Nanotechnology can be defined as a system of innovative methods to understand, control, measure and manipulate matter at near-atomic scale to change the properties and functions of materials and produce new materials, structures and devices.
A number of physical phenomena become pronounced as the size of the system decreases. Size is an important property which affects various other properties like increasing the surface area to volume ratio, chemical reactivity, absorption capability etc.
Nanotechnology in Food:
Nanotechnology in Cosmetics: In cosmetics, nano-particles are used in deodorants, soap, toothpastes, shampoos, hair conditioners, sunscreens, anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizers, foundations, face powders, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfumes and after-shave lotions. Almost all the major cosmetic manufacturers use nano-materials in their products. L'Oreal has a number of nanotechnology-related products in the market and ranks 6th in US in the number of nanotech related patents in US.
The materials involved in enhancing the functionalities of the cosmetics include various metal oxides and different forms of lipid formulations with nanoscaled droplets which improve the smoothness of creams and promise enhanced properties for anti-ageing or hair treatments. They are used as UV filters in sunscreens and delivery agents in the creams and hair lotions.
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Concerns: Seeing the vast usage of nanotechnology in food and cosmetics, there is a need to identify the nature of the possible hazards associated with actual and foreseen applications in the food and cosmetics area and to provide general guidance on data needed for the risk assessment. We should try to create a healthy food future that delivers to our community not corporate profits. Â It is essential that we get moratoria enacted on the use of nanotechnology until we have regulatory systems in place to protect human and environmental health, and until we have genuine public involvement in decision making regarding nanotechnology's introduction. Every technology has its pros and cons- its all upto the scientists to make the best use of it that's beneficial and harmless to the public using the products, workers producing them and environment into which the wastes are disposed.
Nanotechnology uses materials on an incredibly small scale so that they take on special and improved properties compared to their bulk form. The technology has the potential to transform many of the everyday consumer products that we use. Nanotechnology is the key technology of the twenty-first century, having enormous potential for innovation and growth.
What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology refers to engineered materials which operate at a size of 100nm or less. It is the science of manipulating individual atoms or molecules into structures to create materials and devices with different properties. There are two different approaches to nanotechnology- bottom up (smaller components built up into more complex assemblies) and top-down (reduces larger particles by the use of chemico-physico methods).
Nanotechnology comes from the Greek word "nano" meaning "dwarf". These materials display different properties from bulk as a result of their size. These differences include physical strength, chemical reactivity, electrical conductance, magnetism and optical effects.
The properties of atoms and molecules are not governed by the same physical laws as larger objects or even larger particles, but by "quantum mechanics". The physical and chemical properties of nanosized particles can therefore be quite different from those of larger particles of the same substance. Altered properties can include but are not limited to color, solubility, material strength, electrical conductivity, magnetic behavior, mobility, chemical reactivity and biological activity. The following figure shows applications of nanotechnology in food science.
Figure 1 Application matrix of nanotechnology in food science
For centuries, the taste, texture, flavor and aroma of food were dependent on the cook and the heat of the fire. There were preservatives added to improve food life but not that long.
Today, research has brought out the potential of nano-ized version of several additives which would improve existing flavors or create new ones. To extend shelf-life,fruits and vegetables are being coated with a thin, wax-like nanocoating. The edible nanomaterial skin will also protect the color and flavor of the fruit longer. Salad dressings, sauces, diet beverages, and boxed cake, muffin and pancakes mixes are all engineered by addition of nano-particles for easy pouring.Â Nano-nonstick coatings have come into the market putting an end to shaking a ketchup bottle without clinging to the bottle. Nestle has come up with a Nano-emulsion-based ice cream with a lower fat content retaining texture and flavor.
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Nanotechnology is used in agriculture for molecular treatment of diseases, rapid disease detection, enhancing the ability of plants to absorb nutrients etc. Smart sensors and smart delivery systems will help the agricultural industry combat viruses and other crop pathogens. Reasearch is being done to develop nanostructured catalysts to increase the efficiency of pesticides and herbicides, allowing lower doses to be used. Alternative energy supplies, filters or catalysts could be used to reduce pollution and clean-up existing pollutants.
