Brussels — Food & Water Europe today called on Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to secure a moratorium on the use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging, saying the risks of the technology are so grave that it needs its own laws.
MEPs on the Environment Committee of the European Parliament will vote Monday (24 November) on a raft of amendments aiming to “streamline” EU law for placing novel foods on the market. This includes nanotechnology — extremely small particles engineered at the molecular level to create materials with new behaviours and chemical properties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that, “The same special properties that make nanoscale materials useful are also properties that may cause some nanoscale materials to pose potential risks to humans and the environment.”
Some of the known risks include:
- Damage to DNA
- Disruption of cellular function and production of reactive oxygen species
- Asbestos-like pathogenicity
- Neurologic problems (such as seizures)
- Organ damage, including significant lesions on the liver and kidneys
- Destruction of beneficial bacteria in wastewater treatment systems
- Stunted root growth in corn, soya, carrots, cucumber and cabbage
- Gill damage, respiratory problems and oxidative stress in fish
Food & Water Europe’s EU Food Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell said: “We appreciate the work of MEPs trying to strengthen what’s on paper, but they can only make the best of a bad job. Nanotechnology is different — we don’t even know yet how different — and it has no place in our food until those differences are clear and until the technology is clearly demonstrated to be safe both now and in the long term.”
More than 1,300 products claiming to use nanotechnology are already for sale in the EU, including cosmetics and sunscreens, despite the lack of safety data. Health supplements and antibacterial household products already contain nanosilver, called “extremely toxic” by researchers, and which can kill both good and bad bacteria as it passes through wastewater treatment systems, negatively affecting their performance.
Nanoscale particles may persist in the environment after human use, with potentially serious effects on farmland, water and wildlife. Nanosilver is also used in food packaging, where it can pass into the food itself, something a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nanotechonology said demands “a review of the long-term biohazard issues of silver nanoparticles.” The EPA says, “Not enough is known to enable meaningful predictions on the biodegradation of nanomaterials in the environment and much further testing and research are needed.”
Mitchell added: “EU Novel Food law aims to ensure that food is ‘safe and wholesome’ with ‘a high level of protection of human health’. Nanotech simply cannot be called safe or wholesome, and it shouldn’t be ‘streamlined’ into our food. MEPs must either support or table amendments that secure a full moratorium until dedicated regulation is in place for nanotech in food, until full safety analysis shows that it is safe and until clear labels on all affected products are enacted.”
“Cloning and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were removed from EU Novel Food regulations precisely because they are different and need dedicated regulations. It’s time we stopped trying to shoehorn nanotech into a law designed to handle things like traditional foods from other countries. It needs dedicated regulation, and a full regime for liability resting on the companies selling it. The industry shouldn’t have a problem with that if what they are selling is safe.
“This is a very new technology, and we already we know it is dangerous. We also know that the science on this is so young that there isn’t even an agreed scientifically robust definition which we can use to identify nanotech. We appeal to MEPs to not rush through a mechanism to accept it just because the industry wants to sell it to us.”
Contact: Eve Mitchell, EU Food Policy Advisor, Food & Water Europe, +44 (0)1381 610 740 or emitchell(at)fweurope(dot)org