In a stunning example of regulatory capture and ignoring the precautionary principle when it comes to protecting human health, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has decided not to assess the risks of the chemical migration of nanomaterials 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.

Currently, there are no regulations relating to the use of nanomaterials in food packaging despite growing health concerns and around 400-500 nano-packaging products being in commercial use.

The current food packaging review follows an industry survey by FSANZ which concluded that current food packaging is inadequate – “minimalistic at best”. Industry also raised concerns regarding the “lack of legislative requirements regarding the safety of unknown, new and emerging packaging materials.”

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.

Friends of the Earth initially welcomed this review of the migration of chemicals from packaging into food because we believed FSANZ was going to finally address the knowledge gaps and risk uncertainties associated with the use of nanomaterials in packaging. Unfortunately it appears FSANZ have chosen to remain blissfully ignorant – and neither to assess nor regulate any time in the near future.

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.

(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.