Nanotechnologies and Food - Science and Technology Committee Contents

CHAPTER 3: Nanotechnologies in the Food Sector

Current uses

3.1.  It is difficult to gauge precisely the extent to which nanotechnologies are being used in the food sector, either in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), "it is not possible to provide a definitive list of nanofoods and nanoscale food contact materials on the EU market, primarily because of the absence of an EU-wide register or inventory" (p 2). Underlying this practical difficulty is the more fundamental issue of the absence of a common definition (discussed in Chapter 5) of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials—"It is this ambiguity", Professor Richard Jones, Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield, suggested, which "lies behind the difference in opinion about how widespread the use of nanotechnology in food is" (p 245). Nonetheless, there is some—albeit only indicative—evidence of the current use of nanotechnologies in the food sector.


3.2.  In the United States, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars (PEN) maintains an on-line global database of consumer products which are claimed by their producers to include some form of nanotechnology in their manufacture. According to PEN, in March 2009 there were 84 food-related items on the database of which nine were listed as used in cooking, 20 were used for food storage and 44 were categorised as dietary supplements (p 333). Three products listed were entered as foods (an oil containing nano-encapsulated ingredients, a milkshake that uses a nanoscale silica-based compound to enhance the taste and a tea that claims to use a non-disclosed form of nanotechnology). But, despite the database, PEN concluded that it was "currently unknown how many nanotechnology-enabled food products are on the market that are not clearly identified" (p 333).

3.3.  The FSA raised doubts about how much current registers or databases could tell us. This was because they would be "largely based on marketing information, which may or may not accurately reflect what is on the market" (p 2). They were aware of only two uses of nanotechnologies in the United Kingdom food sector: a form of nanosilver known as "silver hydrosol" and a nano-sized formulation of co-enzyme Q10. Both were used in food supplements. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said that they knew of no food products on the market produced by any of their member companies which contained or were packaged in or had used nanotechnologies in their production (p 75). There were, the FDF claimed, only a small number of products available in the United Kingdom, including food supplements and packaging, that claimed to be 'nano'. Dr Mike Knowles, Vice-President for Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for the Coca Cola Company, suggested that the extent to which nanotechnologies were used in the food industry had been overstated: "the publicity given to the application of nanotechnologies in food suggests there are many current applications on the market, but this is contrary to our understanding and knowledge of the situation" (Q 156). According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the situation is similar in the United States. There are only a few food products available which involve nanotechnologies, mostly in the form of dietary supplements (see Appendix 6).


3.4.  Some nanomaterials have been used in food processing for a number of years in the form of additives, substances which have little or no nutritional value but assist in the processing itself. For example, silica is used as an anti-caking agent to keep powders flowing freely. Dr Sandy Lawrie, Head of Novel and GM Food Safety at the FSA, explained that one type of silica used this way, fumed silica, is manufactured in a way "that does result undoubtedly in nanoparticles", although "the extent of the use of fumed silica is something which the industry has not yet been able to confirm with us" (Q 628).


3.5.  According to the FSA, very few food contact materials containing a nanomaterial component were available in the United Kingdom and European Union markets: "most products were found on the American and Asian markets" (p 3). Other witnesses agreed that the number of products was small, albeit increasing (Q 104, pp 102, 104).

3.6.  Examples of food contact materials using nanotechnologies include those where the application of nanotechnology has enabled the development of improved barrier properties. The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) described a plastic bottle which incorporated nanoparticles as a gas barrier (p 310) and suggested that the use of such packaging was "increasing" (p 310). Dr Knowles said that the European Food Safety Authority had recently reviewed, and endorsed, two applications for packaging made with nanotechnologies (Q 158). A plastic beer bottle made using clay nanoparticles as a gas barrier to improve shelf-life is currently on the market in the EU (pp 75, 292) and the US (Q 104). Other food contact products containing a nanomaterial include chopping boards and food containers infused with nanosilver because of its anti-microbial properties (p 333).


