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Nanotechnology in Food Products: Workshop Summary
Kampers, and Jochen Weiss each described some of these applications during their presentations. However, as Yada and, later, Martin Philbert, stated, there is a difference between “nano-fact” and “nano-fiction”: many of the more “futuristic” applications being touted (not just in food but with nanotechnology in general) may never be realized.
Throughout the day, presenters and other workshop attendees touched upon a wide range of potential benefits of these applications. The potential benefits of food nanotechnology extend across many different areas of food and nutrition science and technology, including basic research (e.g., the use of nanoscale instrumentation to analyze nanoscale food processing phenomena in ways not possible in the past), nutrition (e.g., the use of nanomaterials to encapsulate and deliver nutrients to targeted tissues), food technology (e.g., the use of nanotechnology-based labels on food products as a way to provide consumers with real-time information about the quality of the product), and even medicine (e.g., the use of nanomaterial-based nutrient delivery systems as an interventional health strategy).
Workshop presenters identified several gaps in knowledge about the nutritional and safety consequences of introducing nano-sized structures into foods, and several participants expressed uncertainty about how best to evaluate the potential benefits versus risks of nanotechnology. During their presentations, both Aguilera and Philbert described some of the gaps in knowledge about what happens to nanomaterials when introduced, firstly, into a food matrix and, secondly, into the human body. As Philbert elaborated, along with intended (and ancillary) benefits, there will likely be unintended adverse effects. For example, there may be unanticipated risks associated not so much with the actual nanomaterials but with some of the other, non-nano substances used to ensure that the nanomaterials behave in their intended manner. So far, no real safety issues or incidents have been identified. But as the field moves forward, as both Philbert and Jean Halloran emphasized, weighing the potential benefits against potential risks will be crucial to developing food nanotechnology into a safe and effective tool. However, as evident by discussion at the end of Sessions 2 and 3 (and as summarized in Chapters 3 and 4), there are many uncertainties around both how the benefits and risks can and should be measured and what specific regulatory measures can and should serve as a framework for evaluation.
There was considerable discussion around the regulatory measures already in place for examining the benefit-risk balance of nanotechology applications in food and the likely need for more complete guidance in