Nano-tech food to arrive in UK no time soon

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Food standards agency

Nanotechnology ingredients are unlikely to arrive on UK supermarket shelves anytime soon
Nanotechnology ingredients are unlikely to arrive on UK supermarket shelves anytime soon
Food and drink products containing nanotechnology ingredients are unlikely to appear on UK supermarket shelves anytime soon, despite research into their use taking place in Asia, the US and Brazil.

Reporting to last week’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board, Dr Sandy Lawrie, secretary of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), said there were no nanotech food products “close to market​”.

“The fact that we don’t hear a lot from industry means one of two things: either there’s not a lot going on or what they’ve got going on they don’t want to share,”​ said Lawrie.

But since the ACNFP had very “open relationships”​ with industry in other novel foods areas, Lawrie suspected there wasn’t much activity in nanotechnology targeted at the UK.

New nano materials

“In terms of people developing brand new nano materials to add into food, my conclusion seems to be there is not a lot of work in that area going on,”​ he said.

The ACNFP, a scientific panel which advises the FSA, has to approve any novel food products – such as those containing engineered nano materials – before they can be sold in the UK under the European Novel Foods Regulation.

ACNFP has not been required to assess any nano materials in the course of its work, as no applications for the approval of such materials have been made.

Under the new EU Food Information Regulations, with effect from 2014 engineered nano materials must be identified on food and drink packaging.

But at the same meeting, Sue Davies, chief policy advisor for consumer group Which? criticised the lack of transparency about what nano products were already on world markets. “We’re really frustrated by the lack of progress in this area,”​ said Davies, who also sits on the Board of the European Food Safety Authority.

Davies reported that research, conducted both by the FSA and Which?, showed that people favoured nanotechnology if they believed it offered real consumer benefits. But there were concerns about its impacts on long-term health and the environment, together with the apparent lack of transparency shown by the food industry.

Greater transparency

This lack of transparency was a concern raised by the House of Lords report into Nanotechnologies and Food led by Professor John Krebs and published in January 2010. The report called for a public register of products containing nano materials, as well as a reporting scheme and greater transparency about new research in the field.

While the FSA is currently developing a list of approved nano materials, expected “early in 2012”,​ it has yet to be published.

Davies also highlighted a number of research projects around the world looking into the use of nanotechnology ingredients, identified last year in research undertaken by the Food and Environmental Research Agency at York.

These included:

  • Processed nano-structured foods for use in products such as mayonnaise,
  • Nano carrier systems for the delivery of nutrients and supplements, which are commercially available in some countries,
  • Organic nano-sized additives for food (colours, preservatives and flavourings),
  • supplements and animal feed,
  • Inorganic nano-sized additives for food and feed,
  • Food packaging applications, where most activity was currently taking place.

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