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Food contact nanomaterial regulations inadequate – report

By Mark Astley , 06-Dec-2011

Food contact nanomaterial regulations inadequate – report

US food contact nanomaterial regulations are inadequate to ensure human health, said a report on the technology.

The study, Sourcing Framework for Food and Food Packaging Products Containing Nanomaterials, suggests that food packaging companies need to assess the potential risks associated with exposure to nanoparticles used in the manufacturer of food packaging materials.

Nanomaterials are engineered to take advantage of unique properties at the nano-scale – from 1-1000nm (nanometres or billionths of one metre).

Guidance on the technology’s use in the food sector has been set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and similar advice has been issued by the International Organisation for Standardisation.

However, no solid regulatory guidance has been set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to-date.

The framework, published by corporate responsibility group As You Sow, suggests toxicity risks related to the use of nanotechnology in food packaging “remain very poorly understood,” through this lack of regulatory control.

Inadequate controls

“Current regulatory controls are inadequate to assess or ensure safety and the scientific consensus is that there is a lack of knowledge regarding how nanomaterials interact at the molecular or physiological levels and their potential impacts on health and the environment.”

The food industry is working extensively to developing nanomaterials for use in food packaging – despite human exposure risks being unknown.

“As food and food packaging companies explore the use of nanomaterials to enhance products, they need also attend to potential risks introduced,” added the report.

The FDA is yet to establish any regulations to confront the potential risks involved with the use of nanomaterials in the food sector.

A draft guidance document, issued earlier this year is the “first step towards providing regulatory clarity on FDA’S approach to nanotechnology,” said the agency’s website.

The FDA stated that it “believes that evaluations of safety, effectiveness or public health impact of such products (containing nanomaterials) should consider the unique properties and behaviours that nanomaterials may exhibit.”

Health risks

Nanoparticles can gain access to the body through inhalation, ingestion, skin penetration and injection.

Inhaled nano-particles have been found in areas of the respiratory tract and when ingested these particles have been known to pass into the blood where they can target bone marrow, lymph nodes and the heart, said the report.

“New nano-food products should only be used if safety testing ensures that there are no negative impacts on human health or the environment.”

The report added that “to assure safety, companies should require full testing data related to exposure via ingestion, the skin, inhalation, and other membranes including how each nanomaterial behaves as it moves through the body.”

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