Nanotechnologies and Food - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Annex 5



  In Japan, nanotech is applied mostly to food products, including supplements, food additives and flavours, and not much to food packaging or food production processes. The size of the Japanese market is still small—approximately 1 billion yen (GBP14 million) as of 2005, according to the National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation, citing statistics by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). It was a tenth or less the size of the market of cosmetics containing nano-materials.

  But the nanotech-containing food market is likely to exceed the nanotech-containing cosmetics market in the near future. It is expected to grow 20 billion yen (GBP148 million) in 2010, 150 billion yen (GBP1.1 billion) in 2020 and 250 billion yen (GBP1.85 billion) in 2030.

  According to a symposium in January 2008,[25] Japan is far ahead in the development of surface chemistry of emulsifying agents, followed by North America and the EU. Japan is also in the top position of solid fermentation, solid culture technologies and brewing technologies. These technologies are mainly aimed at improving the absorption of nutrition in the body, although some researchers are hoping to increase the use of nanotechnologies to raise Japan's self-sufficiency ratio for food, which stood at 40 per cent in 2007, the lowest among developed countries.

  In the symposium, a researcher at Japanese food company Kagome said that food companies are keen on research into food structures; ie research into gel structures in such products as cheese, gelatin and puddings. However, R&D to improve the texture and taste of food products is yet insufficient. Therefore, many companies expect to establish technologies to measure and evaluate fine structures in foods effectively.

  Ministries have launched various research projects on nano-foods, but they are still at the early stage. For example in 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) launched a project called "Development of nanoscale processing or evaluation technologies for food materials". Researchers in the projects set a goal to reduce the size of solid particles of 100 micron in diameters (such as rice, grains, soybeans) to 100 nanometres, and create 10 emulsion particles of 10 nanometres, in five years. They are also working to develop technologies to create and evaluate particules and assess the safety of these products. To this end, the project has 22 sub-projects with participation from four quasi-independent research institutions, six universities one company and two regional governments.


  The National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation said that there are few regulatory frameworks to control the application of nanotechnologies in the food sector in Japan. They also said there are probably no rules for imported food products containing nanotechnologies and nanomaterials. So basically Japan is allowed to use particles of even less than 100 nanometres in diameters for food products.

  The main reason of few regulations is that there are little data which can convince the risk of nano-foods against people's health. Still, since 2004 the government has been garnering various opinions about safety through committees. The main ministries are METI, MAFF, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). An MHLW committee issued a report in late 2008, and recommended the government to work hard to collect information to create possible regulations as well as to educate the public.

  The National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation said Japan may take a step forward this year, after WHO and EFSA held conferences on safety issues.

  Inter-governmental co-operation has been going well among these key ministries (MHLW, METI, MEXT, MAFF) in terms of participation in committees etc. But major responsibilities are divided by each ministry: MAFF for overall food issues, MHLW for safety issues, and METI and MEXT for overall nanotechnology.

  In the future, the National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation believes that Japan should make a rule to conduct safety tests when large particles, which are currently widely used in foods, are re-engineered as nano-particles because these structures may change and endanger people's health.


  In the autumn of 2008, Hokkaido University held a small conference to discuss nano-food and its safety with consumers. The National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation was represented at the conference and believed the general public had a positive impression about nano-foods. Meanwhile, in the symposium in January 2008, a journalist of Nikkei Biotechnology Japan said that nano-foods and food nanotechnologies have yet to be a topic among consumers, and there are few consumer movements against nano-food and safety issues. Japanese consumers tend to show strong resistance against GM foods, so nanotech for food applications may trigger similar safety concerns once people get to know more about it. Accurate and proper dissemination of scientific information is therefore necessary in Japan.

  GBP1 = 135 yen

25   "Food Nanotechnology committee-application of nanotechnology and materials technologies to the food industry." (Excerpts of a symposium organised by Centre for Research and Development Strategy, the Japan Science and Technology Agency held on 30 January 2008 in Japan.)-Japanese only. Back

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