The awareness of the uses of nanotechnology in the agri-food sector was found to be low in a recent study carried out at Queens University Belfast.

Author of the study Caroline Handford presented its finding to attendees at the recent Teagasc Nanotechnology conference.

The study, which looked at the agri-food sectors awareness and perceptions of nanotechnology, found that at present the knowledge of the technology applications in agri-food sector is low among those working in the industry on the Island of Ireland.

According to Handford, the research has two main aims: firstly to investigate the agri-food industry’s awareness and attitudes towards the use of nanotechnology. Secondly, to explore the factors supporting and impeding the uptake of nanotechnologies for food and food-related applications.

Handford noted that not only was awareness low, but knowledge of practical applications of use of nanotechnology in an agri-food context was also limited. However, she cited that while on average knowledge was limited, some respondents had a very good knowledge of the technology.

Key benefits of nanotechnology noted by respondents to the study included: more efficient precision farming techniques; increased shelf life of products; and reduced waste and lower costs for industry. Most respondents highlighted that on the Island of Ireland, nanotechnology has some application in the ingredients sector by international companies.

Handford stressed that perceived risks among people in the agri-food industry are impediments to nanotechnology implementation. People in the study highlighted key risks such as consumer acceptance, media perceptions, human health effects, environmental impacts among more.

A key message coming from the research is that industry personnel identified the need for a risk assessment framework, further research into long-term health effects, and better communication between scientists, government bodies and the agri-food industry.

Arising from the research, Handford outlined some key recommendations for the future use of nanotechnology in the agri-food industry. Firstly she highlighted the need to inform and educate industry personnel on what nanotechnology is, how it can be used and what the benefits and risks of it are in relation to its use in the food and agri-food sectors.

She stressed that better communication and collaboration between scientists, government bodies and the industry is required.

She noted that a clear, transparent and comprehensive regulatory framework should be effectively implemented for the use of nanotechnology in food and food-related products. Legislation should include a risk assessment framework.

Hartford outlined that the study has shown that further research and analysis is needed involving toxicological assessments to establish potential acute and chronic health effects associated with the use of nanoparticles in food and food-related products.

Finally she cited that adequate safety assessment should be conducted on a case-by-case basis where nanotechnology alters existing products or processes, prior to its implementation on a commercial scale.