Nanotechnology is a field of applied sciences and technologies involving the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, normally below 100 nanometers. Nanoparticulated
substances may exhibit different physical and chemical properties compared with the same substances at normal scale, such as increased chemical reactivity due to greater surface
Nanotechnologies enable the management of food ingredients on a molecular level. It is claimed that nanotechnology products could have a substantial impact on the food and feed sector
in the future, offering benefits for industry and the consumer, although possible risks need to be considered. Companies and institutes worldwide are currently researching and
developing applications in fields such as the treatment of the mechanical and sensorial properties of food – for instance to achieve changed taste or texture – and modified nutritional
value. Nanotechnology may also be used in food packaging, for instance to ensure better protection or to detect how fresh food is. The specific properties and characteristics of
nanomaterials need to be considered for any potential health risks.
Risk assessment in the field of food and feed
Given the novelty of this technology, the safety of possible food and feed applications needs to be assessed and a need for risk assessment is expected in the context of:
- The authorisation of regulated substances.
- The presence of nanoparticles as contaminants in food and feed.
- Replies to general requests such as whether the application of nanotechnologies in food production leads to changes in nutritional value or bioavailability.
Since 2006 EFSA has been following developments in nanotechnology within its remit, including reviewing the current state of knowledge and latest developments in nanotechnology with
regard to food and feed.
In 2007, EFSA was asked by the European Commission to prepare a scientific opinion relating to the risks arising from nanoscience and nanotechnologies on food and feed safety.
EFSA’s Scientific Committee, which includes the chairs of all of EFSA’s Panels, led the work. It was assisted by a Working Group of scientists with relevant expertise who
addressed these issues and reported back to the Scientific Committee. The Scientific Committee then prepared a draft scientific opinion for public consultation.
In October 2008 EFSA launched a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion on nanotechnology. This draft opinion gives an overview of approaches to risk assessment in relation
to the use of nano applications in the food chain. Its aim is to see whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to this new technology. When finalised, it
will help the European Commission to explore appropriate measures, assess existing legislation and determine the scope of possible further requests for scientific opinions from EFSA in
this field. Moreover, it will provide applicants with an indication of the data they would need to provide to allow risk assessment.
The public consultation ended on 1 December 2008. Some 200 submissions were received from around 30 different organisations and individuals. EFSA will now finalise the opinion, taking
into account the comments received, in early 2009.
Meanwhile, two of EFSA’s Panels recently applied the case-by-case approach recommended in the draft opinion when looking into the safety of specific nano materials following
requests from the European Commission. As part of its on-going work on food supplements, the Panel on food additives and nutrient sources (ANS) adopted a statement saying that it did
not have enough data to be able to assess the safety of silver nanoparticles in silver hydrosol. The Panel which assesses the safety of food contact materials (CEF) adopted an opinion
stating that a specific use of titanium nitride nanoparticles in a material used to make plastic drinks bottles did not give rise to toxicological concern.