Nanotechnology in Food: A Recipe for Controversy

4/28/2015

Dunkin' Donuts recently made headlines when the company agreed to remove the nanoparticle titanium dioxide from the powdered sugar in its popular donuts. Titanium dioxide is used in powdered donuts as a whitening agent, increasing the attractiveness of Dunkin's products. Other nanoparticles such as gold, silver or carbon are used in everyday items such as sunscreen and sporting equipment to make products stronger, lighter, and more efficient.

Dunkin' Donuts announced the change in its formula after the advocacy group As You Sow commissioned independent laboratory testing and found titanium dioxide nanomaterials in Dunkin's donuts. The organization lobbied for a shareholder proposal demanding that the company both test for, and minimize, the potential risks of nanoparticles in its products. The breakfast chain proactively agreed to alter the formula for its powdered sugar in response to the rising concerns about the safety of nanoparticles in its food.

While the science is still unsettled on whether titanium dioxide, and many other nanomaterials, are harmful, groups like As You Sow are concerned that the lack of testing and labeling of these materials may be exposing the general public, and the ecosystem, to unforeseen potential dangers. In June, 2014, the FDA issued three Final Guidances related to nanotechnology that were meant to provide some clarity for the industry on the use of nanomaterials in FDA-regulated products. These Guidances can be found at http://www.fda.gov/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/Nanotechnology/ucm301093.htm. While the FDA did not definitively take a position on the safety or danger of nanotechnology, it specifically addressed the importance of monitoring the potential impact of nanomaterials with respect to the safety and regulatory status of food products.

The race is now on to see if other companies begin to voluntarily label or remove nanotechnology from their food products before concerned consumers take action. As nanomaterials continue to provide undisputed value through cleaner, tougher, longer-lasting products, companies and lawyers must stay on the cutting edge of this trend that may give rise to future toxic tort litigation. For more information, please contact David M. Governo at dgoverno@governo.com or Sarah E. O'Leary at soleary@governo.com.

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