Nanosensors could be distributed throughout the field where they can monitor soil conditions and crop growth. Nanosensors are being used in grocery stores to enable shop keepers identify food items that have passed their expiry date. Nanosensors with carbon nanotubes or nano-cantilevers are small enough to trap and measure individual proteins or even small molecules. Nano-particles can be engineered to trigger an electrical or chemical signal in the presence of a contaminant such as bacteria. In the future, plant health issues could be identified even before they become visible to the farmer and respond by a remedial action. Nano-particles in smart targeted delivery systems and smart sensors can make agriculture systems "smart".
Figure 2 Nanofibers spun to form cotton.
Source: Alan Johnson "Agriculture and Nanotechnology"
Nanotechnology is used in the development of food packaging to improve plastic material barriers. This helps to extend food (shelf) life by releasing preservatives, repair damages in packaging, improve food safety, alert consumers of contaminated food. Nanotechnology could
be used to detect bacteria in packaging, improve food quality by producing stronger flavors and color quality. Organic market is growing in many countries. More and more processed food is offered every day. Nanotechnology could be used to improve the sensitivity and speed of detection of food-borne pathogens in the food itself or in the supply chain or in the processing equipment which could be lifesaving.
Figure 3 Nanoencapsulation
Source: Report on "Nanotechnology and Food Safety"
Nanotechnology can be described as the new industrial revolution opening up a whole lot of new possibilities for the food industry. Food nanotechnology is an area of emerging interest and both developed and developing countries are investing in this technology to have their market share. At present, USA leads in its nanotechnology investment through its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). Japan and the European Union have also committed substantial funds towards the development of this technology and its applications to various fields. In developing countries though the funds may be lower, some countries do have substantial impact on the global stage. More than 400 companies around the world today are active in nanotechnology research and development (R&D) and this number is expected to increase to more than 1000 within the next
Nanotechnology is used in food manufacturing and testing which results in rapid detection of problems when they arise. Nanotechnology is used in food manufacturing o reduce size of food particles to improve the mixing and absorption of nutrients. Nano-particles are coated by encapsulation which causes its contents to be released in a controlled fashion. Flavor and nutrient release can be delayed.
Nanotechnology can be applied in all phases of the food cycle "from farm to fork", i.e in agriculture, food processing, food packaging and food supplements.
There are four key focus areas for nanotechnology food research:
â€¢ Nano-modification of seed and fertilizers/ pesticides: obtain different plant properties including color, growth season, yield etc.
â€¢ Food fortification and modification: fortify processed food with nano-encapsulated nutrients, its appearance and taste boosted by nano-developed colors, its fat and sugar content removed or disabled by nano-modification, and 'mouth feel' improved.
â€¢ Interactive 'smart' food: personalize food, changing color, flavor or nutrients on demand.
â€¢ 'Smart' packaging and food tracking: increasing food shelf life.
In food packaging, nano-materials are used to make food packages stronger, lighter or perform better. Nanosized silver or titanium dioxide are used as antimicrobials to prevent spoilage. Clay nanoparticles are used in packaging to block oxygen, carbon dioxide and moisture from reaching the food, and also prevent spoilage. Nanosensors in packaging are used to show if a food is close to the end of its shelf life. Future packaging is targeted at developing packages that can reseal themselves, and respond to temperature, light, pressure or acidity. Foods could be tracked by suppliers so that they could be recalled speedily if a safety issue arises.
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Food is coated with nano-particles to enhance shelf life and improve appearance.
Figure 4 Schematic representation of coating an object with multilayers using a successive dipping and washing procedure
Source: Jochenweiss "Functional Materials in Food Nanotechnology"
Nanotechnology introduces new chances for innovation in the food industry but uncertainty and health concerns are also emerging. There were concerns on whether Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would even allow nanoingredients. Research has shown that nano-particles could pose potential risks to human health. It could result in DNA damage that can prefigure cancer and heart and brain disease.
Carbon nanotubes have been widely in food nanotechnology as low-resistance conductors or catalytic reaction vessels. Nanotubes can be formed by the self assembly of certain globular proteins in milk by self assembly under appropriate environmental conditions. This technique is used in immobilization of enzymes and building analogues to muscle-fiber structures.
Despite Denials by the FDA, Nano-Food is in use.Â The prediction is that nanotechnology will transform the entire food industry, changing the way food is produced, processed, packaged, transported, and consumed. There is a need to fill gaps in understanding the benefits, safety, and environmental consequences of using nanotechnology in food. Many of the world's largest food manufacturers (Nestle, Hershey) either have their own in-house nano-labs, or have contracted with major universities to do nano-related food product development. But they are not ready to broadcast those efforts. Food manufacturers need to be transparent to gain public trust about their research into the uses of nanotechnology and nano-particles for improving food quality and life.
