Rapid advancements in the fields of nanosciences and nanotechnologies in the past decade have not only led to a lot of hopeful anticipation, but have also raised some concerns. The current global market impact of nano-enabled products is in many billions of US$ and it is estimated by some to cross the 1 trillion US$ mark in a few years time. For such a rapidly expanding set of cross-cutting technologies, an obvious and prime target of new applications is the food sector, which itself is worth around 4 trillion US$ per annum globally. However, even at such an early stage, when the food and health food markets are only being ‘tested’ by market forces for new materials and products of nanotechnologies, they seem to have opened a new Pandora’s box. There are mixed voices that are raising expectations and concern among the general public at the same time. Projections of enormous benefits are equally matched by calls for a moratorium or outright ban on the technologies until they are proven safe for human health and the environment. The same distinctive chemical and physical properties of nanomaterials that make them so attractive for new product development have raised fears over their safety to consumer health. A debate over how best to define nanomaterials, and whether they should be treated as new materials under the regulatory frameworks is still ongoing. Questions have also emerged over the adequacy and appropriateness of existing risk assessment paradigms, testing methodologies, detection and monitoring tools, as well as over the possible societal impacts of the new technologies.
Despite all this, it seems that many nano-sized materials have been a part of our everyday lives all the time, in the form of biological entities and processes that happen naturally at a nanoscale. Since the development of probe microscopes in the 1980s, food structures have been studied close to the molecular level. It is now known that most of our food materials are either composed of nanostructures, or are broken down into them during digestion. The concerns over deliberately added insoluble and bio-persistent nanoparticles in food do, however, seem justified. The prospect of being exposed through consumption of food and drinks to free, insoluble and possibly bio-persistent nanoparticles, which may have large reactive surfaces, and which may cross biological barriers to reach otherwise protected sites in the body is a legitimate worry. Such concerns, combined with the in-built scepticism of the general public towards any technologically derived food, have led to a call for more knowledge and understanding before such applications can be given what David Bennet has regarded in this book ‘a license to produce’ by the general public.
Against this contentious and rapidly changing background, this book puts the various views into perspective and analyses the pros and cons of the new technologies in an objective and realistic manner. The book presents the state-of-the-art in chapters written by leading experts in their respective fields. The subject areas cover science and technology, new product innovations, health and safety, consumer perception, risk assessment, risk management and regulatory aspects. The book aims to inform both non-specialist and specialist readers who are either new to the area or who want information and understanding from outside their immediate specialism. The Editors believe that this book, and of course the contributors to it, bring clarity to a number of issues and help move the debate on the new technologies forward in a more pragmatic manner.