A review analysing the potential ethical and regulatory issues associated with the applications of nanotechnology in food and agriculture suggests that while current regulations do not require labelling, such measures should be considered in order to increase wider ethical and societal acceptance.
Writing in Trends in Food Science & Technology, the UK-based experts said that many large scale manufacturers of foods and agricultural products have already 'invested heavily' in nanotechnology R&D "and nanotechnology is already being used in some countries in the production of agricultural products, processed foods and drinks, and in food packaging."
However, the team noted that there is currently little regulation that relates specifically to applications of nanotechnology in any field of application, "and particularly in relation to food."
"Regulators therefore rely instead on a range of other relevant current regulations designed principally with applications other than nanotechnology in mind," said the authors - led by Professor Lynn Frewer from Newcastle University.
"At present, the European regulatory frameworks which deal with agrifood nanotechnology (including those related to labelling) are rather diverse, and none of these deal with ethical issues focused on agrifood nanotechnology."
"There are currently no requirements for nano-materials used in agrifood production to be labelled," they added.
As a consequence, Frewer and her team suggest that food manufacturers and suppliers are left with uncertainties regarding legislation relevant to food nanotechnology - for example in relation to risk-benefit assessment, labelling, or ethical production.
"Ethical principles, and societal acceptance require labelling of food products that are produced using nanotechnology," they said.