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Nanomaterials in the Food Sector may offer Benefits to both Consumers and Industry

The UK House of Lords has published the full report of its Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into the use of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials in the food sector.

The report, entitled Nanotechnologies and Food’ (Volume I: Report;Volume II: Evidences), concludes that ‘[w]hile the coverage of existing legislation may be generally adequate [the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee] found that, due to the large gaps in the scientific understanding of nanomaterials, it was not yet possible to assess properly their safety in many cases. [The Committee] were persuaded, however, that this does not mean unsafe products will be allowed on to the market; instead, it means that where the risks posed by a nanomaterial cannot be fully determined, products will simply be denied regulatory approval until further information is available’.

The report summarises the Committee’s findings:

  • 'Nanomaterials have a range of potential applications in the food sector that may offer benefits to both consumers and industry’
  • Nanotechnologies may also present new risks, as a result of their novel properties, as well as potential benefits to consumers. [...] Persistent nanomaterials are of particular concern, since they do not break down in the stomach and may have the potential to leave the gut, travel throughout the body, and accumulate in cells with long-term effects that cannot yet be determined
  • [The Committee] concluded that research into these areas was not being afforded a high enough priority by Government or the Research Councils, considering the timescale within which products containing nanomaterials may be developed. [...] It is essential that the Government work closely with other European Union nations, and at an international level, to ensure that knowledge gaps in research related to the health and safety risks of nanomaterials are filled quickly without duplication of effort
  • [The Committee] recommend that a definition of nanomaterials be added to food legislation to ensure that all nanoscale materials that interact differently with the body as a result of their small size are assessed for risk before they are allowed on to the market
  • [The Committee] recommend that the Food Standards Agency develop, in collaboration with the food industry, a database of information about nanomaterials in development to anticipate future risk assessment needs, to help the development of appropriate risk assessment procedures, and to aid in the prioritisation of research
  • [The Committee] recommend that the Government make every effort to encourage the food industry to be more open about its activities, and suggest the formation of an open discussion group that will ensure that government, industry, academia and consumer groups come together to discuss the issues surrounding the development of nanotechnologies in the food sector in an on-going and transparent dialogue. In addition, we propose that the Food Standards Agency create and maintain a list of products containing nanomaterials as they enter the market, to encourage this culture of transparency
  • Responses to the House of Lords Report on ‘Nanotechnologies and Food’ have been made by the UK Food and Drink Federation, which pointed out that it is ‘surprised that the report seems to criticise the food industry for an apparent reluctance to communicate extensively on this subject, [g]iven that nanotechnology is in its infancy in the food and drink sector and that bringing new innovations to market is a long and complex process’

A response from the Responsible Nano Forum stresses its agreement with the Report’s recommendation to the UK Government to ‘support the development of voluntary codes of conduct for nanotechnologies, in order to assist the continuing development of effective legislation for this rapidly emerging technology’. ’However, we believe there is already available a code created to a ‘high standard’ as their Lordships recommend - The Responsible Nano Code,’ the Responsible Nano Forum points out.

In the course of the enquiry, the NIA delivered both written evidence to the House of Lords inquiry (20 March 2009), and appeared as a witness to give additional evidence in front of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee (30 June 2009).


Follow these links to find out more about the House of Lords inquiry, to download the full report (Volume I: Report), to download the evidences the report is based on (Volume II: Evidences), or to read the response by the Responsible Nano Forum.

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