We can't be sure about nano-tech, says EFSA

Uncertainty remains over the safe use of nano-technology in food, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded.

Issuing a scientific opinion on nano-science in relation to food and feed safety, EFSA's scientific committee said a "case-by-case approach" was required since "a lack of validated test methodologies could make risk assessment of specific nano products very difficult and subject to a high degree of uncertainty."

In the opinion, which was issued at the request of the European Commission, the committee said more research was needed to establish whether existing risk assessment approaches could be applied to investigations into the safety of nano-technology. More work was also needed to address "the many current uncertainties and data limitations," it added.

Specific recommendations included:

  • Investigating the interaction and stability of engineered nano materials (ENMs) in food and feed in the gastro-intestinal tract and in biological tissues
  • Developing and validating routine methods to detect, characterise and quantify ENMs in food contact materials, food and feed
  • Developing, improving and validating test methodologies to assess toxicity of ENMs.

Vittorio Silano, chair of EFSA's scientific committee, said: "The committee has concluded that in principle it is possible to undertake risk assessments in this emerging scientific area by making use of available international approaches. However, given current data gaps and limitations in a number of cases, it may be very difficult to provide fully satisfactory conclusions.

"This issue will remain a priority for EFSA's scientific committee. We are establishing a working group of experts to be kept informed of any emerging scientific and other data that will help us deliver the best possible scientific opinions based on the most up-to-date evidence available. EFSA will take a cautious case-by-case approach and looks forward to further data and research becoming available to help inform future scientific opinions."

EFSA said it had already received "a small number" of other requests for scientific opinions in the area of nano-technology and would use its recommended case-by-case approach to assess these.

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