Nanotechnology refers to controlling matter at an atomic or molecular scale measured in nanometers, or millionths of millimeters. In the food industry, the technology has a variety of uses including detecting bacteria in packaging, producing stronger flavors and colorings, or better delivery of micronutrients.
The report, Sourcing Framework for Food and Food Packaging Products Containing Nanomaterials, claims that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not doing enough to regulate nanotechnology, and that there is not enough knowledge about how nanoparticles could impact human health or the environment.
Research director of As You Sow and co-author of the report Amy Galland said: “We are urging the food industry to utilize the precautionary principle and stay ahead of the regulatory curve on this issue.”
The organization said food companies should ask suppliers to disclose whether nanomaterials have been used in products, and if so, to provide safety assessment information.
“Companies looking to purchase or sell nanofood products or packaging have to take specific steps to protect themselves from financial and reputation risk through a thorough evaluation of the safety of these products and transparency to address any consumer concerns,” the report said.
The FDA has repeatedly said that it already has the tools and authority to deal with nanotechnology in food ingredients and food contact materials, and has stressed that the issue is not necessarily about size, but rather about whether properties are changed when working with a particular substance on the nano scale.
In June this year, the agency issued draft guidance for industry on nanotechnology, saying it was a “first step toward providing regulatory clarity on FDA’s approach to nanotechnology”.
“In the absence of federal regulations, corporations need to evaluate the risks and benefits of sourcing products that use this new technology on their own,” said Michael Passoff, senior strategist of As You Sow and co-author of the report.