Nanotech in Our Food: Should We Be Afraid?

(Marion Nestle, Food Politics, July 18, 2010)
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So says a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO): GAO identified a variety of products that currently incorporate nanomaterials already available in commerce … [in] food and agriculture …The extent to which nanomaterials present a risk to human health and the environment depends on a combination of the toxicity of specific nanomaterials and the route and level of exposure to these materials. Although the body of research related to nanomaterials is growing, the current understanding of the risks posed by these materials is limited. . . . In the meantime, the European Food Safety Authority is preoccupied with issues related to the safety of food nanotechnology: The risk assessment framework for nanotechnology in Europe—like so much else connected to the technology—appears to be in its infancy but developing at a rapid pace … Nano knowledge gaps have led some to call for a ban on the use of nanomaterials in food products until their safety has been fully established. One area of concern is whether nanoparticles can migrate from packaging materials into foods. . . . In seeking to assess nanomaterials, the food safety body repeatedly used phrases such as “specific uncertainties”, “limited knowledge” and…”difficult to characterise, detect and measure” in relation to toxicokinetics and toxicology in food. Likely usage and exposure levels are also largely a mystery.  . . . The European Food Safety Authority says that lack of knowledge means that risk assessment of risk assessments must be done on a “cautious case-by-case approach.” . . . Last April, the European Parliament’s environment committee said nanotech products should be withdrawn from the market until more is known about their safety. In June, that committee added that nanotech foods should be assessed for safety before they are approved for use and labeled. . . . Doesn’t that sound reasonable? Let’s hope it’s not too late to put such constraints in place, and in the U.S., too.

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