Cosmetics are used in a variety of personal care products like sunscreens, anti-ageing creams, hair colors. With the advent of nanotechnology, many nano-particles are being used in these products which seem to have improved performance but at the same time have proved to be hazardous and toxic.
Enhancing cosmetic functionalities: Nano-cosmetics is another area of interest attracting attention. Nanotechnology has the potential to change how cosmetics and drugs deliver benefits. Nano-particles are being developed to encapsulate a wide range of ingredients benefical to the skin. In cosmetics there are currently two main uses for nanotechnology. The first of these is the use of nano-particles as UV filters. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are the main compounds used in these applications. The second use is nanotechnology for delivery. Liposomes and niosomes are used in the cosmetic industry as delivery vehicles. Newer structures such as solid lipid nano-particles (SLN) and nanostructured lipid carriers (NLC) have been found to be better performers than liposomes. In particular, NLCs have been identified as a potential next generation cosmetic delivery agent that can provide enhanced skin hydration, bioavailability, stability of the agent and controlled occlusion.
The nano-particles used in the sunscreens become clear rather than white when compared to their larger form. Nano-particles used in cosmetics are capable of protecting active compounds from oxidation, and improving their penetration through the skin layers which depends on the size of the molecule. Engineered materials can be found in sunscreens with efficient UV protection, long-lasting makeup, anti-ageing creams with an increased intake of vitamins or enzymes, toothpaste, and hair care or colouring products. Nano-particles have entered just about every personal care product on the market, including deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfume and after-shave lotion. Nanoscale ingredients like nano-particles of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, alumina, silver, silicon dioxide, calcium fluoride and copper, as well as nanosomes, nanoemulsions and nanoencapsulated delivery systems are used in the field of cosmetics.
They are composed of oil and water and are stabilized by surfactants and
alcohol. It has a broad spectrum activity against bacteria, enveloped viruses, fungi and spores. The nanoemulsion particles are fused with lipid-containing organisms thermodynamically and electrostatic attraction between the cationic charge of the emulsion and the anionic charge on the pathogen enhances the fusion. The energy trapped in the emulsion is released when enough nanoparticles fuse with pathogens. The energy released destabilizes the pathogen lipid membrane, resulting in cell breakage and death.
Figure 5 Antimicrobial emulsions
Chitin nanofibril is shaped like a thin needle (fibril) made up of a natural polysaccharide obtained from the crustacean exoskeleton by eliminating carbonate and protein portions. They are used in cosmetic dermatology and biotextiles because they are easily metabolized by the body's endogenous enzymes. It occurs naturally, bio- and eco-compatible and is safe to use. The appearance of photoaged skin can be improved and wounds could be healed by reducing hypertrophic scar formation (Fig 7). With different emulsions, chitin nanofibrils show good wound healing activity. Healthy biotextiles have also been produced using chitin nanofibril.
Figure 6 Wound healing activity of chitin nanofibrils.
Source: Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2010
CURRENT STATUS AND FUTURE TRENDS
Exactly estimating the current global market size and the number of companies involved in nanofood sector is difficult due to commercial and environmental sensitivities which have led major food corporations become very protective of their activities and disassociate themselves from publicity in this field. More than 400 food and beverage companies are currently applying nanotechnologies to food. It is anticipated that the number of companies applying nanotechnologies to food will increase dramatically in the near future.
A number of reports, reviews, patents, and company products indicate that nanotechnology applications have started to make an impact on different aspects of the food and associated industries.Currently, USA leads the nanofood sector, followed by Japan and China but Asian countries are expected to be the biggest market for nanofood by 2010.
All known applications of nanofood are currently outside the UK, mainly in the USA, Australia, and Israel. No UK food company has not declared to be using nanofood ingredients or additives in their products. Due to the lack of exact information and a number of other factors affecting the future success of nanofood products, there are varied predictions for the future growth of nanofood market.
More than 200 companies worldwide are conducting R&D into the use of nanotechnology in engineering, processing, packaging or delivering food and nutritional supplements. The R&D activities in the area of nanofood are mainly aimed at improving the appearance of food, controlling the release of flavors and nutrients, enhancing the absorption of nutrients and nutraceuticals in the body, reducing the amount of fat, color, preservatives to promote healthy option foods, removing undesirable compounds from foods through nanofiltration, incorporating nanosensors in food packaging for traceability and food safety.
