Nanotechnology in food needs to be assessed on case-by-case basis: EFSA

Posted by James Ferre on 6th March 2009

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Committee has concluded that current international approaches to risk assessment can also be applied to engineered nano materials (ENM) in food, with a case-by-case approach necessary. Given current data limitations and a lack of validated test methodologies, risk assessment of specific nano products remains very difficult and subject to a high degree of uncertainty, they added.

Their opinion focussed specifically on the use of nanotechnologies, particularly ENMs, in the food and feed chain. It elaborates on approaches and methodologies available for risk assessment of these very small particles but does not address any specific applications of particular ENMs. The European Commission (EC) asked for the Authority’s opinion “because consideration needs to be given as to whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to this new technology.”

The EFSA recommends that additional research and investigation is needed to address the many current uncertainties and data limitations. Specific recommendations included the following:

* Investigating the interaction and stability of ENMs in food and feed, in the gastro-intestinal tract and in biological tissues
* Developing and validating routine methods to detect, characterise and quantify ENMs in food contact materials, food and feed
* Developing, improving and validating test methodologies to assess toxicity of ENMs (including reliability and relevance of test methods)

“The Scientific Committee has concluded that in principle it is possible to undertake risk assessments in this emerging scientific area by making use of available international approaches. However, given current data gaps and limitations in a number of cases, it may be very difficult to provide fully satisfactory conclusions,” Prof Vittorio Silano, chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, said.

“This issue will remain a priority for EFSA’s Scientific Committee. We are establishing a working group of experts to be kept informed of any emerging scientific and other data that will help us deliver the best possible scientific opinions based on the most up-to-date evidence available. EFSA will take a cautious case-by-case approach and looks forward to further data and research becoming available to help inform future scientific opinions.”