U.S. explores nanotechnology use to improve livestock feed, drugs

Technology manipulates atoms and molecules | Resulting products can boost an animal’s ability to absorb calories and drugs, thus speeding weight gain and improving health

CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is opening the door for livestock feed manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to roll out nanotechnology products that could make animals gain weight faster or absorb medications more quickly.


Nanotechnology, which involves the manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular level, is increasingly being tested by food manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic firms as a means of improving the shelf-life of food, altering the look of makeup and changing the impact of medicated animal feeds.


The agency’s draft guidance on nanotechnology products for animal foods takes a cautious approach and highlights “ongoing questions about the safety issues for humans and animals if such altered products were included into livestock and animal feed.”


FDA said it is “particularly interested” in the use of nanotechnology to intentionally change the chemical, physical or biological properties of animal feed and livestock drugs.


The draft comes as public debate heats up over synthetic biology — a decades-old approach of coming up with new combinations of genes and other genetic material to create new abilities and biochemical functions.


The goal, say scientists and consumer goods manufacturers, is to produce advances in medical therapies such as new antibiotics, and everyday consumer products such as laundry soap and makeup. Critics fear such tinkering could create unexpected and dangerous side effects.


The FDA said it was interested in materials or products that use nanotechnology to deliberately manipulate or control feed products to achieve specific results, such as boosting an animal’s ability to absorb calories or drugs.


It said pharmaceutical companies and feed additive makers should consult with the agency before rolling out products, as the agency does not have enough data about possible safety issues, according to the guidance.


“We are taking a prudent scientific approach to assess each product on its own merits and are not making broad, general assumptions about the safety of nanotechnology products,” FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.