Heavens, it turns out I’ve been eating nanoparticles for lunch! I didn’t know they were naturally occurring in some foods; ricotta cheese for one. So my ravioli gnudi (which are largely ricotta and spinach and absolutely delicious) presumably had billions of them. How do I know this? Because the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee today published their second report on Nanotechnologies and Food, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldselect/ldsctech/22/22i.pdf, a fascinating read from a group chaired by Lord Krebs. Much of the press coverage has picked up on the committee’s criticism of the food industry’s current reluctance to be transparent and honest about their research into the uses of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials in food but one can surely understand their anxiety about the likely media response, given the Prince of Wales’ comments a couple of years ago on ‘nano-goo’ and the apparent lack of public understanding about what ‘GM’ means. The Committee argues that appearing to be secretive about its research “is exactly the type of behaviour which may bring about the public reaction it is trying to avert.” I fear the industry can’t win.
The report highlights that there are significant gaps in the understanding of how nanomaterials impact on the human body, and that it is not currently possible to predict what risks specific nanomaterials may present. There is only a limited amount of research looking at the toxicological impact of nanomaterials, and just one research team working on the impact of nanomaterials on the gut in the United Kingdom. The Committee calls on the Research Councils to establish more proactive forms of funding to encourage research bids which address the severe shortfalls in research required for the effective risk assessment of nanomaterials in food. It urges the Government to ensure that research is commissioned which focuses specifically on the behaviour of nanomaterials within the body and particularly the gut. The Research Councils however are under greater budget pressures than they have been for years, I suspect we will probably have to rely on industry to do most of it.