in January 2007. Methodologically, the Consumer Conference refers to the Danish model of the consensus conference.1 The main objective of this tool of civil participation is to assess new scientific or technological developments from the point of view of informed citizens. It is characterised by a structured and open dialogue between laymen and experts. Before the Consumer Conference on nanotechnologies, three similar conferences  also referring to the Danish model of public deliberation  had been conducted in Germany (on genetic diagnostics, stem cell research, and brain research); none of them, however, was run by the BfR. Hence, with the Consumer Conference on nanotechnologies it was for the first time in Germany that a public institution employed such an instrument of public deliberation. According to the president of the BfR, the conference was designed to reveal the different perspectives, judgements, and expectations of the consumer group (Hensel, 2008). It was launched as part of a comprehensive research strategy identifying potential risks of nanotechnologies. The strategy comprised, amongst others, a Delphi survey among nanotechnology experts and a representative consumer survey (Zimmer et al., 2008a) as well as an analysis of the media coverage of nanotechnologies.2 All these activities were to generate orientation and to enhance social capacity to act in a rapidly emerging field of technology (Hensel, 2008). In particular, the objectives of the Consumer Conference were as follows:

• To prepare an informed vote by consumers on applications of nanotechnology in the areas of foodstuffs, cosmetics, and textiles

• To advise decision-makers by delivering the consumer vote to representatives of policy, science, business, and civil society (Zimmer et al., 2008b).