The UK is significantly behind the US when it comes to using nanotechnology in new product development, according to Sheri Schellhaass, vice president of research and development at General Mills US and president of the Institute of Food Technologists.
It is estimated that worldwide, the value of nanotechnology applications in the food industry would rise from around $0.5bn to around $6bn by 2012. "The US is currently leading the field, followed by China, Japan and India," said Schellhaass, who was speaking at a joint seminar with The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) London Group and The Institute of Food Science and Technology.
"In the food and drink industry nanotechnology and its applications are currently being used in around 80 new products, with over a half of these coming from the US," she said. Applications to patent methods of using nanotechnology are also shooting up by about 20% year-on-year, again with the US leading the field. Some of the new patent applications include methods to extend shelf-life through nanotechnology, smart filters that can selectively remove allergenic ingredients, methods to detect the presence of food poisoning bacteria or viruses, ingredients to enhance sensory perceptions of food and nano-encapsulation to form tiny capsules around food to preserve it from oxidation. Mars was currently looking into the latter in the US as a way of extending the shelf-life of new products, she said.
It is thought that the US government spends around $1.5bn annually on nanotechnology research. "The British government needs to step up its efforts to research the use of nanotechnology in the food and drink industry," added Kathy Groves of Leatherhead Food International, who was speaking at the same conference. "The government is not a manufacturer, so it is crucial that the industry keeps the dialogue open before a legislative framework is set in place," she added.