3.7.  According to the evidence we received, nanotechnologies are not currently used within the United Kingdom agricultural sector. The Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA) said that the development of "smart nanoscale pesticides" was still at the research and development phase; and they were "not aware of any plans for manufactured nanomaterials to be included in fertilisers by manufacturers" (p 47). In contrast, in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering three applications for licences for the use of pesticides manufactured using nanotechnologies (see Appendix 6 and paragraph 5.18).

Potential applications


3.8.  Nanotechnologies create the possibility of foods with new flavours and textures, and also healthier food products with reduced salt, fat or sugar content or increased vitamin and nutrient content (QQ 87, 177, 224, 281). The FDF described, for example, the wide-ranging benefits of nano-encapsulation:

"[it] offers the ability to deliver smaller quantities of ingredients in a way that maintains flavour and texture properties of the food whilst reducing the content of ingredients that consumers are encouraged to eat less, such as salt and fats. Ingredients such as flavourings and micronutrients could also be protected until ready for release into the food, thus maintaining the quality of the ingredient for longer shelf-life." (p 75)

3.9.  Whilst not challenging the capabilities of nanotechnologies, some witnesses expressed reservations about their potential effects. Ms Georgia Miller, Coordinator of the Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project, for example, questioned whether their use might lead to increased consumption of highly processed foods: "Will the addition of nano-additives to junk foods enable them to be marketed for health values, for example increased nano-encapsulated omega-3 or iron fortification?" (Q 286)


3.10.  Nanotechnologies also have potential for use in food manufacturing processes. Ms Kathy Groves, Principal Microscopist at Leatherhead Food International, for example, referred to nanomaterials being used to develop anti-microbial and anti-stick surfaces (thereby reducing the tendency for machinery to clog and, as a result, the amount of downtime required for cleaning) (Q 87); and Dr Knowles commented on the benefits of nano-coatings "in terms of protecting against contamination by films being built up on food processing machinery surfaces" (Q 158).


3.11.  We also received a range of evidence about how nanotechnologies might be used in food packaging. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), for example, suggested that "new materials based on nanotechnology, with increased strength, offer the potential to reduce packaging waste" (p 236) by allowing packaging to be made thinner and lighter. Dr George Kellie, Chairman of Microflex Technologies Limited (Q 159) and Ms Sue Davies, Chief Policy Adviser at Which? consumer organisation, (Q 281) agreed. On the other hand Professor Jones was less optimistic: in his view, the incorporation of nanotechnologies in packaging might increase the complexity of packaging materials which might, in turn, increase waste and make them harder to recycle (p 247).

3.12.  Dr Kellie said that nanotechnologies could enhance the barrier properties of packaging by better controlling the passage of gases and moisture. This would not only improve the shelf-life of food, but would also allow food products to "retain their shelf-life under ambient conditions … we do not have to expend energy to retain the product under frozen or chilled conditions" (Q 159). Other witnesses agreed (QQ 5, 102). Dr Paul Butler, Director of Packaging Materials and Technologies Limited, suggested that nanotechnologies could allow the development of packaging that was "more communicative and informative to the consumer" (QQ 87, 102); and looking further into the future, Dr Knowles referred to how nanotechnologies might enable the incorporation of "sensors in the packaging which may detect deterioration in [food] quality" (Q 158) resulting in more accurate sell-by dates for perishable foods which would, in turn, improve food safety and reduce wastage (QQ 102, 162, 281).


