EFSA publishes opinion on the potential risks arising from nanotechnologies on food and feed safety

Established international approaches to risk assessment can also be applied to engineered nano materials

March 11, 2009

EFSA publishes opinion on the potential risks arising from nanotechnologies on food and feed safety

In its newly published scientific opinion on nanoscience and nanotechnologies in relation to food and feed safety, the European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Committee has concluded that established international approaches to risk assessment can also be applied to engineered nano materials (ENM). The committee also concluded that a case-by-case approach would be necessary and that, in practice, current data limitations and a lack of validated test methodologies could make risk assessment of specific nano products very difficult and subject to a high degree of uncertainty.

This opinion focuses on the use of nanotechnologies, particularly ENMs, in the food and feed chain. It elaborates on approaches and methodologies available for risk assessment of these very small particles but does not address any specific applications of particular ENMs. The European Commission (EC) asked for this opinion because consideration needs to be given as to whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to this new technology.

The committee recommends that additional research and investigation is needed to address the many current uncertainties and data limitations. Specific recommendations include the following:

Investigating the interaction and stability of ENMs in food and feed, in the gastro-intestinal tract and in biological tissues
Developing and validating routine methods to detect, characterise and quantify ENMs in food contact materials, food and feed
Developing, improving and validating test methodologies to assess toxicity of ENMs (including reliability and relevance of test methods)

Prof Vittorio Silano, chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, said: “The Scientific Committee has concluded that in principle it is possible to undertake risk assessments in this emerging scientific area by making use of available international approaches. However, given current data gaps and limitations in a number of cases, it may be very difficult to provide fully satisfactory conclusions.

“This issue will remain a priority for EFSA’s Scientific Committee. We are establishing a working group of experts to be kept informed of any emerging scientific and other data that will help us deliver the best possible scientific opinions based on the most up-to-date evidence available. EFSA will take a cautious case-by-case approach and looks forward to further data and research becoming available to help inform future scientific opinions.”

EFSA’s Scientific Committee, which includes the chairs of all of EFSA’s Panels, has undertaken this work as it has a multi-disciplinary character and is relevant to a number of the EFSA Panels’ respective areas of expertise. The SC has been assisted by a working group of scientists with relevant expertise. Feedback from a public consultation held during 2008 was taken into account before the final opinion was adopted by the SC.

EFSA’s opinion will help the EC to explore appropriate measures, assess existing legislation and determine the scope of possible further requests for scientific opinions from EFSA in this field. EFSA has already received a small number of such requests and is adopting the case-by-case approach.

The Potential Risks Arising from Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies on Food and Feed Safety: Summary (PDF) Opinion (PDF).

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