A recent Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) survey of packaging manufacturers and the food industry reveals that Food Standards Australia New Zealand are failing to protect consumers from the risks associated with the use of nanomaterials in food packaging.

FSANZ’s own summary of the survey, tabled in response to recent Senate Estimates questions, concludes that “the standards in the [Food Standards] Code are ‘largely irrelevant’” and that “Australia is viewed as not having any legislation for packaging in contact with food”. Industry also raised concerns regarding the “lack of legislative requirements regarding the safety of unknown, new and emerging packaging materials.

Nanomaterials are being increasingly used in food packaging – posing potential health risks – and yet FSANZ has taken no action to protect Australians.

According to FSANZ’s summary of the survey: “the majority of respondents (60 – 80%) indicated that the current requirements for packaging in the Code are inadequate (‘minimalistic at best’) or not suitably specific for them to manage risks and do not meet the requirements of their customers.

Several studies suggest that nanomaterials in packaging can migrate into food, posing potential health risks (1) – but FSANZ has taken no steps to ensure the safety of those materials.

Friends of the Earth’s recent report on nanotechnology and food – Way too little – reveals that FSANZ is not just failing consumers when it comes to nanomaterials in food packaging. Nanomaterials are used in a wide range of food contact materials including packaging, bottles, appliances and coatings used on kitchen surfaces, cutlery, cutting, boards, baby bottles and refrigerators – all of which are effectively unregulated.

These materials are everywhere in our food chain. FSANZ has an obligation (2) to ensure the safety of these products before the Australian public is exposed and to make sure customers are able to make informed choices about what they buy.

FSANZ recently announced it intends to conduct a review investigating chemical migration from packaging into food – in order to identify and manage any risks.

Friends of the Earth welcomes the review, but it’s important to point out that FSANZ has consistently and completely ignored scientists, community groups and consumers when issues around food and food packaging safety are raised.

(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.

(2) Food Standards Act 1991, Objects Clause, s 3(c) requires that FSANZ provide “adequate information relating to food to enable customers to make informed choices”