3.13.  A report for the European Union funded ObservatoryNANO project, Nanotechnology Developments in the Agrifood Sector, published in April 2009, identified a number of potential applications for nanotechnologies in the agricultural sector. They included novel delivery systems for the more effective use of pesticides and the development of slow release fertilizers. The report suggested that nanotechnology could enable smaller and less frequent applications of agricultural chemicals, thereby reducing residents' and bystander exposure and contamination of local environments.[2]


3.14.  Some witnesses saw nanotechnologies in terms of their potential in delivering wider societal benefits. Dr Frans Kampers, Director of BioNT (a centre for bionanotechnology) at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, for example, argued that "food is a very important component of [the] preventative healthcare system paradigm" (Q 87) and that the food industry, in looking at technologies to help individuals get the nutrients they need to stay healthy, might contribute to reducing healthcare costs. Mr Andrew Opie, Food Policy Director at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), agreed, suggesting that retailers saw the potential of nanotechnologies in assisting customers "to meet some of the targets in nutrition and health" (Q 159). Ms Davies pointed to the potential role of nanotechnologies in tackling food policy issues such as obesity, diet-related disease and food safety (Q 281). The potential contribution of nanotechnologies to the wider environmental agenda through reducing packaging and food waste or pesticide use was also acknowledged by a number of witnesses (see paragraphs 3.11 and 3.12 above).

Projected growth of nanotechnologies in the food sector

3.15.  Whilst the potential applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector appear to be significant, their projected rate of development and the timescale within which they might be applied in the market is not clear. A number of witnesses told us that work in the United Kingdom is still at an early phase and that further underpinning research is needed to understand the structure of food at the nanoscale and how to manipulate it (QQ 4, 607, p 203). The same is true at the European Union level (pp 3, 74, 363, Q 101). Dr Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety and Chief Scientist at the FSA, was clear, however, that although there is little on the market at present, the FSA "fully expect that to change" (Q 42).

3.16.  Food packaging involving the use of nanomaterials seems to be the most likely application to appear first in the mass market (CSL). According to Dr Knowles, "advances in packaging are the ones which are most advanced in terms of real applications" (Q 158); and Dr Kellie predicted that the next five years would be "an explosive period of development" for food packaging (Q 164). Nano-coatings for food preparation surfaces and machinery are also predicted in the next five years (p 51).

3.17.  Given the current state of the science, the availability of healthier food as a result of the application of nanotechnologies is anticipated in the relatively near future by professionals working in the field. Professor Vic Morris, Partnership Leader at the Institute of Food Research, suggested that "in five to ten years time" there was "a real prospect that nanoscience understanding of food will have generated a range of new foods that have health benefits" (Q 154). Dr Kampers said that, by then, "we will see improvements in food safety … We will see better packaging materials and increased shelf life … and we will see products that deliver specific nutrients to individuals" (Q 154). Dr Knowles thought that foods with an altered texture, or food modified to have a reduced salt or fat content or to enhance, satiety were near to appearing on the market (Q 165).

3.18.  As stated in paragraph 3.7, pesticides using nanomaterials are currently being considered for approval for use by the EPA in the United States; if approval is granted, it may well be that their use in the United Kingdom will shortly follow, given that such products are currently being developed here (p 24).

3.19.  As for the economic impact of nanotechnology in the food sector, Cientifica's 2007 report predicted that the value of products containing nanotechnologies in the food sector worldwide would grow "from $410 million in 2006 to $5.8 billion in 2012" (p 51), a growth of 1,400 per cent within 6 years. Evidence from Japan indicates that the market for food containing nanotechnology in that country is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, from one billion yen ($11 million) in 2005 to 20 billion yen ($220 million) in 2010, to 150 billion yen ($1.65 trillion) in 2020 (pp 20-21). It has been estimated that up to 400 companies worldwide are currently undertaking research into the applications of nanotechnologies in food or food packaging[3] and a search of patents by Cientifica in 2007 found 464 separate entries relating to applications of nanotechnology in food or food contact packaging.[4] As for the potential market growth for nanotechnologies in the food sector in the United Kingdom, we acknowledge that a number of factors make predicting future market conditions difficult[5], for example the uncertainty over consumer reaction to nanotechnologies.

