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November 13, 2008

EFSA Consults on Draft Opinion on Nanotechnologies and Food and Feed Safety

Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 17, 2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) began a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion in relation to nanoscience and nanotechnologies and food and feed safety.  EFSA’s draft opinion focuses on engineered nano materials (ENM) that could be deliberately introduced into the food chain and elaborates on approaches to risk assessment. EFSA states that it “is not an assessment of any specific application of ENM.” According to EFSA, the European Commission (EC) requested the opinion “as a first step because consideration needs to be given as to whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to this new technology.”  EFSA states that its final opinion “will then help the EC to explore appropriate measures, assess existing legislation and determine the scope of possible further requests for scientific opinions from EFSA in this field.” Comments are due December 1, 2008.

Key conclusions of the draft opinion include:

  • Established international approaches to risk assessment currently used for non nano chemicals can also be applied to ENM;
  • It is currently not possible to satisfactorily extrapolate scientific data on non nano chemicals and apply it to their nano-sized versions.  Consequently specific case-by-case risk assessments should be performed when assessing their safety, based on specific data from relevant safety tests applicable to the particular application;
  • Possible risks arise because ENM have particular characteristics, due in part to their small size and high surface area.  Small size increases their ability to move around in the body in ways that other substances do not, while their high surface area increases their reactivity; and
  • Additional limitations and uncertainties exist, particularly in relation to characterizing, detecting and measuring ENM in food, feed, or the body.  There is also limited information on absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion, as well as the toxicity of ENM.