EFSA begins assessment on nanotechnology
poses new challenges for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),
which will meet next week to begin discussions on its regulation
and risk assessment.
The European Commission has issued a mandate for a complete evaluation of nanotechnology by 31 March 2008 but, because of the vast range of existing nanomaterials with differing properties and safety profiles, EFSA has said it will not be able to meet this deadline. Instead, it has proposed to issue an initial scientific opinion by next summer, and plans to set up a working group of 10 to 15 member state scientific experts to build on existing opinions of scientific advisory bodies and third countries. International regulatory specialist EAS-Italy's nutritional product regulatory affairs manager Stefanie Geiser said: "It will prove difficult to find a common risk assessment umbrella that can embrace the diversity of all current and future nanomaterial food applications. "The Commission is therefore actively involved in finding ways of integrating nanotechnology as far as possible into already existing EU regulatory frameworks. Nanotechnology aspects have recently been included in the Commission's proposals for a revision of the EU Novel foods Regulation and also the revision of the Food Additives and Enzymes Regulations." Nanotechnology uses tiny particles, measuring one billionth of a metre, for applications in areas such as food supplements and functional food ingredients as well as in food packaging. A human hair is 80,000 nanometres (nm) wide, a red blood cell 7,000 nm wide, and a water molecule 0.3 nm wide. Although the technology is still in its infancy, a recent survey carried out by 15 countries on the existing products made using nanotechnology determined there are 70 food related practical applications on the market. According to Geiser, it has been reported that the worldwide value of nanotechnology will be $20.4bn by 2010, and half of Europe's major food and beverage companies are investing in research and development on the technology. Geiser explained that nanotechnology is not always popular with consumers, going against the increasing trend for natural clean-label products and the fear of artificial additives and modification. Nanotechnology techniques include micro-encapsulation of antioxidants, minerals or fatty acids to increase body absorption of specific nutrients. Another process is the incorporation of ingredients into food that would otherwise not be possible, such as nano-drops liquid carriers in canola oil, which allow for the absorption of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals otherwise insoluble in water or fats. Very little is known about the health risks of nanotechnology, meaning both companies and consumers would be advised to exercise caution. So far, Geiser said that no problems have been reported with food products made using nanotechnology, but a cleaning product was recalled after consumers complained of respiratory problems after using it. Last month, a global consultation by the UK's Royal Society got underway to create a code that would guide companies developing, manufacturing and selling nanotechnology-engineered products The first discussion on the EFSA working strategy will be held by the Scientific Committee on 19 and 20 November. These will be followed up at the Brussels EFSA Scientific Forum event on 20 and 21 November and in Berlin on 26.