State of the industry

3.20.  Most investment in the United Kingdom into the development of nanotechnologies for use in the food sector is by the industry (QQ 572-573). Research by food companies into the uses and applications of nanotechnologies in the food industry began about 10 years ago. In 1999, Kraft foods established the first nanotechnology laboratory and in 2000 the company set up a 'Nanotek' consortium, involving 15 universities worldwide and national research laboratories (p 311). However, the evidence we received showed that the food industry, both in the United Kingdom and abroad, has been unwilling to provide information about its activities since these developments (see paragraphs 7.15 to 7.19). As a result, it has not been easy for us to ascertain the progress that has been made by the industry in recent years or the level of investment that the United Kingdom food industry has put into commercialising the application of nanotechnologies.

3.21.  Based on the relatively limited amount of evidence we received, our impression is that research in the United Kingdom into the application of nanotechnologies in the food sector has proceeded relatively slowly in comparison with research into applications of nanotechnologies in other industrial sectors. Ms Groves described nanotechnology research in the food sector as being at a "very early" stage (Q 101). The FDF concurred: "we believe the UK to be at the cutting edge of R&D in nanotechnologies in general … Applications in food, food production and food packaging are currently limited by comparison with applications in other industry sectors" (p 76).

3.22.  In contrast, the United Kingdom is seen to have a strong research base in food nanoscience (the understanding of how food is structured at the nanoscale, as opposed to the actual application of nanotechnologies). For example, the Institute of Food Research (IFR) told us that the United Kingdom "has played a leading role in the understanding of the functionality of foods at a molecular level" (p 55); and the IFST said that the IFR was in the forefront of this area of research, along with the Universities of Leeds and Nottingham (p 311).

3.23.  A number of witnesses suggested that companies outside the United Kingdom were taking a more active role in researching and developing applications of nanotechnologies in food. Dr Knowles told us: "I see far more activity in Holland as a single country in nanotechnology than anywhere else" and, in contrast, the United Kingdom was "perhaps not [doing] as well as some of the others [within the EU]" (Q 169). The Institute of Nanotechnology (IoN) agreed: "most industrial research on nanotechnology applications in agrifood takes place outside the UK … the hubs of academic research are Netherlands and US" (p 315). Dr Kampers described how Holland had identified ten themes on which to focus its nanotechnologies research, one of which was food. He explained: "the proposal is to spend about €40 million over five years on applications of nanotechnology in food" (Q 100). Of this funding, 50 per cent would be provided by Government and 50 per cent by the participants (that is, industry and academia) (Q 100). We heard from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) that food companies in the United States, although unwilling to talk about their work, were continuing to explore the potential of nanotechnologies (see Appendix 6).

3.24.  Outside the United Kingdom there is government funding available for developing applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) told us that they are currently running a research programme looking at the potential applications of nanotechnologies in the agricultural sector but said that it was a small-scale project with limited funding. In contrast, Brazil invests heavily in research and development related to agri-technologies, and nanotechnologies have been identified as a priority. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation has set up a National Centre for Nanotechnology Applied to Agri-business with the specific aim of "increasing the competitiveness of Brazilian agriculture through the development of new nanotechnologies" (p 10). The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan has launched a project looking at producing nanoscale particles of traditional foods such as rice and soybeans (pp 20-21).

3.25.  The European Union, which "claims to be the biggest supporter of nanotechnology research in the world" (Q 169), is expected to allocate up to €3.5 billion between 2007 and 2013 to nanotechnology-related projects through its Framework 7 programmes.[6] While the majority of this funding is directed at industries other than the food industry, the call for applications in 2007 included a small number of topics of relevance to the food sector, including nano-devices for quality assurance, food safety and product properties,[7] innovative and safe packaging[8] and converging technologies and their potential for the food area.[9]

Encouraging the commercialisation of nanotechnologies in the food sector


3.26.  Although the Government do not directly fund the development of nanotechnology applications for the food sector (Q 573), there are a number of ways by which the Government may support the process of transforming scientific discoveries into commercial products:

  • developing a fundamental science base;
  • encouraging the translation of fundamental research into applied research and commercial applications and the effective transfer of knowledge between industry sectors about new developments in nanotechnologies; and
  • providing market support for innovative research.

