Nanoparticle technologies have been hailed as a new way to make stronger and more lightweight materials and tastier or healthier foods, but a report issued from Britain on Jan. 8 cautioned that the risks surrounding the use of nanotechnology are largely unknown. More..


Nanoparticle technologies have been hailed as a new way to make stronger and more lightweight materials and tastier or healthier foods, but a report issued from Britain on Jan. 8 cautioned that the risks surrounding the use of nanotechnology are largely unknown.

"The technologies have the potential to deliver some significant benefits to consumers, but it is important that detailed and thorough research into potential health and safety implications...is undertaken now to ensure that any possible risks are identified," said Lord Krebs, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, which produced the document, according to Reuters.

Krebs said the food industry in Britain and worldwide was "quite obscure" about any work they are doing on nanotechnology for products or packaging–an attitude he described as "exactly the wrong approach.”

Krebs’ committee, which heard evidence from food producer groups, regulators and scientific experts worldwide, noted that the global market for nanotechnology in food was $410 million in 2006 and is set to grow to $5.6 billion in 2012. Other estimates are higher: Frost & Sullivan forecasts that the nanotechnology market will reach $1 trillion by 2015.

"The understanding of the behavior of particles in nano-scale range is not as coherent as that of the same particles in the micro- and macro- scale,” says research analyst Rajaram Vijayan. “Experts are already confounded with the behavior characteristics of nanomaterials, and have found it difficult to furnish a reference material for the same."

The report from Britain found at least 600 products involving nanomaterials were available on the market, but just 80 of them are food or food-related, and only two of those were available in the UK. It also called for new rules to compel food companies to tell regulators about any work they are doing with nanoparticles in food, and also called for a voluntary public register of food products and packaging containing nanomaterials.

According to a report from Innovative Research and Products Inc., there are three basic categories of nanotechnology applications and functionalities in development for food packaging: enhancement of polymeric barriers; incorporation of active components that can deliver functional attributes beyond those of conventional active packaging; and sensing and signaling of relevant information.