FDA Issues Draft Guidelines for Nanotechnology in Food, Cosmetics

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 20 2012 5:41 PM

FDA Issues Draft Guidelines for Nanotechnology in Food, Cosmetics

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NEW YORK - JUNE 11: A woman stands in a supermarket aisle June 11, 2009 in New York City. U.S. retail sales rose during the month of May, according to economists, though much of the increase came from rising gasoline prices. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Still trying to figure out how you feel about genetically modified food? Now you can preoccupy yourself with a new grocery store quandary: nanotechnology in food—particularly its packaging—and makeup (yes, I buy makeup at the grocery store).

Today, the FDA released two draft-guideline documents addressing the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics and food. The food document is most concerned with changes being made to existing products and “suggests the FDA will require food companies to prove the safety of any packaging using nanotechnology,” the Associated Press reports. But don't expect the agency to say definitively that nanotechnology is or is not safe for food any time soon. "We are taking a prudent scientific approach to assess each product on its own merits and to not make broad, general assumptions about the safety of nanotechnology products," Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a press release.

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A January report on nanotechnology in food by Supermarket News’ Matthew Enis noted that nanoparticles could be used in smart packaging that lets consumers (or stores) know when food goes bad and to delay spoilage in the first place. But in March, Donald Bruce of Edinethics, a U.K. consulting firm that specializes in science and technology ethics, told the Guardian that he’s skeptical of smart packaging replacing human decision-making:

relying too heavily on nanotechnology could actually lead to more food waste, he argued. Instead of using our own judgment – and the look, feel and smell of food – we could become too reliant on food packaging. "The temptation might be to package more foods than we do already. So it could actually mean more food waste and more landfill."

Now that the draft guidelines have been issued, the FDA will accept comments for 90 days.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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