Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: IFT Backgrounder

Nanotechnology, also known as nanoscale science, engineering and technology, is a rapidly growing field of research and applied science that is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy including medicine, energy, electronics and defense. Examples include:

  • Low cost, high efficiency solar cells for clean energy
  • Materials for cleaning environmental pollution and contamination
  • And materials and tools for medical diagnostics (Nano.gov).

There is great potential to impact the food and agriculture sector with on-going research and development in many areas. Nanoscience and nanotechnology are allowing development of a wide range of valuable new technologies across a vast array of product sectors.

Public interest in nanotechnology as it relates to food has significantly increased in recent years. Particular interest has focused on application discoveries, potential safety implications, and regulatory oversight.

IFT recognizes the great potential for nanoscience and nanotechnologies to positively impact the food industry, and supports objective and well-designed research and development efforts in this area.

The potential benefits include:

  • Safer and more nutritious food products with better quality and stability
  • Improved processing and packaging systems that enhance food safety, quality and shelf-life, and reduce environmental impact
  • Better ingredients and nutrient delivery systems that promote consumer health and wellness
  • Reduced energy use
  • Other benefits, such as reduction of food losses

Although some of these benefits can be achieved using conventional food science and technology, nanotechnology offers improved speed of delivery, enhanced efficacy, and greater efficiency at a lower cost.

Along with the substantial benefits, however, are potential challenges and barriers related to environmental impact and human health and safety that must be addressed. IFT supports the need to identify, define, and mitigate such concerns in order to realize the full potential of nanotechnology in food.

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IFT has been a visible catalyst for research, innovation, and communication. IFT is also making considerable effort to encourage collaboration and exchange of information with leading government, research, and policy institutions, both domestically and internationally.

Conclusions
Nanotechnology has the potential to improve the standards of living and strengthen economic growth. As observed in other sectors, there is little doubt that nanotechnology has an important beneficial role to play in the food sector. This can be realized through increased funding and coordinated research into applications and safety, and focus on science as a basis for a regulatory framework to ensure consumer and environmental health and safety. A process for public engagement for increased awareness, education, and communication about the potential benefits and risks of nanotechnology is also needed.

IFT's Role in Food Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
IFT's activities in this area are led by the Institute's Food Nanoscience Advisory Panel, created in 2006. The Advisory Panel is comprised of more than two dozen IFT members representing academia, government and industry. IFT's many activities are outlined below.

Education: Since 2006 IFT has convened an International Food Nanoscience Conference in conjunction with the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo. The Annual Meeting is also an opportunity for investigators in the field to present their own research findings. IFT also conducts webinars (e.g., http://www.ift.org/Knowledge-Center/Learn-Online/On-Demand-Webcasts.aspx#selected) and short courses on the subject, and IFT members speak about their work in various scientific forums.

Research: IFT collaborated with the Food and Drug Administration, Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Life Sciences Institute-North America, and the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory of the National Cancer Institute to establish and increase the knowledge and understanding of the safety of nanomaterials with potential for use in food-related applications. The result of this activity was a comprehensive review and analysis by CANTOX Health Sciences, an Intertek Co., of the literature relating to the safety of food-relatednanomaterials administered orally, and three publications in the peer-reviewed literature.

Publications: IFT publishes science reports and articles in various IFT publications (e.g., Journal of Food Science, Food Technology). In 2008, a section of the Journal of Food Science was established to focus solely on "Nanoscale Food Science, Engineering, and Technology."

Communication and Outreach: IFT serves as an unbiased source of scientific information and scientific viewpoint on food nanoscience and nanotechnology as well as other emerging technologies and issues. An IFT webpage focused on the subject (http://www.ift.org/knowledge-center/focus-areas/product-development-and-ingredient-innovations/nanoscience.aspx) is a valuable resource for a variety of IFT and other information. IFT continually monitors federal government and international activities, providing a scientific perspective as opportunities arise and advancing recognition of and need for funding for nanoscale science and technology for food and food-related applications. IFT comments are accessible via IFT's Public Policy & Regulations and Advocacy web pages, at: http://www.ift.org/public-policy-and-regulations.aspx. IFT actively participates in coalitions (e.g., NANO Consortium) and builds relationships with various organizations addressing topics pertinent to nanoscience and nanotechnology. IFT also reaches out to consumers and the general public through collaborations with other stakeholders including government agencies, policy/consumer organizations, and news media. Connections made include the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), USDA-NIFA, ICAN Productions (a science literacy and public education organization), and Museum of Science in Boston.

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