UK organic body bans nanomaterials

Soil Association decries government's laissez-faire attitude toward public health


EUROPE The UK Soil Association has become the first organisation in the world to prohibit nanomaterials — particles less than 100 nanometers in dimension — from all products it certifies.

The ban against what the Soil Association termed "this hazardous, potentially toxic technology that poses a serious new threat to human health," applies to foods, cosmetics (including cosmeceuticals), and textiles.

It's a position that may cause some consternation to ingredients suppliers such as Danisco, Aarhus Karlshamn and Arla Foods, which have invested heavily in researching nanotechnology's potential to better deliver nutrients in foods and supplements, boost shelf life, enhance packaging, and more.

While it recognised that nanotechnology had potential benefits, in particular for the medical and renewable-energy industries, the Soil Association questioned its use in health and cosmetic products.

"Of the $9 billion per year being invested globally in nanotechnology, much is going to the development of cosmetics and health products. Many well-known companies such as L'Oreal, Unilever, Boots and Lancome are already developing and introducing these super-fine particles into their products, and none of these products are required to have labelling to warn consumers," the association said. Further nanotechnology research is required, the Soil Association said, highlighting studies that had already demonstrated potentially negative effects.

"There should be no place for nanoparticles in health and beauty products or food," said policy manager Gundula Azeez. "We are deeply concerned at the government's failure to follow scientific advice and regulate products. There should be an immediate freeze on the commercial release of nanomaterials until there is a sound body of scientific research into all the health impacts. As we saw with GM, the government is ignoring the initial indications of risk and giving the benefit of the doubt to commercial interest rather than the protection of human health."

It is a position backed by the independent UK-based Institute of Food Science & Technology, which has stated: "In using nanotechnology, it is important to assess how products of nanotechnology will eventually lead to the release of nanoparticles into the environment and to estimate our subsequent levels of exposure to these materials."

Despite these concerns nanofoods are becoming increasingly popular, with more than 600 nanofood products available globally, according to the German-based Helmut Kaiser Consultancy.

In January, the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) Scientific Committee called for scientific data on applications of nanotechnology and nanomaterials used in food and feed in preparation for the EFSA's draft opinion on nanotechnology, due in July 2008.

The EFSA's opinion will seek to: identify the nature of the possible hazards associated with actual and foreseen applications in food and feed provide general guidance on data needed for the risk assessment of such technologies and applications.

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