S&T Committee (Lords): Nanotechnologies and food

30 March 2009

The Royal Society responded to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee call for evidence on nanotechnologies and food. Our submission focused on aspects of the call under health and safety, regulatory frameworks, and public engagement and consumer information.

The Society agreed with the Committee that the use of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials in the food sector requires investigation. Nanoscience is likely to bring benefit to manufacturers and consumers of foodstuffs and related products. We noted however that there is a paucity of information on the current state of commercial development, and that there are technical and social uncertainties that need to be addressed.

For example, we noted that there is limited toxicological data on nanomaterials and uncertainties over the adequacy of risk assessment methods. In addition, the import of nanomaterials into the food chain through unintended or accidental means must not be overlooked. We suggested that the early initiation of discussions with businesses in the food sector may avert difficulties that have come to light in the cosmetics sector where environmental, health and safety research has lagged behind commercial exploitation. We recommended that Defra look to put in place a mandatory reporting scheme for engineered nanoscale materials.

We suggested that nanotechnologies and food is an area that now needs focused public dialogue work and opportunities should be sought for the findings to feed into policy and innovation processes. Open dialogue between the science, policy, commercial and public communities will be an important part of realising the potential benefits of nanoscience applied to food.