Report recommends strict regulation of nanomaterials in food

Thursday, 22 May, 2014


A report on nanotechnology in food and agriculture has elicited mixed responses from experts on the topic. The report, published by Friends of the Earth, suggests that the Australian Government should strictly regulate the use of nanomaterials in these fields.

The report recommends:

  1. A moratorium on the production and sale of new products containing nanomaterials until necessary research is conducted and regulations to protect human health and the environment are put in place.
  2. A mandatory and public register of nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials in Australia.
  3. A labelling requirement for all products containing nanomaterials as recommended by the federal government’s review of Australia’s food labelling laws.

“The report is overly alarmist and somewhat simplistic in nature,” said Professor Michael Cortie, director of the UTS Institute for Nanoscale Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Professor Cortie says the only difference between ordinary materials and nanomaterials is scale, and that man-made and naturally occurring nanoparticles abound in everyday life.

“The issue is not whether a substance is ‘nano’ or not but rather whether it is being appropriately used. We tolerate toxic substances in our medicines because that is why the medicines work, but of course we don’t like to have them in our food, at least not to any large extent,” Professor Cortie said.

“The point to consider is that a blanket ban on the use of human-made ‘nanoparticles’ or ‘nanomaterials’ is nonsensical. Rather, as is always the case, each substance introduced into the food chain needs to be assessed rationally and on its own merits.”

However, another expert, Professor Thomas Faunce, said, “This is a well-researched and timely report.” He said he “strongly supports” the second and third recommendations for a public register and labelling requirement for products containing nanomaterials.

Professor Faunce is an Australian Research Council Fellow, jointly in the College of Law and the College of Medicine, Biology and the Environment at the Australian National University.

The report, ‘Way too little: Our government’s failure to regulate nanomaterials in food and agriculture’, is available from the Friends of the Earth website: www.foe.org.au.

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