Nanotechnology and food

No longer in the realm of science fiction, nanofoods are on their way to a supermarket near you.
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  • Updated:23 Feb 2009

03.Regulation and useful links

What are our food regulators doing?

The national regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), seems less concerned than its equivalents in the US and UK.

FSANZ has strengthened the Application Guidelines for nanofoods, but the Food Standards Code itself remains unchanged, and CHOICE does not believe the changes made so far adequately protect consumers. Furthermore, there is no requirement for manufactured nanoparticles to be specifically labelled.

FSANZ is thus failing to provide adequate information for consumers to make an informed choice — supposedly one of its primary aims (see What CHOICE wants).

Under wraps

With no specific regulation so far, and in the absence of laws requiring manufacturers to identify nanofoods on the label, there could well be nanofoods already on the supermarket shelves that we don’t know about. Some nanotechnology analysts estimate that between 150–600 nanofoods and 400–500 nanofood packaging applications are already on the market internationally.

In Australia, confectionery packaging, bottle coatings and PET drink bottles containing nanoparticles could already be on the market, because there is no regulatory process or safety assessment.

Do we really want nanofood?

A recent poll of more than 1000 people commissioned by Friends of the Earth found nine out of ten Australians want safety checks on nanofood additives. Ninety-six percent of respondents agreed that food companies should conduct safety testing on food and food packaging ingredients that contain nanoparticles; 92% thought food companies should label food and packaging that contain nanoparticles; and 40% said they would not purchase foods containing nanoparticles at all.

Last year a phone survey of more than 1000 people, carried out on behalf of the Australian Office of Nanotechnology, found that although many respondents were hopeful, even excited, about potential uses of nanotechnology, particularly in the area of medicine, the area of food was an exception — nearly 80% of respondents were either concerned or very concerned that food labelling should provide information about nanotechnology.

Public opinion surveys in some European countries have also found that consumers are not in favour of the use of nanomaterials in food or packaging. Consumers also believe nanomaterials should be independently assessed for safety before they are placed on the market.

For more information

A number of organizations collect and disseminate information related to application of nanotechnology.

  • Australian Office of Nanotechnology (AON) was set up to coordinate the implementation of the National Nanotechnology Strategy, which was approved in early 2008. This “aims to establish the environment that allows Australia to capture benefits of nanotechnology while addressing the issues impacting on successful and responsible development of nanotechnology”. As part of the strategy the AON set up a Health, Safety and Environment Working Group to address any potential health, safety and environmental issues that nanotechnology may raise.
  • NanoSafe Australia network is a group of Australian toxicologists and risk assessors, who have formed a research network to address the issues concerning the occupational and environmental health and safety of nanomaterials. Their work includes the release of a position paper for people working with nanotechnology,Current OHS best practices for the Australian Nanotechnology Industry.
  • Friends of the Earth has been working on nanotechnology since 2005. They’re calling for a moratorium on the sale of all nanofoods until new nanoparticle risk assessment and detection methodologies are developed and validated.
  • On the international front, a number of international organisations, such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are working to define protocols and guidelines for the responsible use of nanotechnology. Australia has representatives on these committees.

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