Products currently in the market:
Food products containing nanotechnologies are penetrating the market. Currently many nanoproducts are globally available both in food and cosmetics. But not all applications and not all nano-particles are alike and hence do not share the same risk profile or hazard. A ranking of risks should be made given the application and type of nano-particles.
A number of nanotechnology applications are available in the market in the form of nanosensors, pesticides, drug delivery systems, food packaging, food processing, dietary supplements, nanocapsules, food storage, water purification, soil cleaning, anti-ageing creams etc.
Future of nanotechnology in food and cosmetics:
The future trends of nanotechnology in the agriculture and food industry is hard to predict. Trends of nanotechnology in food are driven by social priority areas to large-value commercial markets such as human health, agriculture and environment. Precision farming- making use of smart sensing systems for early warning of moisture changes and nanodelivery systems for pesticides which respond to different conditions has been a long-desired goal in agriculture.
In food industry, research on applying nano-particles for developing smart packages will continue. Integrating sensing systems and radio frequency identification technology thus linking packaging and logistic processes can be foreseen.
While these transponder systems are currently very expensive, they would be cheaper in the future due to fusion of nanotechnology and electronics. Research on nanotechnology in the food industry is also aimed at developing products that improve the nutritional value of food. A novel application is biofortification which is aimed at reaching the vulnerable, rural poor people. Trace element delivery may be enhanced by nanotechnology.
Development of functional or interactive foods containing nutrients which will remain dormant in the body and deliver nutrients to cells only when needed is another area of interest. Nanoencapsulates or nanocontainers are used in food to deliver nutrients. Products, containing nanoencapsulates with nutrients/ bioactive compounds will help to enjoy food but will help in maintaining a healthy and low calorie diet. The boundaries between the food and cosmetic domain or between food and pharma are slowly disappearing, where both food and cosmetic industries are aimed at developing methods to deliver nutrients/vitamins to the body/skin.
Unless proper regulatory standards are set and implemented for the safety assessment of the nanomaterials used in food and cosmetics, it's very challenging for the manufacturers to continue their production since the customers would compromise on their usage in a long run. Transparency of manufacturers, thorough understanding of nanoparticle characteristics, benefits and risk, and proper labeling of products would keep customers aware of the products they are using and keep the industry going.
SIDE EFFECTS AND CONCERNS
However, there is uncertainty about the new risks these materials could present besides consumer benefits. Materials could behave differently in the body and be more toxic compared to larger forms. Nanoparticle toxicity may result in oxidative stress, inflammation, and consequent damage to proteins, membranes and DNA. Face creams contain carbon fullerenes which is a substance found to cause brain damage in fish and toxic effects in human liver cells. Research has shown that many nano-particles can be toxic to human tissue and cell cultures, resulting in increased oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokine production, DNA mutation and even cell death. A full safety assessment should be conducted on the nano-particles before they are incorporated into personal care products and cosmetics.
Figure 7 Cream containing Fullerene C-60
The impact of nanotechnology on the environment, risks for workers, socioeconomic impacts and ethical problems are major concerns. There are no laws established to govern the use of nano-materials in consumer products to ensure that they do not cause harm to the public using them, the workers producing them, or the environmental systems into which waste nanoproducts are released. It is difficult to estimate the number of cosmetics, sunscreens and personal care products containing nano-particles that are now commercially available without adequate safety assessment, and without any regulations.
Products containing nanoscale ingredients should be clearly labeled, to keep people informed of its contents and help them make a decision about using them. Personal care products pose a great risk since they are used on a regular basis, are directly applied on the skin, may be inhaled and are often ingested. Also, many cosmetics and personal care products contain ingredients which enhance penetration, thus increasing the possiblilty of skin intake of nano-materials and their entry into the blood stream.
Nanotechnology and nano-particles has a huge potential for product and process innovation in the food industry. This is proven by the current availability of food products in the market developed using nanotechnology. It is the responsibility of industry, governments and researchers to identify potential risks of the applications of nanotechnology. The smaller the particles, the closer they are to the size of natural barriers in nature and our body. We cannot simply extend the knowledge of safety of micro/macro structures and delivery systems to their equivalent nano-sized particles. With the development and application of new technologies, risk evaluation and consumer perception should be addressed as well. These aspects could affect public perception of nanotechnology.
