Scientists call for increased control of nanotechnology

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food packaging Food science Time

Undamped fears could kill market, says IFST

Increasing use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging has prompted safety concerns among food scientists who have called for tighter regulatory controls.

The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) wants to tighten up the use of microscopically small particles until research proves they are not toxic to humans.

"At the present time, the legislation is deficient in apparently allowing the use of nanoparticles of food-approved materials based on the safety guidelines and evaluations produced for macroparticles," warned the IFST. While nanoparticles, such as those of titanium dioxide - an approved food colouring - offered huge potential benefits to manufacturers and consumers, there was insufficient understanding of how they might interact with cells in the body, it said.

"Appropriate risk-benefit analyses should therefore be performed and used, if necessary, to underpin new controls or, as appropriate, legislation on the permitted types and levels of use of these materials," said the IFST. "A possible problem with regard to nanoparticles and food is the potential and inadvertent introduction of 'unnatural' particles into food through their use in food packaging or food containers."

Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, which, unlike macroscopic sized particles, are transparent, and silica are already being sold for use in food packaging and containers. "These scenarios do seem to suggest that there may be deficiencies in the present regulations," claimed the IFST, which argued for them to be considered under regulations controlling novel foods or new additives for food and packaging.

Firms such as Unilever, Kraft and Nestlé are known to be investing heavily in nanotechnology research, but unless the public receives reassurance about safety, the IFST feared "the potential benefits of nanotechnology might be lost if, as with genetic engineering, consumers feel that this technology is being imposed without warning, adequate perceived need or understanding of potential risks and benefits, and mechanism for its control"

The Food Standards Agency has no view on nanotechnology, said the IFST.

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