EU food products found to contain unlabelled nanomaterials

100% of the additives in Carrefour's guacamole spice mix were found to be nanoparticles. [Meal Makeover Moms/Flickr]

Tests have revealed that nanomaterials are present in our food, and manufacturers are not fulfilling their obligation to label them. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Under the 2011 European Regulation Concerning the Provision of Food Information to Consumers, any ingredient containing nanomaterials must be labelled as such, with the name if the materials followed by the word ‘nano’.

After initially prevaricating on the issue, reluctant to enforce labelling for ingredients that had often been on the market for a long time, the European Commission reiterated this requirement in October 2015 during the revision of the Novel Foods Regulation.

But there are currently no food products labelled with the word ‘nano’ after any of the ingredients concerned. Does this mean that there are no food products on the EU market that contain nanoparticles?

MEPs reject Commission's definition of nanomaterials in food

Lawmakers in the European Parliament's Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) have rejected on Wednesday (12 February) a proposed regulation which included a definition of "engineered nanomaterials" in food.

The answer is no. In fact their use is commonplace. The French environmental association Agir pour l’environnement demonstrated as much with an analysis of four products, published on Wednesday (15 June).


With the help of the French National Metrology and Testing Laboratory (LNE), the association analysed a portion of William Saurin veal blanquette, Malabar chewing gum and LU napolitan biscuits, all of which contain titanium dioxide (the colorant additive E171), as well as the spice mix used by the supermarket Carrefour in its guacamole, which contains silicon dioxide (the anticaking agent E551).

All four products contained nanomaterials that should have been labelled ‘nano’ under to the rules of the Novel Foods Regulation. This defines nanomaterials as “any intentionally produced material that has one or more dimensions of the order of 100 nm or less”.

Lobbyists 'fuelling confusion' on nanotech, EU warns

The highest-ranked health official in the EU executive has hit out at lobby groups who stoke fear of nanotechnology. Robert Madelin, director-general at the European Commission’s health and consumer affairs directorate, said it was “irresponsible” to use panic in order to attract attention.

The test results showed that particles measuring less than 100 nanometres constituted between 2.5% (for the chewing gum) to 100% (for the guacamole spices) of the additives in the food products. As a share of the whole product, these particles occur in low concentrations, but several studies show that nanoparticles accumulate in certain body tissues and can only be processed with difficulty.

A novel food?

For Agir pour l’environnement, “these nanoparticulate substances create needless risks for consumers, who have no way to avoid them because they are deprived of their right to know and to choose. As nanoparticles are increasingly present in consumer goods, with no transparency, traceability or regulation, we urgently call for a moratorium to avoid another public health scandal like the one that occurred over asbestos.”

In September 2015, Friends of the Earth Australia revealed the presence of nanoparticles in a number of food products, many of which are available in Europe. Among them are M&Ms, Mentos Pure Fresh chewing gum and skittles sweets.

EU unblocks novel foods entry into European market

EU Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament put an end on Monday (16 November) to an eight-year-long deadlock on novel foods, adopting a new regulation that is expected to help the innovation-driven products enter the EU market.

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