The basic problem involved in the safety aspects of nanotechnology is the diversity of nanotechnologies and nano-particles (e.g. from inert insoluble nano-particles to delivery systems for pesticides and bioactive compounds)
Nano-engineered silver is used in coatings for its antimicrobial properties in food which degrade over time decreasing their efficiency and contaminants are released into surrounding environments.
Nano-engineered substances are used in pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Nano-materials may migrate to different tissues and organs and elicit biological responses unique to their shape due to the size and structural differences. A new transport mechanism may be provided for adsorbed substances to reach these sites which could cause adverse reactions with these or other substances. Nano-Fabricated Surfaces are used to study colonization and dispersal of bacteria in plant vessels
Carbon nanotubes are used as fertilizers in agriculture which enhance rapid growth and increase yield. Tomato plants exposed to nanotubes grow bigger, faster and plentifully but safety concerns remain.
Figure 8 Carbon Nanotubes as Super Fertilizer
Nano-engineered silver is used in bandages, a dental restorative product containing nano-particles, and carbon nano-tubes are used in cosmetics. All these have been approved despite many outstanding questions regarding the bioavailability and toxicity of the nano-scale materials used in their development.
Smaller size particles aid in greater absorption into the body and thus aid in efficient drug delivery but this is a problem in materials like Selenium which when absorbed in larger amounts poses a potential risk.
Nano-engineered materials when ingested in huge amounts could make otherwise benign substances toxic. A good example is a nutraceutical which is nano-egineered and can deliver up to 3 times the amount of lycopene that is otherwise available naturally from eating fresh tomatoes. Some nutrients in their nano-engineered form might reach harmful levels which could not otherwise be attained. Though lycopene has its own benefits, a maximum tolerable upper limit for lycopene is not yet known and if it could pose any harmful risks beyond this limit is also unknown.
An important concern is the potential of the nano-engineered substances to impact the efficacy and durability of conventional drugs and cosmetics.
Nano-materials may alter the pharmacokinetics of drugs, supplements and other chemicals or intensify the problems associated with their larger counterparts. Potentially more severe interactions could be caused and could negatively affect the treatment due to usage of products containing nano-engineered lycopene.
They could enhance the availability of chemical toxins. The sunscreens use micronized titanium dioxide which increases the dermal absorption of several pesticides. This is a potential problem since sunscreens and insect repellants are often used simultaneously.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide used in sunscreens act as active photo-catalysts and generate free radicals in sunlight thus degrading sunscreen formulations and posing health risk. Reactive oxygen species are produced when titanium dioxide is exposed to UV radiation which can be reduced by surface coatings of the nano-particles when used in sunscreens.
Dermal penetration and toxicity of nano-materials is influenced by physiological differences like thickness and condition of hair and skin, physical activity, and duration of exposure. Very small amount of kinetic energy is sufficient to move certain nano-particles like beryllium oxide, into the skin and can activate a cell-mediated immune response. Continuous exposure to nano-particles may increase vulnerability to beryllium sensitization and cause chronic beryllium disease.
Figure 9 Carbon fullerene used in cosmetics
Is size a concern?
Size is an important factor in determining the potential toxicity of a particle The known properties of larger sized particles do not help in predicting the toxicity of nanoparticle. There is a general relationship between particle size and toxicity. Smaller the size, greater is its surface area to volume ratio, and more likely it is to prove toxic.
Toxicity of the nano-particles is a result of the increased chemical reactivity that accompanies a greater surface area to volume ratio. All these factors result in increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) including free radicals. ROS is found in nano-materials like carbon fullerenes, carbon nano-tubes and nanoparticle metal oxides. Shape, chemical composition, surface structure, surface charge, aggregation and solubility are other factors influencing toxicity of the nanoparticle. Due to small size, nano-particles are readily absorbed by the human body and can cross biological membranes and access cells, tissues and organs as opposed to larger sized particles.
Nano-scale materials have substantially different physicochemical and biological properties from their conventional forms because conventional rules are not well understood at the nanometer scale. Quantum effects have a much greater influence on the properties of a nanomaterial compared to larger particles depending on the nature of the material. Nano-materials have much larger surface areas compared to microparticles. More insight is needed into the toxicity of nano-particles. Applications of nanotechnology in food have led to a lot of concerns about the unforeseen health or environmental hazards posed due to ingestion of nano-particles.
The figure shows the increase in surface area with decrease in particle size.
