Nanofood safety proposal 'not enough'

By ABC Science Online's Anna Salleh

Posted October 8, 2008 20:41:00

Source of Article:

Companies could soon be required to tell Australian authorities if they are using nanotechnology in food, but critics say they should also be required to provide new safety data and labelling for consumers.

Under a proposal released this month by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), food companies would be required to provide information on the size and shape of nanoparticles used in food, if this could have implications for food safety assessment.

According to a survey by Friends of the Earth, there are more than 104 foods, food packaging, kitchen and agricultural products worldwide that contain extremely small 'nanoscale' ingredients.

Nanotechnology is used in food to help processing and extend shelf life, but concerns have been raised that the small size of nanoparticles provides unique risks to humans and the environment.

"It's good that FSANZ is finally acknowledging that the size of a particle can affect its toxicity," Georgia Miller, from the Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project, said.

But she says FSANZ should treat nanomaterials as they do new chemicals, by requiring new safety studies on them before they are used in food - as recommended by the UK Royal Society in 2004.

"It's great FSANZ is calling for this information, but in many cases the safety data just isn't there," Ms Miller said.

No labels

Ms Miller is also concerned that while companies will be required to tell the regulator about nanotech food ingredients, there will be no labelling to enable consumers to choose whether they want to eat them.

Last month the Food Safety Authority of Ireland called for European-wide regulation and mandatory labelling of nanomaterials in food and packaging.

Ms Miller says another concern is risks from the possible interaction between nanotechnology-based food packaging and food.

This includes packaging specifically designed to release nanomaterials in response to food or drink it contains.

She says one such "intelligent packaging" under development is a salad wrapping that releases nano-encapsulated antibacterials onto the surface of the food if it senses bacteria.

Ms Miller also says FSANZ should develop new measurement standards for nanomaterials.

For example, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks says traditional methods of measuring by weight may not be appropriate for nanoparticles.

The committee suggested measuring the surface area or number of particles is a better way of measuring nanoparticles.

FSANZ is accepting public comment on its proposals by email until October 29.

FSANZ referred comments on the matter to the Australian Office of Nanotechnology, but no-one from the office was available for comment.




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