The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board last week accepted a recommendation in a House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report to compile a confidential database of food industry research into nanotechnology.
The House of Lords report argued that such a database was necessary to inform the development of appropriate risk assessment procedures, and to aid setting priorities for research into the safety of nanotechnology.
The Lords Committee wants industry participation in this database to be mandatory, given the failure of similar voluntary schemes in the UK and elsewhere.
FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said: “The way that we respond in terms of nanotechnology is a test case for the way we, as a regulator respond, to emerging and new technologies.”
The Board also accepted a recommendation that the FSA create and maintain an accessible list of publicly available food and food packaging products containing nanomaterials that have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The FSA recognised the benefits in setting up such a public register, but noted the problems of establishing the criteria for inclusion. The FSA believes, however, that, rather than limiting the list to those nanomaterials that had been evaluated by EFSA, it might also include information on materials that (“rightly or wrongly”) appeared to have nanoscale elements.
While recognising the need to allow sufficient FSA resources for the investigation of the safety of nanotechnology in different areas, the Board was particularly concerned that the potential benefits of nanotechnology in food were properly communicated to consumers.
Members said such communication was essential to avoid a knee-jerk rejection of the technology - as happened with proposals for the use of genetically engineered ingredients and when the more widespread use of irradiation was being considered several years ago as an effective means of killing dangerous pathogens in foods.