Overnight, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have set stringent new rules for the safety assessment of foods produced used nanotechnology (‘nanofoods’) which constitute a de facto moratorium on the sales of nanofood in the European Union.

According to the adopted text of the European Union novel food directive, nanomaterials may only be placed on the market after being subject to an approved nano-specific, standardised, safety assessment that is free of animal-testing. As the tests for such an assessment do not exist yet, the directive constitutes a de facto moratorium on sales of nano food in the European Union. [Clarification 27/3: The amendments to the Novel Foods Directive supported on 25 March by Members of the European Parliament still have to be agreed with national governments represented in the Council of the European Union before becoming law.]

Members of the European Parliament also voted in favour of mandatory labelling of manufactured nanomaterial ingredients and of ethical and environmental assessment. The definition used in the novel food directive states that “nanomaterial means an intentionally manufactured material with one or more external dimensions or an internal structure, of order of 100 nm or less.”

Nanotechnology, the ‘science of the small’, is mooted for use throughout the food chain. A 2008 report by Friends of the Earth found that internationally at least 104 foods, food ingredients, food packaging and contact materials, kitchen goods and agricultural products now contain manufactured nanomaterials. In the absence of mandatory labelling, this is likely to represent a very small fraction of the actual number of products on sale.

“The de facto moratorium on the commercial use of nanotechnology in foods which has been established by the European Parliament is a wakeup calls to Australian regulators that are taking such a cavalier approach to the risks of nanofoods” said Ms Miller.

“Just a few weeks ago the Scientific Committee of the European Food Safety Authority warned that: “risk assessment processes are still under development with respect to characterisation and analysis of [manufactured nanomaterials] in food and feed…. Under these circumstances, any individual risk assessment is likely to be subject to a high degree of uncertainty. This situation will remain so until more data on and experience with testing of [manufactured nanomaterials] become available”.”

“The European Parliament has now said that until risk assessment processes for nanomaterials can be validated, nanofoods cannot be sold. Given the serious yet poorly understood health and environmental risks of nanomaterials, this de facto moratorium is a sensible and much-needed measure.”

“The assertion by Food Standards Australia New Zealand that current risk assessment processes are adequate for nanomaterials must now be questioned.”