The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to regulate nano-silver in consumer products as a result of a lawsuit filed by Center for Food Safety (CFS) in December last year. Meanwhile in Australia nano-silver products remain unregulated.

Jeremy Tager, campaigner with Friends of The Earth’s Emerging Tech Project said “it is good news that nano-silver products will now require EPA review and approval before they are allowed to be sold in the US. This is an important first step towards ensuring consumer safety. We believe Australians deserve the same protection.”

Nano-silver is the most widely used nanomaterial in consumer products because of its powerful antimicrobial properties. Nano-silver is currently used in over 400 consumer products including food packaging, chopping boards and baby bottles. Health experts have raised concerns that the widespread use of nano-silver in consumer products will further increase the problem of superbugs.

In Australia, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for assessing the safety of food and food contact materials. In marked contrast to the US EPA’s new position, the agency recently decided not to assess the risks of the chemical migration of nanomaterials such as nano-silver into food because it doesn’t know enough about them.

In a consultation paper for its review of chemical migration from packing into food, FSANZ argued that “the risks associated with CMPF [chemical migration from packaging in to food] from these packaging materials are not well defined and may need to be examined separately.” No process or timeframe has been proposed for assessing the risks posed by these materials.

Jeremy Tager said “If FSANZ don’t know enough to assess the safety of nanomaterials in packaging, then packaging containing nanomaterials should not be on the market. It’s simple.”

Research has shown that packaging containing nanomaterials is already in use in Australia, as well as a variety of products that come into contact with food. Studies have shown that nanomaterials can migrate into food, raising potential health concerns (1).

“It is extraordinary that the agency charged with regulating food and protecting human health is allowing these products on the market while admitting they know nothing about their health impacts. It is time they stopped putting business first and put public safety first instead,” concluded Mr Tager.

(1) Huang, Y. et al. (2011) Nanosilver migrated into food-simulating solutions from commercially available food fresh containers. Packaging Technology and Science 24(5):291-297; Song, H. et al. (2011) Migration of silver from nanosilver–polyethylene composite packaging into food simulants, Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 28(12):1758-1762.