Report of EFSA technical meeting with its Stakeholder Consultative Platform on the draft opinion on nanotechnology

21 October 2008

On 21 October 2008 EFSA held a technical meeting in Brussels with its Stakeholder Consultative Platform[1] on its draft opinion on the potential risks arising from nanoscience and nanotechnologies and food and feed safety. The meeting gave an opportunity for EFSA to brief stakeholders face-to-face on the draft opinion and to have an exchange of views and feedback, as part of EFSA’s on-going public consultation on the draft opinion. The final opinion of EFSA will help the European Commission to explore appropriate measures, assess existing legislation and determine the scope of possible further requests for scientific opinions from EFSA in this field.

The chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee (SC), Prof Vittorio Silano, and EFSA Scientific Officer Dr David Carlander briefed participants at the meeting. Prof. Silano opened the discussions with an overview of the work of EFSA on nanotechnologies and food and feed safety. Dr Carlander then gave a more detailed presentation of the draft opinion and how it was developed.

The presentations introduced the key conclusions of the draft opinion and the thinking behind them. Prof Silano stressed that the opinion is generic in nature and not in itself a risk assessment of nanotechnologies as such or of any possible applications or specific products. He explained that while the general approach to risk assessment of chemicals is applicable, existing knowledge on chemicals cannot be satisfactorily extrapolated to engineered nanomaterials and therefore a case-by-case approach would be necessary. This would require specific data from relevant safety tests appropriate to the application. Prof Silano also emphasised the current limitations in available data and knowledge, as well as uncertainties.

Dr Carlander provided further detail on the draft opinion and EFSA’s work. The draft opinion followed the establishment of a Working Group in November 2007, the members of which were selected by the SC following a search for relevant experts, including a request to Member States to identify experts at a national level. An EFSA call for data in January 2008 also contributed to building the evidence base to support the development of the draft opinion. The presentation also gave further detail on the approach taken in developing the draft opinion. The draft focuses on engineered nanomaterials (ENM) deliberately introduced into the food chain. It acknowledges that food contact materials are the largest area of potential use at the moment in relation to the food chain.

A discussion followed with the group. There were questions and points made on a number of issues, such as the definition and detection of ENM. EFSA has not attempted to define terms, as the actual characteristics and properties of a specifc ENM would be addressed in a case-by-case risk assessment. Detection of ENM in products was recognised as a particular challenge. Dr Carlander highlighted the need for the food industry to provide information on the addition of ENM to its products and outlined how the draft opinion gives an indication to potential applicants of the data they would need to provide to allow for a risk assessment. There was also discussion about the uncertainties inherent in undertaking a risk assessment due to limited information, an issue which concerned members of the group and is acknowledged in the draft opinion.

Next steps
Participants were reminded that the public consultation was now open until 1 December 2008. Additional studies and data would be particularly welcomed by EFSA given the scientific nature of EFSA’s work and the importance of identifying any scientific data or evidence that may not have been available before in order to ensure that the final opinion takes into account all available information. Contributions and comments can be submitted via the EFSA website. Once EFSA has studied the consultation feedback, the final opinion will be prepared.
[1] EFSA’s Stakeholder Consultative Platform, composed of EU-wide stakeholder organisations working in areas related to the food chain. It meets to assist EFSA in the development of its overall relations and policy with stakeholders