Germany's food safety risk assessment agency has commissioned a study on the potential health effects of nanotechnologies used in products.
The German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) has commissioned the University of Stuttgart to conduct the survey on the risks of nanotechnological applications in food, cosmetics and other everyday items, according to a report by the Nanoforum.
So far nanotechnology has made minor inroads in the food and drink industry, mainly due to consumers' fears about the unknown risks the technology poses to their health. However food companies see great opportunity in the technology as a means of introducing innovative products to the market. Surveys like the one in Germany may either heighten consumer fears about the technology or serve to lessen them, depending on the findings.
The outcome could also be new regulations for the food sector relating to the use of nanotechnology.
The survey will be performed by ZIRN (Centre of Interdisciplinary Risk-science and Sustainable Development of Technology) which will involve about 100 experts from science, industry, public authorities and non-governmental organisations.
A questionnaire will focus on questions relating to current and future applications and potential risks. This information will be debated further in two workshops before being consolidated into a "risk-barometer" to be used to better inform public authorities.
BfR is responsible for identifying and assessing potential risks to consumers from foods, feedstuffs, chemicals and consumer products. It is also responsible for proposing risk reduction measures to political circles and informing the general public about them.
Emerging nanotechnology was incorporated into $32 billion in manufactured goods in 2005 - more than double the previous year, Lux Research found. Global research and development spending on the field reached $9.6bn, up 10 per cent from 2004the company stated in the fourth edition of its Nanotech Report.
For the food and drink industry anything "nano" that involves food contact, to say nothing of actual ingestion, will be subject to a lot of scrutiny for at least the next three years, as regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration get preliminary studies done and rules written.
Nanotechnology is the term used to describe matter with lengths of between 1 and 100 nanometres. One nano-metre is equal to one billionth of a metre, and is about the size of a small molecule.