EU food safety watchdog backs piecemeal approach to nanotech risk assessment


Existing toxicity testing approaches can be used for case-by-case risk assessment of nanomaterials in food, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which says there is limited data available on oral exposure to nanoparticles.

The EFSA scientific committee’s draft opinion on whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to nanotechnologies in the food sector concluded that current toxicity testing approaches used for conventional materials are “a suitable starting point for case-by-case risk assessment of ENMs [engineered nanomaterials].”

However, the opinion published for public consultation on 14 October notes that the available data on oral exposure to specific ENMs and any consequent toxicity is extremely limited and “possible risks arise” as a result of their particular characteristics. Indeed, their small size increases their ability to move around in the body in ways that other substances do not and their high surface area increases their reactivity, notes EFSA.

The authority thus recommends that whenever risk assessment guidance documents in the food and feed area are reviewed “nanotechnology aspects shall be considered”. Such EU legislative review is currently underway on food additives. Another recommendation calls for further research to address current uncertainties to strengthen the evidence base for risk assessments.

The opinion, published for public consultation on 14 October, is not a risk assessment of nanotechnologies as such or of their potential application, but rather a “generic” view of their use.

Tentative applications of this new technology by the food and feed sector include improved food packaging, traceability and monitoring of quality, modification of taste and fat content and enhanced nutrient absorption. 

The draft opinion was commissioned by the European Commission, whose regulatory review on nanotech earlier this year concluded that the current EU legislative framework covers the potential health, safety and environmental risks of nanomaterials “in principle”, but that changes in legislation may become necessary as scientific knowledge on the issue grows.

The public consultation on the opinion is open until 1 December 2008.

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