Many Eager to Use Nano in Food, But Few Admit It
by Andrew Schneider | Jun 21, 2011
NEW ORLEANS -- More than 15,000 food scientists, chefs, recipe developers and purveyors of spices, flavorings and additives met here last week to examine the newest innovations in the cook's pot and on grocery shelves.
Nanoparticles, which could revolutionize steps all along the path from the farm to the table, were discussed openly and with passion in many of the scientific sessions of the Institute of Food Technologists annual conference.
But in the huge exhibition hall, among the thousand of displays of the newest advancements in the food industry, nano was rarely being promoted as the exciting science it may well be. Its absence was perplexing.
Food Safety News patrolled the sprawling Food Expo questioning likely users of the new technology. The enthusiastic company sales reps and scientists saw the "press" tags affixed to our convention passes and suddenly had very little to say. It was akin to not talking about the crazy aunt at the family reunion.
There were few signs among the elaborate displays that even mentioned nanotechnology. One exception was the exhibit for Southwest Research Institute, which runs 2 million square feet of laboratories in San Antonio, Texas.
"There are many areas where nanomaterial can be of an immense benefit to food development, processing, safety monitoring and packaging," James Oxley, senior research scientist in nanomaterials for Southwest Research Institute, told Food Safety News.
Many exhibitors are actively developing exciting applications for nano particles, but they're just not talking about it, he explained.
"The ongoing concern about possible health hazards or adverse reactions from nanomaterial has people staying pretty quiet about what they're doing," Oxley said.
"If the FDA provides a clearer picture of what it will and won't accept in food and packaging, the use of nanomaterial holds great promise for a wide variety of food-related applications."
A week before the world's top food scientists gathered for this conference, the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance that it says outlines the agency's view on whether products it regulates involve the application of nanotechnology.
They invite public comment on the draft guidance horribly named: "Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology." The agency says "it represents the first step toward providing regulatory clarity on the FDA's approach to nanotechnology."
"Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that has the potential to be used in a broad array of FDA-regulated medical products, foods, and cosmetics," said Carlos Peņa, director of FDA's emerging technology programs. "FDA is monitoring the technology to assure such use is beneficial."
Meanwhile, on the same day that FDA made its nano announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said that it will seek to determine whether nanomaterials in pesticide products can "cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health."
There is enormous industry pressure on the government to move more rapidly on approving the use of nanomaterial. Many safety regulators and much of the public health community fear that there has been insufficient testing of the health hazards from exposure to nanomaterial.
An executive order signed by President Obama on Jan. 18. pretty much illustrates the quandary presented to all players in this enormously growing world of nanoparticles.
"Our regulatory system must protect public health, welfare, safety, and our environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation. It must be based on the best available science."Continued...