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Nanotech Cleared in Food Additives and Packaging


Food Standards Australia New Zealand has released two reports reviewing the evidence for the safety of nanotechnologies in food packaging and in food additives. Based on patent searches rather than on nanotech declarations to the regulator, the reports suggest there is no direct evidence that novel nanomaterials are currently being used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand.

“The use of nanomaterials in food packaging offers a lot of benefits and new opportunities. These include the promise of offering extended shelf-life to perishable foods such as red meat and chicken, giving significant food safety and health benefits – not to mention the cost and environmental savings associated with less food wastage. This report is a positive step forward to allowing this to happen in Australia and letting us catch up to other parts of the world.”

Professor David Lewis is Director of the Centre for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Flinders University.

“The recent reviews conducted for FSANZ of nano-sized materials in food and food packaging draw conclusions largely consistent with the overall body of evidence and with previous considerations by other regulatory agencies. The human diet naturally contains material in the nanometre size range, and nanoparticulate material, such as silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide, has been a component of some foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals for many decades. Regardless of the particle size of soluble food components, once dissolved they are indistinguishable from traditional materials. Although the safety of any food additive requires, and receives, careful assessment by regulatory bodies prior to approval, overall the safety or otherwise of food additives and packaging components generally has very little to do with particle size and to date no toxicological effect unique to nanoparticulates following oral administration has been identified.”

Adjunct Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus is a consultant toxicologist with appointments at The University of Canberra’s School of Pharmacy and The University of Queensland’s School of Medicine. He has previously been the chief toxicologist for the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the General Manager of the Risk Assessment Branch of FSANZ.

“Nanotechnologies and nanomaterials can pose a health risk similar to general industrial chemicals. The existence of particles or materials with sizes on the nanoscale in food or food packaging is longstanding – they’ve existed before we even knew to call them nanoparticles. Moreover, their existence does not appear to pose any new form of health risk in a way that is qualitatively different than other additives. Monitoring and analysis of any food packaging or additives should reasonably consider nanoparticles alongside a host of other chemicals.

“Overall, in considering exposure to nanoparticles we have to think about relative scales. The amount of nanoparticles to which we are exposed through food packaging or additives is dwarfed by our exposure coming from the exhaust of internal combustion engines, dust from sand on the beach, or bushfires. Given the known toxicity of man-made nanoparticles in vehicle exhaust, the most pressing health concerns suggest the need for improved air pollution controls before concerns about food packaging become significant.”

Associate Professor Michael Biercuk is an experimental physicist and the Primary Investigator in the Quantum Control Laboratory at The University of Sydney.

“These are very good reports. Roger Drew is one of Australia’s leading toxicologists.

“The reports draw on patent literature, but only to show the likely uses of nanomaterials in packaging.

“They examined the published research literature, which shows that migration of nanomaterials from packaging is negligible. However, the authors caution that (a) there is not very much of that literature (few research studies) and (b) more needs to be known about the toxicology of nanomaterials.

“Some nanomaterials have been included in food for years now, with no evident ill effects.

“At present it seems that there is some use of such materials overseas, but not here. Companies might claim superior performance of their packaging but they will be wary of volunteering information about the inclusion of nanomaterials because they know that, for some people, it is a sensitive issue.

“An independent assessment of whether nanomaterials are present in packaging would require a full chemical analysis and cost a lot of money. In view of the likely low exposure and low hazard, the risk is low and so it is unlikely that anybody would do this.”

Professor Ian D. Rae is Honorary Professorial Fellow at The University of Melbourne, an advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme on chemicals in the environment, and former President of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.