Nanotechnology is a field of applied sciences and technologies involving the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, normally below 100 nanometers. Nanomaterials may exhibit different physical and chemical properties compared with the same substances at normal scale, such as increased chemical reactivity due to greater surface area.
Nanotechnologies enable the management of food ingredients on a molecular level. Nanotechnology products could have a substantial impact on the food and feed sector in the future, potentially offering benefits for industry and the consumer, although possible risks need to be considered. Companies and institutes worldwide are currently researching and developing applications in fields such as the treatment of the mechanical and sensorial properties of food – for instance to achieve changed taste or texture – and modified nutritional value. Nanotechnology may also be used in food packaging, for instance to ensure better protection or to detect how fresh food is. The specific properties and characteristics of nanomaterials need to be considered for any potential health risks.
In March 2009, EFSA’s Scientific Committee, which includes the chairs of all of EFSA’s Panels, published a scientific opinion on nanoscience and nanotechnologies in relation to food and feed safety . A guidance document on how to assess potential risks related to certain food-related uses of nanotechnology followed in May 2011. It provides practical recommendations on how to assess applications from industry to use engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in food additives, enzymes, flavourings, food contact materials, novel foods, food supplements, feed additives and pesticides.
Both publications followed requests for advice from the European Commission. While finalising its outputs, EFSA took into account feedback received from public consultations.
EFSA’s Panels also consider the safety of specific nanomaterials, for instance in the areas of food additives and food contact materials.
Since 2006 EFSA has been following developments in nanotechnology within its remit – providing independent scientific advice and technical support to risk managers –, including reviewing the current state of knowledge and latest developments in nanotechnology with regard to food and feed.
The European Union has decided to take an “integrated, safe and responsible approach” to the development of nanotechnologies. This includes:
- Reviewing and adapting EU laws
- Monitoring safety issues
- Engaging in dialogue with national authorities, stakeholders and citizens.
- Nanotechnology - European Commission, DG Health and Consumers
- Towards a European strategy for nanotechnology – European Commission, DG Research
- Regulatory aspects of nanomaterials – European Commission
- Commission recommendation on the definition of nanomaterial
- Input from EFSA for consideration during the revision of the Commission Recommendation