Use of TiN nanoparticles in PET bottles not toxic, says EFSA

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By Jane Byrne, 18-Dec-2008

The specific use of titanium nitride (TiN) nanoparticles in a material used to make polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic drinks bottles did not give rise to toxicological concern, claims a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The EFSA panel on food contact materials, enzymes, flavourings and processing aids (CEF) assessed TiN nanoparticles as part of its evaluation of the safety of specific nano materials following requests from the European Commission.

Based on the evaluation data employed, the panel concluded that the intended use of this nanoparticulate substance in plastic bottles does not give rise to exposure via food but the scientists involved stated that a restriction of up to 20 mg/kg of the substance in PET bottles should apply.

EFSA said the evaluation of TiN nanoparticles was conducted as per the case-by-case approach recommended in the agency’s draft opinion on risks arising from nanoscience and nanotechnologies on food and feed safety.

Draft opinion

The draft opinion, published in October, was the result of a Commission request for a view on whether existing risk assessment methods are applicable to this new technology. It focused on engineered nanomaterials (ENM) that are deliberately introduced into the food chain, including ingredients and additives, fertilizers and pesticides.

The conclusion of the draft, which was open for comment until December 1 2008, was that existing risk assessment methods could be applied.

However it drew attention to considerable limitations and uncertainties on characterizing, detecting, and measuring ENM, and on their toxicity, distribution, metabolism, absorption and excretion.

Public comment

EFSA said that it has received some 200 submissions as part of the public consultation on the draft document, and it added that it will deliver its final opinion in early 2009, taking into account this new feedback.

The draft opinion is the first step in the EC’s potential legislation regarding the introduction of nanotechnology into the food industry. The final opinion will be used by the Commission to explore existing legislation and what measures may be appropriate.

Nanotechnology refers to the control of matter at an atomic or molecular scale of between one and 100 nanometres (nm) - that's one millionth of a millimetre.

Nano potential

Despite still being in its infancy, current estimates on the value of products using nanotechnology put it currently in the range of US$7bn. According to some, the market could be worth as much as $20bn by 2020.

It has already found uses in several industries, including food, nutritional ingredients, and packaging.

Consumer negativitiy

However, according to a recent survey from German risk assessor BfR, the majority of consumers do not think that nanotechnology should be used in food applications.

The survey, commissioned by BfR, found that 69 per cent of respondents were against the use of nanoadditives in spices to prevent them from becoming lumpy; and 84 per cent rejected the idea of making foods look appealing for longer through the use of nanoparticles.

The support for the use of nanotechnology in packaging was much higher though, claims the survey.

The findings are significant since the food industry is keen to avoid the same mistakes as were made when consumers first became aware of genetically modified foods. There has been a huge backlash in Europe, with many consumers and environmental groups still unconvinced of the long-term safety.

The CEF panel's assessment can be downloaded here



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