Report calls for research on nanoparticles in food

Thu Jan 7, 2010 7:33pm EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - A global scarcity of scientific research on using nanotechnology in foods means food safety authorities are unable to properly regulate products that may be beneficial or harmful, a British science panel said on Friday.

The science and technology committee of Britain's upper house of parliament said in a report that use of nanoparticles in food and food packaging is likely to grow dramatically in the next decade, but too little is known about their safety.

"The technologies have the potential to deliver some significant benefits to consumers, but it is important that detailed and thorough research into potential health and safety implications ... is undertaken now to ensure that any possible risks are identified," said Lord Krebs, chair of the Science and Technology Committee which produced the report.

Nanotechnology is the design and manipulation of materials thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, called nanoparticles.

The technology has been hailed as a new way to make stronger and more lightweight materials, better cosmetics and tastier or healthier foods, but Friday's report said a paucity of scientific research across the world meant its potential benefits and risks in food were largely unknown.

According to Krebs whose committee heard evidence from food producer groups, regulators and scientific experts from across the world, the global market for nanotechnology in food was $410 million in 2006 and is set to grow to $5.6 billion in 2012.

"We are on the cusp of a potentially explosive growth in this novel approach to food manufacture and processing," he told a news briefing.

There are currently at least 600 products involving nanomaterials on the market but only around 80 of them are food or food-related and only two of those are available in the UK.   Continued...

<p>A grocery aisle in a file photo. REUTERS/File</p>