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21 June 2011 Food Safety News

Many eager to use nano in food, but few ready to admit it

There were few signs among the elaborate displays that even mentioned nanotechnology. One exception was the exhibit for Southwest Research Institute, which runs 2 million square feet of laboratories in San Antonio, Texas.

"There are many areas where nanomaterial can be of an immense benefit to food development, processing, safety monitoring and packaging," James Oxley, senior research scientist in nanomaterials for Southwest Research Institute. "Many exhibitors are actively developing exciting applications for nano particles, but they're just not talking about it. The ongoing concern about possible health hazards or adverse reactions from nanomaterial has people staying pretty quiet about what they're doing," Oxley said.

"If the FDA provides a clearer picture of what it will and won't accept in food and packaging, the use of nanomaterial holds great promise for a wide variety of food-related applications."

A week before the world's top food scientists gathered for this conference, the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance that it says outlines the agency's view on whether products it regulates involve the application of nanotechnology.

They invite public comment on the draft guidance named: "Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology." The agency says "it represents the first step toward providing regulatory clarity on the FDA's approach to nanotechnology."

"Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that has the potential to be used in a broad array of FDA-regulated medical products, foods, and cosmetics," said Carlos Peña, director of FDA's emerging technology programs." FDA is monitoring the technology to assure such use is beneficial."

Meanwhile, on the same day that FDA made its nano announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said that it will seek to determine whether nanomaterials in pesticide products can "cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health."

There is enormous industry pressure on the government to move more rapidly on approving the use of nanomaterial. Many safety regulators and much of the public health community fear that there has been insufficient testing of the health hazards from exposure to nanomaterial.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies -- a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts -- maintains a Consumer Products Inventory that offers the best-educated guess available on the commercialization of nanomaterial. PEN's latest tally says there are currently 1,317 products, produced by 587 companies in 30 countries, containing nanomaterial.

Other than some cooking oil and chocolate flavouring, most of the products so far are not food but food-related, and involve food storage or preparation -- items such as cutting boards. But those who compile the list say it is far from comprehensive.

The food industry is no different than the rest of the commercial world and thus is using in-house scientists or contracting with outside experts to see what these manmade, subatomic structures can do to enhance what they make and sell.


Regulating the use of nanoparticles, especially in food, has become an international quagmire.

"There is actually no specific definition for nanomaterials that's widely accepted although several countries have published their own definition," Bernadene Magnuson, Senior Scientific and Regulatory Consultant for Cantox Health Sciences.

In a session on food law and regulation, Magnuson explained to other scientists that food safety agencies in North America and overseas may require additional safety evaluations of nanomaterials with certain characteristics.

She said that safety studies will still need to be done to demonstrate lack of any potential health or environmental issues.

"Nanomaterials should not be deemed or identified as intrinsically benign or harmful in the absence of supporting scientific evidence, and regulatory action should be based on such scientific evidence," the White House said earlier this month, in a lengthy update on nano policy to the heads of all agencies, including the FDA and USDA, on the oversight of all applications of nanomaterial.

Source: Food Safety News /...

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