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Posted: September 3, 2010
Swiss study on nanotechnology in the food sector now available in English
(Nanowerk News) The study "Nanotechnology in the Food Sector", commissioned by the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS, is now available in English.
The study provides an overview of nanomaterials already used in the food sector with a focus on the Swiss market and an analysis of the existing legal framework.
Experts in the field of food science are finding that at present very little practical use is made of nanotechnology in food, although it is important in basic research. Industry is already spending huge sums on researching the relative potential. That is why there is an urgent need for some clarification of the issue, before any such products are marketed on a wide scale. The public reacts very sensitively to the way food is produced; the debate on genetic engineering showed this very clearly. An early, well-grounded investigation of nanotechnology in the field of nutrition should therefore help to generate an objective discussion.
Aims of the study
To discuss the future prospects for nanotechnology in the food sector (including packaging materials). What visions and interests are linked to these, and who are the actors behind them?
To distinguish between "nano-fictions", as they are constantly being presented in the media, and the scientific principles and foreseeable applications based on them.
To investigate the subject in the context of changing nutritional habits (trends like convenience food or functional food). What requirements are there on the consumer side?
To discuss arguments about the natural state and the "manipulation" of food in comparison with the long-standing debate on genetic engineering in food.
To evaluate the situation in an overall assessment by comparing different strategies for "improving" foods.
To formulate recommendations for decision makers, especially politicians.
Results of the study
The analysis of the Swiss market showed that so far only few nanoscale food additives as well as food supplied with such components are available. These are additives like silicon dioxide, carotenoids and micelles which are already in use and have been toxicologically reviewed for many years. They allow an improved handling, an improved optic and an increase of the bioavailability of nutrients.
However, on non-European markets food additives with nanoscale heavy metals with dubious benefits and partly toxicologically risky characteristics are available.
In food packaging composite films and PET-bottles with nano-technologically improved barrier features against gases and flavours improving durability of the content can be found on the Swiss market. Furthermore, outside Switzerland packaging with biocidal working substances (mainly nano-silver) exist with a view to achieve a protection against bacteria and fungi.
At present, given the current market situation, the contribution of nanotechnology to an environmentally friendly, constitutional and ethically responsible alimentation is estimated as marginal in Switzerland.
In perspective the enrichment of food with nanoscale supplements (e.g. iron) could indeed generate a constitutional advantage in developing countries, which is connected to an economic potential to a considerable extent.
A requirement for this is the eco- and human-toxicological harmlessness of the applied nano-materials. Food packaging with nano components, however, already offer advantages for consumers at present and therefore hold a bigger potential for the future, especially because it also includes environmental impact reduction potential.