On 8 January 2010, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a 100-page report entitled “Nanotechnologies and Food”.  This was the report of an inquiry which was launched to investigate whether nanotechnology may have a valuable role to play in the food sector, whether effective systems are in place to ensure that consumers are aware of and protected from potential risks, and to understand the concerns of the general public. 

The potential applications identified for nanotechnologies are:

To create foods with new flavours and textures;

  • Healthier food products with reduced salt, fat or sugar content; or increased vitamin and nutrition content;

  • To develop anti-microbial and anti-stick surfaces for applications in food manufacturing;

  • To develop food packaging which is thinner and lighter, with enhanced barrier properties or capable of indicating when there has been a deterioration in food quality;

  • Applications in agriculture, for instance novel delivery systems e.g. for pesticides and fertilisers which may lead to smaller and less frequent applications of agrochemicals.

The greatest area for growth and mass introduction of products in the next five years is considered to be food packaging, and coatings for food preparation surfaces and machinery.

The inquiry found that research and development of applications for nanotechnology in the food industry was more limited in the UK compared to The Netherlands and the USA. The only products that the UK’s Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) is aware of where nanotechnologies are currently used are ingredients in food supplements – a form of nano-silver called “silver hydrosol” and nano-sized formulations of co-enzyme Q10.

The recommendations of the report included that the FSA sets up and maintains a publicly available register of food and food packaging containing nanomaterials; that nanomaterials are clearly defined in food legislation and ensure that all uses of nanomaterials are subject to appropriate risk assessments.  The Committee raised concerns about the potential for the illegal importation of food products containing nanomaterials not approved for use in food in the EU as appropriate tests are not yet available to border and ports authorities to detect such materials.

In parallel, in November 2009, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to prepare a guidance document on how to assess potential risks related to certain food-related uses of nanotechnology. The first draft of the guidance document is due to be completed by July 2010, and will be subject to public consultation prior to being finalised.

Sources:  Nanotechnologies and Food (www.parliament.uk/hlscience) and EFSA website.