Experts Present Evidence to Committee on Nanotechnology in Food

Published on May 6, 2009 at 7:25 AM

In a hearing held yesterday in the U.K. House of Lords, Professor Ken Donaldson from the University of Edinburgh and Dr Qasim Chaudhry from the Food and Environment Research Agency presented evidence to the Select Committee on Nanotechnologies in Food. The hearing focussed specifically on nanoparticles in food. Both Donaldson and Chaudhry are leading experts in the field of nanotechnology risk issues, and both are members of the Safety of Nanomaterials Interdisciplinary Research Centre (SnIRC) and have worked extensively with IOM and SAFENANO.

As part of the evidence given, several key points were raised including:

  1. the ability of nanoparticles to cross the gut wall and other cellular barriers;
  2. the potential novel toxic effects of such nanoparticles in the human body;
  3. the possibility that other materials in the gut (e.g. bacteria or other contaminants) may attach to the nanoparticles and be transported across the gut wall (the Trojan Horse Effect).

Other important concerns included the ability of nanoparticles to interfere with cellular processes in the body e.g. oxygen metabolism, and the antimicrobial properties of some nanoparticles which may result in further harmful effects.

It was also emphasised that research to date has primarily been investigator driven, a consequence of the responsive funding mode adopted in the UK, and as such has focussed primarily on inhalation and dermal exposure to nanoparticles. This has led to a lack of research into the effects of ingestion of nanoparticles combined with a non-generalisability of current research. A more strategic coordinated approach, such as that recommended in the 2004 Royal Society Report, was necessary. These major gaps in the knowledge base, specifically relating to ingestion, was a key finding of the recent SAFENANO-led report EMERGNANO, one of the documents discussed at the hearing.

Click here to watch a webcast of the full proceedings.

More background of the House of Lord's Nanotechnologies and Food Inquiry can be found here.

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