Nanotechnologies and Food - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Annex 6



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?

    — Use of nanotechnologies in food products or in food production is considered to fall in one of two categories—nano-inside vs. nano-outside. Nano-inside indicates use of nanotechnology as food additives, and nano-outside indicates the use of nanotechnology in the production of food packaging.

    — Applications and benefits in food products—In food additives, improvements could be made in food shelf life, texture, flavor, or nutrient composition. Some additives can also be used to detect food pathogens, or used as food quality indicators.

    — Applications and benefits in food production process—In food packaging—nanotechnologies in this area are considered to be of use to increase product shelf life, provide indication of spoilage (though nanosensors), or generally increase product quality (eg by inhibiting gas flow across packaging materials.)

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

    — Current State of the Market—According to Lux Research, sales of products containing nanotechnology (in general) generated $30 billion of sales in 2005. In the food industry, some experts predict that nanotechnology will be incorporated into $20 billion worth of consumer products by 2010 (Helmut Kaiser Consultancy). Five out of the 10 world's largest food companies are pursuing research in exploring use of nano in their food products or packaging. According to the Woodrow Wilson Project on emerging nanotechnologies consumer products list there are around products in the food and beverage field—around 10 per cent of the total products in their database.

    — Examples of current items on the market are: Canola oil that contains nanomaterials which block cholesterol from entering the bloodstream (Canola Active Oil by Shemen Industries). Another is a chocolate "slim" shake which is supposedly tastier and more nutritious due to the properties of nanoparticles designed to carry nutrition more efficiently into cells (Nanoceuticals Slim Shake Chocolate by RBC Life Sciences). There are beer bottles on the market from Hite Brewery Beers (Honeywell) whose bottles are created using nanoparticles which block the transmission of oxygen into the beer, thus keeping it fresher for longer periods of time. Nanotea is another product, which claims to use nanoparticles to increase absorption of selenium in the body from the tea, which purportedly boosts selenium's natural activity in the body by 10x (Shenzen Become Industry & Trade Co, Ltd).

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?

    — According to the report above, there are several examples of next generation nanomaterials which could be used in future food products. Some nanoparticles are being designed to block substances in food (like the canola oil example), but could also include blocking food allergens. Other nanomaterials are being developed to be given to livestock, in order to detect and neutralize animal pathogens before they reach consumers (Clemson is designing a nanoparticle to neutralize the poultry pathogen campylobacter). There are additional nanoparticles being developed in order to deliver nutrients to human cells that either had previously low or no absorption. In the area of food packaging, nanosensors would be embedded in food packages designed to alert consumers that a product has spoiled, and is no longer safe to eat.

What is the current state of research and development in the UK regarding nanotechnologies and nanomaterials which have or may have an application within the food sector? How does it compare to research and development in other countries?

    — R&D in U.S.—A project by Dr. Jennifer Kuzma and Peter VerHage (detailed in the report above) included the creation of a database of all available food-related nanotechnology applications and products that are likely to appear on the market in the coming years. It compiles information about food nanotechnologies that are still in the developmental stage, but includes only those from companies or labs that have agreed to release the information. Most of these are being made/developed within the United States. The website for the database is:

    — Beyond this database, which the creators admitted only "scratches the surface" of food related nanotechnology products, there are many products under development which are being kept secret, mostly by industries, due to varying concerns regarding public opinion, regulation, or duplication.

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

    — Currently, there are few methodologies or guidelines in the industry sector on how to asses potential risks from certain nanomaterials/particles, which can complicate risk assessment in the food sector. Future regulation spurred by these perceived risks could limit or inhibit use of nanotechnology in food products, especially if all nanomaterials are required to go through the review phase (see below), and not be eligible to be considered as a material Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) if the parent material had that classification.


Is the regulatory framework for nanotechnologies and nanomaterials fit for purpose? How well are imported food products containing nanotechnologies and nanomaterials regulated?

    — The legislation regulating nanotechnology in food is currently the Food Additives Amendment of 1958, which has been subsequently renewed and added to. The regulatory agency in charge of this is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This law states that any new substance added to food must undergo formal pre-market review and approval by the FDA through a food additive petition process which results in a regulation which specifies the conditions by which the additive can be safely used in food.

    — However, circumventing the approval process occurs because some nanoparticles are just drastically reduced sizes of familiar Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) substances. This could allow a manufacturer to assert that the new particle has a "reasonable" certainty that a particular additive will have no harm, if the parent material is considered safe. However, the reduced size actually changes the particles physical properties, which could necessitate a case-by-case scientific evaluation of all nanoparticles, which could inhibit or slow innovation of new particles if all nanoparticles/materials must go through a new extensive regulatory process.

    — A new bill that just passed in the House, which has yet to be introduced in the Senate, will attempt to further coordinate nanotechnology information. H.R. 554 mandates that the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) develop and maintain a publically accessible database of projects falling under the various existing categories. This database will be "official", and is not related to the nanotech project database referred to in the fourth question. This bill still needs to be approved by the Senate prior to becoming law.

How are imported food products regulated?

    — Currently, all imported food products containing nanomaterials are subject to the same levels of regulation that U.S. products undergo. However, the House has just introduced a bill, called the "Food and Drug Globalization Act of 2009", sponsored by Representative John Dingell (D-MI) which would greatly increase U.S. oversight on imported food products. This Act focuses on all food and drug imports, but will affect those including nanotechnology as well. This Act will require that ALL foreign food manufacturers to be certified as meeting all U.S. food safety requirements (including nanotechnology safety requirements) by third parties accredited by the FDA. All testing would need to be done by facilities certified by the FDA, and the results provided to the FDA. Uncertified facilities and their uncertified products would be banned from being imported in the U.S.

How effective is voluntary self-regulation either in the UK or EU or at an international level? What is the take up by companies working in the food sector?

    — The FDA could be unaware of nanomaterials used in a product if the company does not report it. Also, some small particles can be derived from existing substances and still be above the 100nm size range required to be considered a nanoparticle, and therefore not technically qualify as "nanotechnology" and thus would not require reporting.

Will current regulations be able adequately to control the next generation of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials?

    — The 1958 Act which governs food additives has done a comprehensive, albeit limited, job of providing regulation for nanomaterials so far. The current regulations are not seen as adequate for the future, according to the testimony of Dr. Michael R. Taylor of the George Washington University of Public Health at a public meeting discussing nanotechnology materials in FDA regulated products.

    — Others like him have expressed their concerns that the current regulatory system will prove to be inadequate to deal with the predicted high number of new food and food packaging nanotechnologies that will be forthcoming. Many experts believe that more regulations need to be put in place, and that the FDA is also not currently adequately funded to review the potentially large number of new products coming under review, or even to handle more in-depth checking of current nanotechnology used in the food sector. A listing of additional papers on this subject can be found on the Woodrow Wilson's Project on Emerging Technologies website—

    — The FDA itself claims that through coordination with other agencies, future regulation of nanotechnology should not pose a problem. The FDA regulation policy for nanotechnology can be found at the following link:

Is there any inter-governmental co-operation on regulations and standards? What lessons can be learned from regulatory systems in other countries?

    — Currently, there does not appear to be any inter-governmental co-operation on regulations and standards for nanotechnology in the food and food packaging sector. Many critics of the FDA system of regulation in the U.S. have cited the regulatory system in Europe as being equally as good, but faster. Recent trends indicate that regulations are becoming more globalized, which could prove useful for the development of future regulations for nanotechnology.

March 2009

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