Figure 10 Relation of particle-size and surface area
Source: Report on "Nanotechnology and Food Safety"
It has been proven that free nano-particles can cross cellular barriers and exposure to some engineered nano-particles can lead to increased production of oxyradicals and consequently oxidative damage to the cell. However, the extent of human exposure through consumption of nano-foods and drinks is currently unknown. Some nano-particles like nanosilver have shown antimicrobial activity, but their potential effects on the microflora has not yet been found. Hence, facts need to be established and uncertainties about the potential hazards through consumption of nanofoods have to be removed.
Proposing a 'working' definition for nano-particles: A proper definition adequately describing the novel nature of the nano-particles and are practical from a regulatory point of view will give clarity for both producers and regulators. It will help in comparing and combining exposure and hazard information and conclude on the likelihood of health risks.
Developing an integrated quality-checked database: Databases with good quality and reliability can be used to get a realistic view on products on the market and can be used for monitoring purposes and for post-marketing surveys and emerging risk projects.
In-depth analysis of relevant regulatory frameworks guidance documents: Adequacy of current legislative system on food safety and need for new legislation to deal with the safety aspects of nanotechnologies in food should be analyzed and guidelines should be adapted to new scientific findings. It would help both pre- marketing safety assessors as well as producers to correctly understand what is needed to convincingly determine the safety of products containing nanotechnologies.
All agricultural, food and cosmetic applications of nanotechnology should be subjected to some form of approval process before being authorized to be available in the market. The problems identified currently could be relevant for future developments of nanotechnology. Integration of different types of applications (cosmetics, medicines and food) would result in possible aggregated exposure of nano-particles which has to be considered for safety assessment.There is sufficient evidence to show that nano-materials used in food and cosmetics are toxic in nature.
In the absence of concrete information about nano-materials and their usage and an adequate methodology for risk assessment studies, it is difficult to analyze if the existing methods for conducting toxicity tests are adequate and appropriate. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) emphasized on the research of the nano-engineered materials used in food and cosmetics that are widely used. The IFT prioritized the following areas for research to avoid consumer aversion to nano-materials: understand the physicochemical properties of nano-materials provide access to federally funded research facilities for toxicity testing the materials before release into market, develop a testing framework for FDA approval, develop a screening mechanism to assess safety, conduct research on migration, absorption, and partitioning from packaging and provide funding for public education programs on nanotechnology used in consumer goods.
Regulatory frameworks involved in nanotechnology assessment
To ensure safe, integrated and responsible applications of nanotechnology, EU has commissioned the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) to define implement and enforce a legislative framework and to make an inventory to check if legislation already covers nanotechnologies. The Health Council of the Netherlands considered that: "the best course of action would be to modify existing laws and rules as and when developments within the fields of nano-science and nanotechnologies render such measures necessary". Still the implementation of the legal framework is difficult because of gaps in scientific knowledge and fast-evolving market for products.
Several regulations like The European General Food Regulation, Novel food Regulation, Food enrichments regulation, Food supplements directive and regulations and directives on pesticides and veterinary drugs have been proposed and are being implemented.
World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are involved in the safety assessment of the potential health and environmental risks of nanoscale materials before they are introduced into food and other consumer products.
The current risk assessment approaches (hazard detection) used by FAO/WHO are suitable for nanomaterials used in food but more emphasis has to be laid on additional safety concerns which may arise due to the different characteristic properties of the materials. FAO/WHO should continue to review its risk assessment strategies to address the issues associated with the application of nanotechnologies to food.
MEASURES TO BE TAKEN
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should adopt the following measures to ensure proper use of nanotechnology in enhancing food and cosmetic products:
1. Understand the unique risks posed by nano-materials
It is very important to recognize that nano-scale materials have the potential for structure-dependent health effects that are uniquely different than their larger counterparts. Experts in nanotechnology unanimous agree on this point. FDA should restructure its approach to nano-materials embracing this paradigm shift.
It has been proved that increased in surface area can lead to greater toxicity per unit mass and thus nano-particles and nano-tubes should be treated separately from their larger forms and their positive and negative effects should be uniquely determined before their use in consumer products. Also, the toxicity of the nano-particles by changing the surface-coatings. It would be really unwise if we consider these nano-particles to be harmless due to their small size.
FDA should use the knowledge of size and structural differences of nano-engineered products to detect the presence of nano-particles in food and human body. FDA should approve products containing nano-particles to be sold in the market only if they satisfy standardized protocols which are to be strictly regulated.
