As scientists continue to develop ever more innovative applications for nanotechnology in all areas of the food and beverage industry, from the flavour, texture and fortification of products to shelf life and packaging performance, so the spotlight is being focused on the safety of this cutting edge technology and, critically, consumer acceptance.
In the UK, the Soil Association has banned the use of man-made nanomaterials in any Soil Association certified organic products “in line with the precautionary approach” despite its recognition of the possible benefits of the technology.
“The technology will evolve to bring invaluable benefits to the food industry and the population as a whole,” said Dr Frans Kampers of the Wageningen Bionanotechnology Centre, which specialises in the fundamental science and technology of micro and nano systems, at the 5th Annual Franks Memorial Lecture in London recently.
He highlighted the use of nanotechnology to fortify products, to assess the allerginicity of foods, and to enhance the barrier properties of packaging, among other applications, yet pointed to the need for consumer communication.
“The issue is consumer acceptance. They perceive nanotechnology to be unnatural and hazardous,” said Dr Kampers. “As a consequence, the industry is not admitting to using nanotechnology, although there are products on the market that, in my view, already use nanotechnology.”
He called for further research into the hazards: “According to the FAO/WHO process of risk evaluation, we need to characterise the hazard, assess the exposure, and then manage and communicate the risk,” he said. “The food industry has to be willing to talk about nanotechnology and stress the benefits to consumers, but we also have to be very clear about the risks involved.”
Much of the difficulty in communication lies in the lack of knowledge surrounding the safety of nanoparticles, which change according to their physical and chemical properties, and the potential toxicokinetics of each nanoparticle.
In the US, the Food & Drug Administration’s Nanotechnology Task Force released a report last year that recommends that guidance be developed to address the benefits and the risks of using nanotechnology to help manufacturers and researchers. And in Europe, the European Commission has requested that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) prepare a scientific opinion on the risks, which it hopes to complete by this summer.
However, Catherine Geslain Laneelle, executive director, EFSA, said: “The Scientific Committee is of the opinion that it is, at present, not feasible to scientifically assess the relative magnitude of the hazards associated with the actual and foreseen applications of nanoscience and nanotechnology.”
It would seem that, until such time as a consensus is reached, the industry should proceed with caution in the area of nanotechnology or risk a consumer backlash similar to that over GMOs.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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