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1.3 PHYSICAL SCIENCES, 2.10 NANO-TECHNOLOGY, Food and beverages
The purpose of this research was to assess the nanotechnology skill and capacity shortages in Irelands Agri-food sector. In 2008 the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published its statement on ‘The Relevance for Food Safety of Applications of Nanotechnology in the Food and Feed Industries’. The importance of the food sector to the Irish economy was clearly emphasised by the FSAI’s statement. The report identified the urgent need for focused research programs into the potential of nanotechnology in the agri-food sector and it highlighted the need for a multi-organisation approach between state agencies, industry and academia to ensure safe innovations of nanotechnology are applied in the sector. This concept was first proposed by the FSAI more than ten years ago, however to date no attempt has been made to quantify the precise role or contribution each organisation could play in closing knowledge gaps.
A review of Ireland’s nanofood and agriculture research expenditure over the period 2008 - date revealed that almost €29 billion was invested into nano related activities. Only a fraction of that investment was directed towards nanofood i.e. < 5%. Additionally a survey of the academic community revealed that almost 50% had not actually received exchequer funding for nano-food or agriculture related activities. Despite the lack of funding 40% of academic respondents indicated that they had suitable analytical infrastructure in their home institute to fully characterise food related nanomaterials. In addition more than 60% are confident that the infrastructure was available nationally as well. In contrast the regulatory and enforcement community where not as confident that such infrastructure was accessible to them and more than half of enforcement officers indicated that they would need significant upskilling and training. Interestingly interaction between the regulatory bodies and academia also seems to be quite limited with academics indicating that collaboration with industry was more valuable i.e. 95% of academics did not consider collaboration with competent authorities as being of primary importance. This may be reflective of the fact that the competent authority for food safety does not appear to have a strong research arm nor the available resources to fund research in a similar manner to the EPA.
A brief overview of suitable tools and techniques for the determination and the characterisation of nanomaterials is presented, and an example of a collaborative approach taken by a regulatory control agency and an academic institution is given as evidence of the potential to capitalise on the skillset and analytical infrastructure which is currently available. A potential roadmap for Ireland is presented, involving further engagement between all stakeholders, from academia through to the competent risk assessment bodies, at national, and subsequently at EU level.
This research builds upon the recommendations of previous national reports and it delivers a fresh quantitative look at nanotechnology in the agrifood sector in Ireland. It presents the ‘state of the art’ and it establishes baseline data of the current national capacity to assist the development of safe nano-food technology, and to fully implement any potential nano-legislation arising from an informed regulatory process.
McCarron, E. (2022). Identification of Nanotechnology skill shortages in Ireland’s Agri-food sector: Towards the safe, innovative and sustainable development of nano-food technology. Technological University Dublin. DOI: 10.21427/458P-MG73
State Laboratory Management Board