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Regulating nanotech in food packaging

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Nanologue has completed its interview research conducted at the sponsorship of the EU. This post will highlight the part of the research discussing regulaiton of nanotech in food packaging.

According to the research, nanotech in food packaging will bring benefits in the form of (i) Reduced usage of energy and raw materials (polymers) (ii) improvement of the mechanical properties of biodegradable polymers (iii) beneficial for reusable packaging due to improved mechanical strength and (iv) help to reduce the amount of packaging waste and save resources at the same time. There are however, risks associated with this. The first type of the risk deals with inconclusive research on impacts and lack of effects data: (i) Knoweldge about the effects of engineered nano-materials in the environment is still insufficient (ii) Risk of environmental pollution by nanoparticles (persistence and unknown catalytic effects) whereas the rests of the risks are common risks also found in normal chemicals which relates to pollution and waste: (a) Release of nano particles into the environment during the production and disposal phases of a product, (b) Uncontrolled incineration of nanocomposites could cause emissions of nanoparticles into environment and (c) Nanocomposite materials could disturb plastic recycling processes. Recyclers will have to deal with nanoparticular fillers, which eventually will be found in recycled materials.

Now, let's compare this with FDA's institutional capacity as has been discussed in my previous post. Taylor divided supervision mechanisms (on food packaging and other products) into pre marketing and post marketing.

Pre marketing. He reported that FDA's authority to inspect product on the pipeline is 'weak'. However, it has the strong capacity to (i) enforce safety and testing requirements, (ii) place burden to prove safety to sponsor and (ii) review safety prior to marketing. Post marketing. FDA has only moderate capacity to inspect facilities and safety records and it has 'no' capacity to requiry timely adverse event reporting or in requiring producers to conduct post market monitoring and testing. It has however, strong authority to remove unsafe products from the market -- of course!

The Nanologue's concerns with regards to "food packaging" is more toward its environmental risks (I suppose it means the use of nano-bags in replace of paper bags) while Taylor's report concerns more to its health impact. I think the nanologue should have also highlighted more on the implications of nano-food packaging to human, although food packaging undeniably have important side-effect towards the environment. When it comes to Taylor's proposal, then the recommendation is relatively simple: move the gradation of FDA's authority from 'none' or 'moderate' to 'strong'. This can provide a good balancing when a weaker precautionary approach is selected.

In my next post, I will try to highlight the regulation of nano-food packaging in the European Union. Meanwhile, you can read Nanologue's report here.