EU nanomaterial definition expected this autumn, says Commission

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

© / Alex_Schmidt
© / Alex_Schmidt

Related tags Nanotechnology European commission European union

An updated definition of engineered nanomaterial is expected by September or October this year, a European Commission official has said.

The timeline was confirmed by Dr Rafael Pérez Berbejal of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) unit on food processing technologies and novel foods.

Speaking at a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stakeholder meeting in Brussels this week he said the definition, at a 50% threshold to qualify as nano, would be part of a delegated act from European Parliament to the Commission.

This threshold – a sticking point over the last few years when bringing nanotechnology explicitly under the novel food regulation – is five times higher than that recommended by EFSA back in 2012.

The pair have also differed on basic definitions of what nano is.

EFSA says nanomaterial consists of particles with at least one size measurement between about one and 100 nanometres, but in the past the Commission has considered a nanomaterial to be composed of “particles in unbound state”​ as well as when in aggregate or agglomerate forms.

Scientists say nanotechnology – engineering conducted on a nanoscale with particles invisible to the naked eye – holds the potential to create new materials and devices within medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. 

Food uses and concerns

Within food it is thought to hold potential for reducing sugar, salt and fat content, in flavour enhancement and nutrient formulation.


Portuguese research published last month suggested nano-carrier systems may be a simple and affordable way to protect resveratrol from photodegradation and boost absorption across the intestinal barrier.

Yet safety and environmental concerns have been raised about the new technology.

EFSA has said nanomaterials “may manifest toxic effects differently from the conventional forms”.

In a letter to the Commission back in 2012, EFSA advised: “In view of the current uncertainties over safety, a lower nanoparticle number threshold, e.g. 10%, should be considered for food related applications instead of the currently proposed (50%) in the Recommendation.”

A current definition within the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulation – which came into force only last year – would be deleted before being transferred to the updated novel food regulation, Pérez Berbejal told us on Monday. 

The updated novel food regulation will apply from 1 January 2018.

“The issue of nano is ongoing and across many different DGs as nano is in many different products from for foods to cosmetics for example.”​ 

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