The growing use of nanotechnology in food applications poses new challenges for both science and regulation in Europe’s food and nutrition market, an industry expert has said.
EAS-Italy nutritional product regulatory affairs manager Stefanie Geiser said that as the nanotechnology market continues to grow regulators and scientists are actively working to find regulatory and risk assessment models to embrace its research and safety aspects.
The first nano-food contact material (a silicon dioxide coating) has already been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) this year, and a second, titanium nitride, is under review. However, EFSA has said that it will not be able to meet the European Commission’s mandate for a complete generic risk assessment of nanotechnology by 31 March 2008, because of the vast range of existing nanomaterials with completely divergent physical/chemical properties and safety profiles.
Instead EFSA has proposed to issue only an initial scientific opinion by summer 2008, and now plans to set up a working group of 10 to 15 Member State scientific experts to analyse and build on already generated opinions by EU scientific advisory bodies and third countries.
A first discussion on this working strategy for Nanotechnology will be held by the EFSA Scientific Committee on 19/20 November. Discussions will further be followed up at the Brussels EFSA Scientific Forum event on 20-21 November and the next "EFSA Steering Group on Cooperation" meeting on 26 November in Berlin.
"It will prove difficult to find a common risk assessment umbrella that can embrace the diversity of all current and future nanomaterial food applications,” Ms Geiser said in a podcast interview. “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 refers to invisible particles measuring around one billionth of a meter which, in the food sector, are used in food packaging and direct application in food supplements and functional food ingredients. Its techniques and products include 'micro-encapsulation' of antioxidants/minerals/fatty acids to increase body absorption of specific nutrients, and the incorporation of ingredients into food matrixes that would otherwise not be possible, such as the 'nano-drops liquid carriers' in Canola oil which allow for the absorption of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals otherwise insoluble in water or fats.
Nanotechnology has also initiated the discovery of new nano-size particle isolates with specific health properties, such as 'nano-ceuticals' from plant extracts, and a recent industry survey by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars showed that five out of ten of the world’s largest food and beverage companies are investing in some form of this research.
“There is no doubt that industry will continue its research into further nanotechnology techniques,” Ms Geiser said, “because in terms of innovation this represents the biggest challenges and potential for a range of interesting and promising new food applications for the future.”
To listen to the full podcast interview with Stefanie Geiser visit www.eas.eu.
EAS provides strategic consulting advice on European, Asian and international regulation on food and nutritional products. It provides companies with regulatory and strategic advice for the marketing and approval of their products in Europe and Asia. EAS also advises governments, trade associations and companies on the impact of European, Asian and global policy. EAS has offices in Brussels, Italy and Singapore.
EAS-Italy is a branch of EAS located in northern Italy to follow EFSA developments in Parma closely.
1. Survey figures from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Nanotechnology in Agriculture and Food Production - Anticipated applications, September 2006)