Nanotechnologies and Food - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Annex 3


What are the main potential applications and benefits of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials in the food sector, either in products or in the food production process?

  There are many potential applications and benefits of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in the food sector from food production such as cultivation (eg nano-pesticides) to food processing like the packaging of foods. In addition nanotechnologies can be used to enhance the nutritional aspects of food by means of nanoscale additives and nutrients and nanosized delivery systems for bioactive compounds. Table 1 summarises the potential applications of nanotechnology in the food production chain. These applications are expected to find their way into various products for consumer use in the coming years in France.

Table 1


What is the current state of the market for, and the use of, food products and food production processes involving nanotechnologies or nanomaterials in France?

  The current state of the French market is estimated to be very small. According to the experts contacted, it is likely that the nanotechnology applications will be similar to what will be found elsewhere in the Western world as a result of globalisation.

  Many international food companies (eg Nestle) have subsidiaries in France. These companies are known to be interested in the applications of nanotechnology in this sector so there is a distinctive possibility of an issue on nanotechnology in food in France although it will not be confined only to France.

What might the "next-generation" of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials look like? How might they be applied in the food sector, and when might they enter the market?

  The use of nano-materials in food packaging and food additives is expected to correspond to the two main types of applications. Use in food packaging is expected to take off over the next few years as it is likely to be more acceptable to the general public (ie little (supposedly) contamination of the food). Food additives will be the next target although it is expected that there will be resistance from consumers.

What is the current state of research and development in France regarding nanotechnologies and nanomaterials which have or may have an application within the food sector?

  The French National Research Agency (ANR) supports several programs in nanoscience and nanotechnology, which may lead to new applications within the food sector. These include:

    Pnano, dedicated to nanoscience and nanotechnology and supporting projects of basic and applied research in nanocomponents, micro-nanosystems, nanobiotechnology, nanomaterials, instrumentation and metrology, modelling and simulation. A special section deals with the impact and risks of nanotechnology on health and the environment as well as with ethical and societal aspects.

    Materials and Processes focuses on research into new materials and industrial processes, improvement of their technical and economic performance and stimulation of technology transfer to industry.

    SEST (Health Environment and Health Work): the goal of this program is to reveal the impact, as yet unknown, of environmental factors on human health by measuring the exposure to these factors and identifying their role in the origin or the worsening of some diseases. This program deals particularly with the potential toxicity of nanoparticles.

  ANR also recently launched a programme called ALIA (Spring 2008) on food and in particular food processes encouraging the use of nanotechnology.

  All in all, although France is currently running a large number of R&D activities in the area of nanotechnology and nanomaterials, only a minority of projects is dealing with food.

What are the barriers to the development of new nano-products or processes in the food sector?

  France will find doubt and objection from consumers to be the main barriers to the development of nano-products in the food sector. The main issue in France, at the moment, is carbon nanotube because of its similarity to asbestos—a story that was not very well handled by the French health authorities. The CEA is now the main organisation handling nano-issues in France because of its success in handling the very sensitive issue of Atomic Energy. AFSSA is also heavily involved in this area and has recently published an official communiqu

 on nanoparticles in water.

  It is important to note, as a conclusion, that the European Commission has already put calls for research on detection and characterisation of nanoparticles in the food as part of the Framework programme and this is the first in a series of calls on risk assessment of nanoparticles in the food. So there is action at the European level on this issue which will undoubtedly affect France.

  Note: This Annex was compiled with the assistance of the Institute of Medicine (IoM), Edinburgh, from information supplied by the Commissariat à l' Energie Atomique (CEA) and the AFSSA (the French Food Standards Agency).

  The scientific evidence used by the French comes from (a) the reports and paper published by Dr Qasim Chaudhry of the Central Science Laboratory (York) from works in collaboration with the IOM and sponsored by the UK FSA, (b) a report by the RIKKILT and RIVM institutes in Holland, and (c) a report compiled by Friends of the Earth.

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