UK group: More info, oversight of nano use in food

January 8, 2010 – The food industry must do a better job of letting everyone know about its research into uses of nanotechnology and nanomaterials, including investigations of potential health and safety risks, according to a report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The full report of findings and recommendations claims the food industry’s failure to have transparency and honesty is "unhelpful" to ensure public trust in food safety and scientific development. "Appearing to be secretive about its research is exactly the type of behavior which may bring about the public reaction it is trying to avert," they note in a statement.

Also called for in the report:

- More proactive funding to encourage research into risk assessment of nanomaterials in food. There is only one research team in the UK examining nanomaterials’ toxicological impact "on the gut," for example.

- A publicly available register of food and food packaging materials, possibly posted online, and maintained by the Food Standards Agency. This would offer more accurate and up-to-date information than "a blanket labeling" on products listing any nanomaterials they contain, and would further help contribute to consumer confidence.

- Legislation to ensure all uses of nanomaterials in food are subject to risk assessment procedures. Regulatory definitions of a "nanomaterial" should be based on changes in functionality — e.g., how a substance interacts with the body — to make sure to include nano-sized materials with novel properties vs. their larger forms.

- Collaboration between the UK government and other European Union nations to more precisely define properties characteristic to the nanoscale, phrasing contained in a draft proposal by the Novel Foods Regulation — but which the House of Lords committee claims insufficiently details what such properties comprise.

- Government assurance that practical tests are developed to enforce use on imported food products, addressing the concern of imported foods containing nanomaterials that have not been approved as safe by the EU.

"The use of nanotechnologies in food and food packaging is likely to grow significantly over the next decade. The technologies have the potential to deliver some significant benefits to consumers, but it is important that detailed and thorough research into potential health and safety implications in this area is undertaken now to ensure that any possible risks are identified," stated Lord Krebs, chair of the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into Nanotechnologies and Food. "The Government and Research Councils have a responsibility to ensure that this research takes place and must now take a proactive approach to identifying and funding appropriate research."

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