Leatherhead forms food industry NanoWatch group

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food industry, Nanotechnology

Leatherhead Food International is forming a new working group to
investigate the use of nanotechnology in the food and drink
industry, with particular emphasis on ingredients and

Nanotechnology is one of the most recent developments in biosciences, involving matter on a scale of less than one micrometer and usually between one and 100 nanometres. It has already been applied to some nutrients to boost bioavailability and facilitate the use of certain ingredients in formats in which they would otherwise be difficult to incorporate. ​ Leatherhead's working group aims to open up a forum for discussion between experts in the nanotechnology field. The UK-based industry information provider also plans to produce regular electronic reports on the latest nanotech science, legislation and regulations. There has been some debate about whether nanotechnology should be being used in such as broad range of consumer products. For instance Qasim Chaudhry, Defra of the Central Science Laboratory said prior to the Nano and Microtechnologies in the Food & Healthfood Industries conference in Amsterdam last October: "The rapid proliferation of nanotechnology in recent years has led to an ever-increasing application of nano-scale materials in a vast array of industrial and consumer products. This includes a range of foods and drinks, food supplements, and food contact materials. However, such widespread use of nanomaterials, that are largely untested in terms of effects on human health and the environment, has also led to a number of uncertainties and concerns."​ In terms of the feasibility of nanotechnology in the food industry, Leatherhead is collaborating with a Eminate, a company that has access to fabrication and characterisation equipment for preparation and characterisation of nano-sized ingredients and emulsions, to conduct 'proof of principle' feasibility trials. A report published by Cientrifica last August said that the main uses of nanotechnology in the food industry at present are in food packaging and improved nutraceuticals. Today, the UK research group Cientifica publishes a nanotechnology report that attempts to fully understand the scope, integration and applications of nanotechnology in the food industry over the next ten years. While the introduction of nanotechnology will undoubtedly change the food industry, producers and suppliers have little knowledge of when these applications will be commercially available and if they will be cost effective for their products. This is the first detailed report to assess these concerns by studying nano-applications that are currently on the market. While it is estimated that $17bn (€13.2bn) worth of public nanotechnology funding has largely gone to nano-material sciences, the food industry is experiencing a trickle-down effect of that research which could be fully implemented over the next six years. Cientifica singled out four additional areas that will see commercial implementation in the next six years. This includes smart packaging that reacts to the environment, food safety nano-devices that will detect harmful contaminates, methods to change raw food ingredients into consumable products and additives that will be added to a final product to enhance its quality. The market researcher said applications will create a $5.8bn (€4.5bn) market by 2012, and that development is spearheaded by the big players in the food industry, such as Altria, Nestle, Kraft, Heinz and Unilever - as well as smaller nanotech start-ups. It estimated that in total around 400 companies are applying nanotechnology to food at present, but the full scale of development in the field could not be fully gauged at present as many companies regard their nanotech R&D products as sensitive. For companies interested in taking part in its NanoWatch working group, Leatherhead is hosting a free introductory meeting on June 7. "This will open the forum for discussion and for agreement, among potential participants, on the programme for NanoWatch,"​ said the company. More details on the proposal and the meeting are available from Dr Pretima Titoria​ or Mrs Kathy Groves​.

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