EU and China join forces to explore nanotech risks

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

The European Union and China yesterday reached an agreement to boost research into consumer safety and explore the potential risks from nanotechnology.

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine (CAIQ) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at a joint Food Safety Scientific Seminar at the Shanghai Expo. The bodies, which provide technical support for policymakers, pledged to find new approaches to nanotechnology and toxicology, as well as improving consumer protection and pursue alternative methods of animal testing.

Global supply chain

The JRC said the increasingly global nature of the supply chain was one reason the EU and China had come together.

“With today's globalisation of markets, food safety or consumer protection are no longer domestic issues, but need to be addressed in international collaboration,”​ said the European organisation.

It added that the explosion of nanotechnology applications and the possible safety hazards from the materials had also been a major driver behind the partnership.

“The rapid increase in the utilisation of nanoparticles in industry and in consumer products is, however, causing concerns regarding the potential effects on health and on the environment,”​ said the JRC.

Under the terms of the four-year deal, the two major economic and scientific powerhouses vowed to exchange data needed to carry out product safety studies. The parties promised to maintain the confidentiality of any document or information classed as such by the partners for five years after the end of the MOU or collaboration agreement made as part of the joint project.

Both bodies have an established nano research track record. CAIQ said it specialises in analysing the migration of the nanomaterials in skin-contact materials, as well as the identification of nanostructured components of consumer products, including cosmetics.

The JRC's Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) assesses the potential risks of particulate nanomaterials due to uptake and subsequent potential adverse effects on living tissue. The institute develops and uses state-of-the-art computational and in vitro techniques to analyse the interaction of nanoparticles with cells and proteins.

Nano risk assessment

The risk assessment framework for nanomaterials is still in its early stages. In its opinion issued in spring last year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) sought to lay down an overarching system to use as a risk assessment framework for nanotechnology – but was clear that much currently remains unknown about nanomaterials and how they behave in food and packaging. In seeking to assess nanomaterials, the food safety body repeatedly used phrases such as “specific uncertainties”, “limited knowledge” and described ENMs as “difficult to characterise, detect and measure” in relation to toxicokinetics and toxicology in food. Likely usage and exposure levels are also largely a mystery, said the Parma-based experts.

A further guidance document, the first draft of which is due to be published next month, is intended to fill in some of those gaps with practical advice, said the food safety body.

Related topics Food Safety

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