NGOs sound warning on nanomaterial risk

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Nanotechnology is a hotly debated topic in the US and EU
Nanotechnology is a hotly debated topic in the US and EU
Advocacy groups are calling on companies using nanomaterials to take steps to avoid or reduce the risks in food products and packaging.

The move comes in response to what the groups described as ‘rising concern’ about manufacturers using unregulated nanomaterials in food.

The NGOs said the goal is to provide a single recommendation for food manufacturers to avoid confusion and multiple mandates.

In a policy recommendation, they request firms adopt a detailed public policy explaining use of nanomaterials, if any; publish a safety analysis for any being used and issue supplier standards.

They also want businesses to label all products that contain nanoparticles smaller than 500nm and adopt hazard controls approach to prevent exposure of its employees.   

The US Food and Drug Administration has not made any nanomaterial-specific regulation but has published guidance.

NGOs action

The advocacy agencies involved are As You Sow, Center for Food Safety, Center for International Environmental Law, Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The International Center for Technology Assessment and The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) are also involved.

The group said it was concerned food companies may use, or inadvertently incorporate, nanomaterials in food products, ingredients, food contact surfaces or packaging before they have been proven safe for manufacture, consumption, and release into natural ecosystems.

Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, said the policy reflects an emerging consensus that using nanomaterials in foods is a risky business.

“Using technology before it is proven safe exposes consumers to health harms and companies to the risks of litigation and consumer backlash.”

Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, said FDA needs to formally exclude nanomaterials from Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).

“All nanomaterials used in food should be considered new food additives and should be reviewed accordingly. The FDA needs to stipulate which sizes of nanoparticles can be used in food.”

David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said food manufacturers must disclose whether they use nanomaterials in their food and packaging and release safety reviews.

“The use of emerging nanotechnology may revolutionize the food industry, but safety must come first.”

European focus

In a separate development, nanomaterials have been part of a focus in Europe recently.

The European Commission defines a nanomaterial as: “A natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50% or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1nm - 100nm.”

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Germany said inhalation is the most worrisome kind of exposure towards nanomaterials for humans according to current knowledge.

BfR and the Fraunhofer Society are participating in the EU research project NANoREG concerned with the development of methods for regulatory testing of nanomaterials.

One key question is whether nano-sized particles can pass barriers in the body, said the agency.

To cast light on this question, imaging procedures such as time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry are currently developed further for the analysis of biological media. This allows for the imaging of interactions between particles and biomolecules as well as of particle distribution.

Methods such as SP-ICP-MS are important to clarify whether there is a relevant exposure of humans to nanomaterials through nanocomposites as e.g. food contact materials made of plastic or ceramics as well as cosmetic products.“

Nanomaterials already used today such as nano silver and titanium dioxide are produced in numerous forms (e.g. different sizes, surface coatings), said BfR.

Approved nanomaterials and detection methods

A regulation ‘amending and correcting’ EC Regulation 10/2011 shows three nanomaterials have been approved and another material has been amended so the nanoform of it can be used, according to the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA).

The three materials are butadiene, ethyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, and styrene, copolymer cross-linked with divinylbenzene, in nanoform, butadiene, ethyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, and styrene copolymer not cross-linked, in nanoform and butadiene, ethyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, and styrene copolymer cross-linked with 1,3-butanediol dimethacrylate, in nanoform.

The entry for Kaolin has been amended ‘to include particles in the nanoform with a thickness less than 100nm and incorporated up to 12% in EVOH copolymer’.

Regulation 2015/174 came into effect last month​.

The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published a research paper evaluating key methods to detect, size and quantify nanoparticulate silver. 

The work, in partnership with the University of Ferrara, shows combining flow field flow separation with hypersensitive quantification can be successfully applied to the relative quantification of the particle size distribution of silver nanoparticles. 

This shows a possible way to address the need for analytical methods to determine the number size distribution of silver nanoparticles, said JRC. 

Related topics: Regulation and safety, Nanotechnology

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