2. Require comprehensive pre-market safety assessments:
FDA should require companies using nanotechnologies in developing their products to submit existing safety data pertaining to the unique hazards associated with their food and cosmetic products. Other international organizations should also put an effort to develop screening tools and a tiered approach that can be used as a preliminary basis for regulation.
Materials already on the market such as carbon fullerenes in cosmetics should be given higher priority, focusing on the existing uses of these nano-materials. FDA should make full use of available knowledge resources to assess the safety of the nano-materials used in consumer products. It should also invest in the research of these nano-materials to ensure that humans do not become subjects for the clinical trials of the manufacturers of these nano-engineered products.
3. Require disclosure and transparency
There is lack of transparency about the use of nano-materials in the consumer products due to the limited disclosure of information concerning their safety. Transparency is essential for the use of nano-engineered materials in consumer products to ensure that the basic consumer rights are not compromised. FDA should obligate the manufacturers to label the nano-engineered ingredients and the products in which they are used and keep all stakeholders including consumers informed of their use beforehand.
Consumers should be well-informed about the presence of nano-materials in consumer products and about the risks, benefits and unknowns associated with them. There are no reliable means to identify products that contain nano-engineered materials and to make informed choices about nano-engineered products. Labeling should follow certain standards and should be able to avoid consumer confusion and aid in regulatory purposes.
4. Develop regulations and standards needed to manage these risks
Nano-materials should be regulated as new chemical substances and should be subjected to a full battery of safety tests and government approval before use. FDA needs to define a minimum number of appropriate tests for nano-materials, especially those used in foods and cosmetics to ensure that life cycle impacts are fully addressed.
Nano-engineered products excessively in use in the market without any pre-market safety testing requirements are a major concern because FDA considers them to behave similar to their non-nano-counter parts. Pre-market safety testing should be made mandatory for nano-materials used in food, cosmetics and dietary supplements. FDA should establish standards and define what substances are subject to regulation.
Product labeling and strong standards will ensure the safe use of nano-engineered materials in consumer products. Products already on the market which are known to be hazardous through direct exposure should be regulated in the first place.The development of validated testing methods and guidance would help to address specific data gaps. FAO/WHO should encourage the innovative and interdisciplinary research which would aid in novel risk assessment strategies for nanotechnology applications in food.
Farming and food have been highly revolutionized by nanotechnology. There are several dozen food, beverage and cosmetic products on the market containing nanoparticles. Huge investments are made into projects by governments and food companies for developing nanotechnology in food and agriculture. Nanotechnology is applied in all aspects of the food chain to improve food safety and quality and as additives/preservatives to improve shelf life, which may lead to unforeseen health risks. There are some concerns about implementation guidelines and risk assessment methods. Lack of awareness in general public about nanotechnology in general, and nanotechnology applications in food/cosmetics in particular must be addressed.
It should be understood that not all nanomaterials will be dangerous because of their size, even despite having different properties from their counter microscale products of the same composition. The observed effects would depend on the specific material, its surface, and the composition or formulation of the material in the final product. It cannot be generalized that all nanosized materials are harmful and thus a reliable, standardized, case-by-case approach to understand the characteristics of these materials is necessary.
To continue the ongoing applications of nanotechnology to foods, standardized protocols and guidelines are to be established and strictly implemented. Precautions must be taken on the usage of nanotoxic materials in food and cosmetics. Future release of cosmetics, sunscreens and personal care products that contain engineered nanomaterials should undergo standard testing procedures proving them to be safe for use, and withdraw nanoengineered products currently on the market which are expected to be harmful, until adequate safety studies have been completed and adequate regulations, notification and reporting schemes have been put in place to protect the consumers using the products, the workers manufacturing these products and the environmental systems in which waste products will be released.
By following pre-market safety assessment and standardized labeling of products containing nano-particles, consumers could be given more information about the products so that they can make informed decision and thus, consumer acceptance of nanotechnology will increase, favoring the success of nanotechnology in food applications. The nanofood market is estimated to rise to $20.4 billion by 2010. Companies should expose their nanoparticle research so that there is a consistent communication about whether products contain nanomaterials. The government should invest more in the potential research of these nanoparticles.
Without proper risk assessment, nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics may prove to pose serious health hazards which could make customers give up the usage of these products in a long run. The government and other legislative bodies should strive to assess the benefits and risks of the nanoparticles used in different fields and prevent hazardous nano-materails from being used in consumer applications.