There are other factors that also have an impact on the commercialisation of these technologies in the food sector which we discuss in later chapters:

  • the demonstrable safety of a product and the product approval process (see Chapter 4);
  • regulation of nanotechnologies in the food sector (see Chapters 5 and 6); and
  • public acceptance of new technologies in food (see Chapter 7).


3.27.  Nanotechnology is a developing area where further basic research is needed to support potential applications. The Research Councils said that although they "fund relatively little research relating directly to the applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector", they "support a much wider portfolio of nanotechnology research which underpins a variety of potential application areas, including applications relating to food, in areas such as nanotoxicology, nanometrology, characterisation and detection, nanotechnology-based sensor devices, food manufacturing and processing and food structure" (p 199). But, they added:

"further underpinning research [must be done] to develop understanding in areas such as molecular self-assembly, surface engineering and techniques such as electro-spinning. [These] will be vital for reliable production of nanoscale structures. Further research is also needed on measurement and characterisations systems so that they can be deployed on a widespread basis" (p 203).

3.28.  The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has spent £220 million over the last five years on nanotechnology research, of which "a significant amount supports underpinning research in areas such as nanometrology, characterisation and detection that might lead to new measurement or processing techniques that would be of relevance to the [food] sector" (p 202). The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) leads on food research and in 2007-08 spent an estimated £4.5 million on research relating to nanotechnologies. Much of this was related to areas such as drug delivery, materials and sensors, where the findings could be of relevance to the food sector.


3.29.  The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is responsible for promoting, supporting and investing in technology research, development and commercialisation and provides a mechanism for translating fundamental research into new products and services.

3.30.  One of the ways in which the TSB promotes innovation in this area is through the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (nanoKTN) which aims to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience between industry and research. In collaboration with Leatherhead Food International (LFI), the nanoKTN has formed a Food Focus Group designed "to promote awareness of the potential for these emerging technologies and materials for the food industry and to encourage the industry to make their voice heard" (pp 51-52).

3.31.  Such knowledge transfer networks are important—all the more so because so little research is targeted directly at the application of nanotechnologies in the food sector. LFI, however, questioned the effectiveness of nanoKTN in relation to the food sector. It referred to a "lack of knowledge on developments in non-food areas and in transference of such knowledge to the food and drink industry" (p 52); and Ms Groves, from LFI, told us that there were not enough resources available for the nanoKTN to enable knowledge transfer across sectors (Q 97).

3.32.  The effectiveness of a knowledge transfer network also depends on co-operation by industry. We have already noted (see paragraph 3.20) that food companies have been reluctant to speak publicly about their work in this field in recent years. Whilst recognising that there are circumstances where research findings will not be shared for reasons of commercial confidentiality, there are benefits to be gained from collaboration between industry, the Government and academia. Ms Groves, for example, saw a need for collaboration between industry and academia on pre-competitive research, with all results made publicly available (Q 134). Dr Kampers said that, in the Netherlands, Wageningen University was looking at ways of setting up research initiatives in partnership with industry and discussing the feasibility of establishing joint research centres between academia and industry (Q 134). Dr Declan Mulkeen, Director of Research and Training at the Medical Research Council (MRC) told us that over the next few years, the MRC's research work on nanotechnologies needed to be "networked with the various companies … on the food science side so they can start to factor [this work] in at an earlier stage" (Q 393).

