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Consumers are being misled by food imitating products, new study finds

soft drink bottles 480p

A new study led by the London School of Economics and Political Science has prompted calls for design changes to chemical products which resemble drink shapes.

Following a directive from the European Council to remove these products from retail shelves, LSE consumer behaviour expert Dr Frédéric Basso and a team of French-based researchers claim that marketers are misleading consumers and putting them at risk of poisoning.

“Cleaning and personal care products which look, taste and smell like fruit are potentially dangerous,” Dr Basso says.

The claim is backed up by a 2015 study in which 16,000 poisoning care cases were reported in the OECD involving adults and children who ate colourfully-packaged liquid laundry pods which resemble sweets. That study led to a global awareness-raising campaign on laundry detergent capsules involving 26 products from five continents.

Back in 2006, a study in Texas found that 94 children and adults had unintentionally ingested a household cleaning product called Fabuloso. More than a third of the victims were older than 20.

Dr Basso said food imitating products were becoming more common.

“The idea is to switch what is often a negative perception – cleaning a house or having a shower – to a pleasurable experience, merely by the association of food,” Dr Basso says.

“What marketers don’t realise – or accept – because of marketing myopia is that many of these products are highly dangerous, not only to small children, but adults as well. They are chemicals disguised as food.”

In the EU, 5% of fatal injuries are due to poisonings. Exposure to chemical and other substances is also among the top five reasons for home injuries in small children.

“Older adults are also at risk, sometimes more so because they often live alone, no-one is checking on them regularly and their sense of taste is often less acute. This means they may consume more of a product before realising it is a chemical,” Dr Basso says.

“Even if there are warnings on the packaging, a large proportion of older people and young children cannot read, or English may not be their first language.”

The withdrawal of nearly 260 dangerous food imitating products (FIPs) from the European market between 2005 and 2015 has prompted the call for stricter marketing regulations when it comes to cleaning products and shampoos in particular.

However, Dr Basso says current European legislation does not provide any clear methods for assessing food imitating products and tighter regulations are needed for products which may be mistaken for food, in the wake of numerous poisonings in the past decade. “The regulatory framework is too vague and a common approach is needed to ensure chemical products’ safety across the EU”, says Dr Basso.

“Anything that suggests you can drink it is ambiguous and potentially dangerous, but a consumer chemical product with a drink shape is actually more dangerous than a consumer chemical product with a drink label” he says. Here is the conclusion from their new study exposing the dangers of food imitating products.

The findings have been published in Frontiers in Psychology: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00450/full

Ends

For interviews and more information, contact Dr Frédéric Basso at f.basso@lse.ac.uk or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office at c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

Notes for editors

Dr Frederic Basso is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests cover embodied, situated and grounded cognition in consumer and organisational behaviour. He was a fellow of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan and took the Agrégation in Economics and Management. He obtained his PhD in consumer psychology from the University of Rennes 1.

5 April 2016

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