Nanomaterials are now in the Australian food chain. They are used in food and supplements. They are used in edible coatings on fresh fruits and in the packaging of a variety of foods. They are used in coatings on products such as cutting boards, cutlery, kitchen surfaces, appliances, baby bottles and plastic storage containers. They are also used in fertilisers and agricultural chemicals.
While environmental, health and safety research is lagging far behind the pace of commercialisation, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that some of the increasing number of nanomaterials used in the food chain may pose serious risks to the environment and human health.
One of the most heavily used nanomaterials in the food chain – nano-titanium dioxide – is now being reviewed by the European Chemical Agency because of concerns regarding its effects on human health and the environment. Airborne nano-titanium dioxide is listed as a potential occupational carcinogen.
Tragically, Australian food and chemical regulators have done virtually nothing to deal with the rapidly expanding commercial applications of nanotechnology and the growing concerns about the safety of many of these nanomaterials. Several steps are critically needed:
- A moratorium on further releases until the safety of these products is assured;
- Immediate testing of products in the food chain for the presence of nanomaterials;
- The comprehensive safety testing of nanomaterials used in food and food contact materials;
- Labelling of all nanomaterials in foods, so that consumers can make informed choices; and
- A register of nanomaterials in order to track them through the food chain.
Our new report, Way too little, looks at the now widespread presence of nanomaterials in our food chain and how little Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is doing to ensure our safety.