3.33.  Government strategy on nanotechnologies is set by a group called the Ministerial Group on Nanotechnologies. It is chaired by the Minister for Science, Lord Drayson, and includes Ministers representing DEFRA, the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (which has responsibility for the Health and Safety Executive) (Q 11). In January 2009, the Group released a Renewed Ministerial Commitment on Nanotechnologies which outlined a number of pledges designed to take forward Government work in this area. Given evidence that nanoKTN is not wholly effective in facilitating the transfer of knowledge between industry sectors and between industry and academia in the context of the food sector, we were pleased to note that the Renewed Ministerial Commitment on Nanotechnologies included a pledge by the Government to "develop a better understanding of the objectives and needs of the UK industry sectors that are likely to use nanotechnologies and nanomaterials".[10] The Government also acknowledged in June 2009, in their response to the 2008 report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), Novel Materials in the Environment: The case of nanotechnology, that "more needs to be done to improve the sharing of information about new developments and potential risks" concerning nanotechnologies.[11]

3.34.  Following the publication of the Renewed Ministerial Commitment, the Government are developing a strategy for nanotechnologies that "addresses both the exploitation of technologies and the management of potential risks" (p 9). This is expected to be published in early 2010 (Q 545). Asked whether the Government felt that it was too early to define a strategy to commercialise the use of nanotechnologies in the food sector, Lord Drayson said: "that is one of the answers which I expect to come out of … the strategy document" (Q 578). Similarly, he told us that:

"the Technology Strategy Board's role is, once it is understood what the underpinning technologies are likely to be, to do a review to assess whether or not it is likely that the United Kingdom is well placed to commercialise and exploit that and then put targeted investment into those areas. It does not seem at present that we are at the stage to be able to identify those areas" (Q 577).

3.35.  We recognise that the development of applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector is still at an early stage (see paragraph 3.15). However, these technologies offer a number of potential benefits to both consumers and industry, and the Government should ensure that the requirements of the food sector are considered as part of the Government's strategy for nanotechnologies. In addition, the Government should ensure that, as the TSB reviews the commercialisation of nanotechnologies and starts to identify areas for targeted funding, it considers the needs of the food sector along with other, more high profile, industry sectors.

3.36.  We recommend that, as part of their commitment to gain a better understanding of the needs of United Kingdom industry sectors likely to use nanotechnologies, the Government should pay specific attention to identifying the needs of the food industry and make provision for meeting those needs in their 2010 national strategy.

3.37.  We recommend that Government should take steps to ensure the establishment of research collaborations between industry, academia and other relevant bodies at the pre-competitive stage in order to promote the translation of basic research into commercially viable applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector.

3.38.  We recommend that the Technology Strategy Board reviews the state of the commercialisation of nanotechnologies in the food sector. As part of this review it should suggest mechanisms for improving the effectiveness of current knowledge transfer systems.


3.39.  The TSB funds 24 micro- and nanotechnology open access centres. One of these, Eminate, focuses on the food and pharmaceutical industries with the aim of "applying in-house process technologies to develop customer products in the areas of advanced coatings, materials and powders, food technology, drug delivery, measurement and scale up through to pilot productions" (p 43). This is a five year project receiving a grant of £3.5 million.

3.40.  Small and medium-sized companies form a majority of companies working in the food sector in the United Kingdom (see Appendix 4), and they make a particular contribution to nanotechnology innovation. Dr Steffi Friedrichs, Director of the Nanotechnologies Industries Association (NIA), for example, told us: "when you look at where nanotechnology innovation is done … it is done to a large extent where innovation is done in entirely new emerging technologies: by small companies" (Q 488). The RSC agreed (p 237), while Dr Kellie also pointed to the importance of small to medium-sized companies (Q 172).

3.41.  The needs of smaller companies differ from those of larger companies. Smaller companies are generally not able to turn their innovations into fully-fledged products by themselves. The RSC commented that "whilst small companies and academic institutions are researching the potential of this emerging technology, commercial realisation of new products and ingredients is not being carried through to market" (p 236). Dr Friedrichs said: "no small company is going to produce a product and take it through the full value-adding steps of putting it into an existing product and taking it all the way to market" (Q 497), a view echoed by FDF who told us that bringing new products to market is expensive and time-consuming process, and one which is "prohibitive to all but the largest producers" (p 76).

