The Big Question of Nanotechnology and Animal Feed

EU - The European Food Safety Authority have released a draft opinion on the potential benefits and risks of nanotechnology being included in Food and animal feed.
calendar icon 24 October 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

The prospects for applications of nanoscience and nanotechnologies to the food chain range from the almost certain (e.g., membranes, antibacterials, flavours, filters, food supplements, stabilizers) through to the probable (e.g., pathogen and contaminant sensors, environmental monitors, coupled sensing & warning devices, and remote sensing & tracking devices) to the improbable (e.g., “creating unlimited amounts of food by synthesis at the atomic level”).

Some market analysts1 flag smart packaging, on demand preservatives, and interactive foods as the most promising areas. In addition, all seem to agree that the development of foods with new or modified molecular structures holds promise.

Yet, the actual use and potential use of nanoscience and nanotechnologies in the food, feed, and pesticide industry still require clarification. The need for clarification also holds true for the benefits and improvements that these applications should bring about.

In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has approved products containing nanomaterials. FDA-approved products known to date include drugs, medical devices, sunscreen lotions, and pet food supplements.

Various European Commission (EC) initiatives establish a framework for the Health & Consumers Protection Directorate-General action on nanotechnologies. The European Action Plan on “Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009”

(COM(2005) 243), adopted on 7 June 2005, defines a “safe, integrated, and responsible approach” for nanotechnologies. The Commission adopted on 6 September 2007 a report for the European Parliament on the implementation of the Action Plan. Moreover, the 7th EC Framework Program for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities allocates 3.5 billion euros for nanotechnologies in support to the Action Plan, part of which will finance research on safety.

Recently, the European Group on Ethics produced an opinion on ethical issues in nanomedicine. The Commission adopted on 17 June 2008 a Communication on the Regulatory Aspects of Nanomaterials, which is a legislative review on the suitability of the existing regulation for nanotechnologies. Finally, the services of the Commission are involved in international activities (OECD7, Transatlantic Dialogue, etc.).

The EC’s non-food, Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) first adopted a scientific opinion on “The appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies” on 10 March 2006 (after public consultation).

It subsequently adopted a scientific opinion on “The Appropriateness of the Risk Assessment methodology in accordance with the technical guidance documents for new and existing substances for assessing the risks of nanomaterials” 29 March 2007.

These opinions conclude that current risk assessment methodologies for bulk chemicals require modification in order to deal with the risks associated with nanotechnologies and in particular that existing toxicological and ecotoxicological methods may not be sufficient to address all of the issues arising from nanoparticles as size confers unique properties to nanomaterials.

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