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 Parliament members said that the definition could lead to existing nanomaterials not being labelled due to an exemption provided for food additives approved on an EU list.

In the European Commission proposal, food additives already on sale and potentially containing nanoparticles would be exempted from nano-labelling. The MEPs said that the Commission’s plans would deny consumers their right to be informed.

They also said that a 50% nano-particles threshold for an ingredient to qualify as ‘nano’ is much too high. This disregards the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) advice to the Commission of a 10% threshold in light of ongoing uncertainty of nano safety.

“The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a proper nano-labelling and it is highly surprising that the Commission even tried to weaken what has been decided by both Parliament and the Council,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter. “Consumers have the right to know and make their own choices, they do not want the Commission to do that for them, that is why today’s vote is important.”

Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said that consumers are unsure about the safety of nanomaterials and do not see clear benefits of foods containing nano materials.

“The EU’s food labelling law will oblige producers to declare when their foods contain nanoparticles so that consumers can decide for themselves whether or not to buy such products. The European Commission’s ill-advised proposal would limit their right to be properly informed. We welcome MEPs’ decision to send it back to the drawing board,” Goyens said.

Goyens also endorsed EFSA’s definition by saying its recommendation is “crystal clear”.

“A food ingredient should be considered an ‘engineered nanomaterial’ when 10% of its particles are nano-sized. There is no convincing explanation why the Commission would disregard advice from Europe’s independent expert food science body,” she added.

Nanotechnology deals with particles which are invisible to the eye. Scientists say nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices within for example medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production.

However, nanotechnology also raises many of the same issues as any new technology regarding toxicity and the impact on the environment.

  • 24-27 Feb.: The resolution is to be put to a vote by the full House during plenary session in Strasbourg.

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