For the first time, food companies will have to declare to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) when their products contain nanotechnology ingredients, additives, food processing aids or contaminants that could pose new toxicity risks, if the regulator’s proposed new standards are approved. But Friends of the Earth Australia is concerned that the new standards will neither keep unsafe nano ingredients out of foods, nor require labelling to give people a choice about whether or not to eat nanofoods.

The Friends of the Earth report “Out of the laboratory and on to our plates: Nanotechnology in food and agriculture” found that over 104 foods, food packaging, kitchen and agricultural products world wide now contain extremely small ‘nanoscale’ ingredients. There is mounting evidence that many pose serious new toxicity risks for human health and the environment.

Until now there has been no way for FSANZ to know whether or not nanofoods are already on sale in Australian supermarkets. It’s therefore an important first step that food companies will have to tell the food safety regulator when they are using nano-ingredients that could pose new toxic risks. But although FSANZ is finally acknowledging that nano forms of familiar substances can pose new toxic risks, it will not require nano ingredients to pass new safety testing before being permitted in products.

Given their serious risks, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society recommended that nanomaterials should be assessed as new substances and face new safety testing before they can be used in products. But FSANZ will not treat nanomaterials as new substances nor require food companies to conduct new nano-specific safety tests.

The Royal Society also recommended that all nano ingredients be labelled to give people the capacity to make an informed choice about using nano products. But while the new standards will require food companies to tell FSANZ when they are using nano ingredients, they will not have to tell the public. There will still be no way for people to choose whether or not to eat nanofoods.

FSANZ says its want public feedback to these proposed new standards, but you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a ‘secret’ public consultation. FSANZ hasn’t issued a media release, referred to the new standard on its nanotechnology homepage or contacted community groups it knows are interested in nanofoods.

If FSANZ wants to avoid a backlash similar to genetically engineered foods, it must keep unsafe nano ingredients out of food, make companies label nanofoods and support genuine public involvement in nanofood decision making.