3.42.  For some cases, the large food companies would be the natural source of funding for smaller companies attempting to develop their ideas, for example by contracting smaller companies to work on specific applications of nanotechnologies. But the food industry in the United Kingdom has been more cautious about exploring the possibilities of nanotechnologies than in other countries (see paragraph 3.23 above).

3.43.  Dr Butler told us about the difficulty in attracting venture capital, particularly vital for small companies which are unable to finance research projects by themselves: "at this stage, where you are discovering what it is and what it can do, you are probably not going to get the VCs [venture capitalists] involved" (Q 101). Dr Kampers said that situation in the Netherlands was similar:

"In the Netherlands we see two ways in which the results of the research get to market. The first in existing companies adopting results from the research … The second way, that is probably the most important and effective, is spin-outs, small companies, new companies … they attract a little venture capital but basically rely on funding from the market side … most of the funding is through other funding programmes that are available and things like that, subsidies" (Q 101).

3.44.  A recent Government review of the commercialisation of science also identified a lack of capital as the main reason why technologies were struggling to develop. Lord Drayson said: "there has been a lack particularly of venture capital which is dogging the ability of these projects to be developed in the current economic environment" (Q 576). Therefore we welcome the news that the Government have recently announced a new £1 billion venture capital fund, which, Lord Drayson told us, will be "specifically targeting areas of growth such as technology such as this … we anticipate that fund will be able to start investing in companies working in these high growth areas at the end of this year [2009]" (Q 576).

3.45.  If innovative small- and medium-sized companies are not attracting the necessary funding from large companies to develop their products, it may be necessary for Government to ensure that funding is available to promote innovation in this field.


3.46.  Nanotechnologies in the food sector have the potential to offer wider benefits to society, for example by producing healthier foods or more environmentally friendly packaging (see paragraphs 3.8-3.14 above). When asked whether the Government planned to support research into areas of potential benefit to society, such as lower fat foods to combat obesity, Lord Drayson told us that:

"This is an area where significant research is being undertaken by the food companies themselves. The important role for research in this area is to address the underpinning understanding of the way in which the body processes nanomaterials … that should be the right focus now for our research, to get a handle on that in parallel with the work which is taking place within the food companies" (QQ 572-573).

3.47.  However, without bridging the gap between fundamental research and the translation of research into applications within industry through knowledge transfer, and without ensuring that small companies have the necessary investments to develop innovative products in this area, these applications may not emerge. The contribution which nanotechnologies could make to wider food policy objectives reinforces the importance of facilitating the transfer of knowledge about these technologies within all industrial sectors.

3.48.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told us that the TSB is currently preparing strategies for nanoscale technologies and biosciences, with a focus on "linking … nanoscale technologies to societal challenges". The bioscience strategy will focus on food technology and food safety (p 43).

3.49.  We recommend that the Technology Strategy Board includes consideration of the role that nanotechnologies may play in helping the food industry meet societal challenges, such as obesity and waste, in its strategies for promoting nanoscale technologies and biosciences, and that the Technology Strategy Board proposes ways of supporting the development and commercialisation of these technologies.

2   Morrison M and Robinson D, Nanotechnology Developments for the Agrifood Sector, Report of the ObservatoryNANO, 2009. Back

3   Chaudhry, Q et al., Assessment of the potential use of nanomaterials as food additives or food ingredients in relation to consumer safety and implication for regulatory controls, Report for the Food Standards Agency, 2007, p 6. Back

4   Ibid., Chaudhry et al., Assessment of the potential use of nanomaterials, p 7. Back

5   Ibid., Chaudhry et al., Assessment of the potential use of nanomaterials, p 6. Back

6   See Back

7   KBBE-2007-2-3-04 Back

8   KBBE-2007-2-4-04 Back

9   KBBE-2007-2-5-02 Back

10   See Back

11   UK Government response to The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) Report, Novel Materials in the Environment: The Case Of Nanotechnology, 2009, p 9, para 15. Back

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