The UK's Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST)
has called for a cautious approach to the introduction of nanotechnologies
in food, arguing that consumers must be assured that any such developments
are necessary and safe.
In an information statement on the use of nanotechnology in the food industry,
published on 14 February, IFST says that most major food companies are monitoring
the potential benefits of nanoscience. Kraft Foods was the first company to establish
a nanotechnology laboratory in 1999, while Unilever and Nestlé both have
researchers looking into the use of nanotechnology in foods.
Indeed, a 2004 study by the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy suggested that more than
180 applications of nanotechnology in the food industry are at various stages
of development, and that the number of patent applications in this area is growing
rapidly. The sector could be worth as much as USD 20 billion by 2010, it found.
'[I]n most of these applications, there would appear to be negligible safety
concern,' the IFST statement reads, adding many traditional methods of food processing
or cooking work on the basis of modifying naturally occurring nanostructures.
There is currently insufficient evidence to suggest whether new nanotechnology
applications in food will be well received by consumers, however the experience
of genetically modified (GM) foods suggests that convincing people of the merits
of food technology that they do not fully understand could present a considerable
'Most concern potentially centres around the possible ingestion of free nanoparticles,'
the statement continues. 'This is partly because the small size of these particles
may allow them to reach regions within cells or tissues that normally macroscopic
particles of the same composition could not reach. Hence, the conventional toxicity
tests may be inadequate [...].'
As a result, the IFST believes it is necessary to treat nanoparticles as new,
potentially harmful materials that require rigorous safety testing. The safety
and toxicological data submitted in support of applications for authorisation
should be available for peer review in the public domain, and the draft opinions
of the authorising authorities should also be made public, it adds. Finally,
consumer choice and safety would be enhanced with the introduction of suitable
traceability and labelling provisions, the statement concludes.
To read the IFST statement in full, please consult the following