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Small particles, big risks: IUF, international NGOs release recommendation on the use of nanotech in foods

12 March 2015 News
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In response to rising concern about manufacturers using unregulated nanomaterials in food, an international coalition of groups including the IUF today released a policy recommendation for companies in food-related industries to assist them in avoiding or reducing the risks from nanomaterials in food products and packaging.

The recommendation calls on companies to: adopt a detailed public policy explaining their use of nanomaterials, if any; publish a safety analysis for any nanomaterials being used; issue supplier standards; label all products that contain nanoparticles smaller than 500nm; and adopt a hierarchy of hazard controls approach to prevent exposure of its employees to nanomaterials.

A growing number of studies have indicated that a range of health harms may be caused by ingestion or inhalation of engineered nanomaterials, which are materials containing extremely small particles (a human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide). The United States Food and Drug Administration, which has not yet issued nanomaterials regulations for food additives, states in its guidance that they "are not aware of any food ingredient... on the nanometer scale for which there are generally available data sufficient" to determine that the ingredient is Generally Recognized As Safe.' Yet no government regulatory agency has introduced appropriate nano-specific workplace, consumer or environmental requirements. Corporate lobbyists have successfully resisted regulation and even the establishment of publicly accessible registers of products containing nanomaterials which would assist with identifying potential risks. And companies increasingly define away the problem by asserting that only materials incorporating nanoparticles measuring 100 nanometres or less should qualify as 'nano', despite the growing evidence of health harms produced by exposure to particles in the 101-1000 nanometre range.

The Nanomaterials Policy recommendation is also accompanied by a fact sheet to help inform companies and consumers about the potential risks of nanomaterials. The Nanomaterials Policy recommendation was developed by As You Sow, Center for Food Safety, Center for International Environmental Law, Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, The International Center for Technology Assessment, and the IUF. The goal of the policy is to provide a single recommendation for food manufacturers, endorsed by groups working on nanomaterials policy issues, to avoid confusion and multiple mandates.

"Products containing engineered nanoparticles are being rapidly introduced into commercial production at every stage of the food chain, yet there are no specific safety regimes or adequate hazard assessments in place to protect workers, the public and the environment," said Ron Oswald, IUF General Secretary. "We were very pleased to participate in this work and look forward to others sharing this approach and the specific recommendations."