Two new EU laws, one of which is the novel foods regulation, are to include a definition of ‘nanomaterials’. The definition will include materials whose particles exceed the strict ‘nano’ size threshold of 100 nanometres but that still have the nano-like characteristics caused by the size of the particles.
The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific committee, meanwhile, published its final opinion on nanotechnology on 5 March 2009, in which it concluded that established risk-assessment methodologies can be applied to engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) as a starting point for risk assessment, but that a case-by-case approach is necessary and, given the lack of data and validated testing methods available, risk assessment of ENMs could be very difficult and uncertain. The size of ENMs means that their physicochemical properties are very different from those of their micro and macroscale counterparts and so neither conventional risk-assessment methods nor extrapolation from data on their counterparts’ profiles are likely to be able to reveal their risks.
There is no way of detecting or measuring ENM content, but EFSA has been informed by the Confederation of the Food and Drinks Industries of the EU (CIAA) that products containing ENMs are already available in Europe via the internet, and studies have found food supplements boasting of ENM content in high street shops. Consumer groups have called for urgent research on the risks of nanotechnology to humans and the environment. Some have called for a moratorium on marketing nanomaterials until further scientific evidence is available.