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Scientists and regulators prepare for nano-food future

Now that the European Food Safety Authority has approved the first nano-food contact material (a silicon dioxide coating), and a second, titanium nitride, under review, an industry expert has warned of new science and regulation challenges.

European Advisory Services Italy-based 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.

EFSA has stated 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.

"It will prove difficult to find a common risk assessment umbrella that can embrace the diversity of all current and future nanomaterial food applications," Geiser said. "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.

"There is no doubt that industry will continue its research into further nanotechnology techniques," 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."

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