Nanotechnology has been used to create smaller, more precise pesticides, which ideally will help farmers to spray fewer chemicals on their crops.
However the risks of nanopesticides to human health are still largely unknown.
A new framework by Kiwi and Australian researchers offers a starting point for assessing these risks, and highlights where more research is needed.
Nanopesticides started gaining traction with farmers in the last five years or so, Dr Melanie Kah of the University of Auckland said.
"The tiny capsules can deliver chemicals more precisely than conventional pesticides," Kah who is the author of the study, said.
"This helps combat diseases and pests more effectively and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture."
While nanopesticides sounded highly promising, they might also carry risks to human health, Kah said.
"For example, if they are absorbed into organ tissues when skin contact or inhalation occurs."
Therefore, a robust human health risk assessment for nanopesticides was needed before they could be safely placed on the market, Kah said.
"However, current knowledge gaps make such assessment challenging."
The new framework study provided a starting point for understanding and addressing the concerns about nanopesticides, Kah said.
"The paper provides a pathway to risk assessment, considering different stages of human exposure, for instance, during pesticide application - for farmers or bystanders - or after application - for people who harvest or consume the produce."
The framework would help industry understand what questions the risk assessor had in mind and what data and information needed to be provided to satisfy the regulatory requirements, Kah said.
Industry and regulatory agencies needed a consolidated and comprehensive framework and guidance for human health risk assessments, Kah said in the study.
"Our study is an important step towards a harmonised approach accepted by regulatory agencies for assessing nanopesticides."
Find out more about "Comprehensive framework for human health risk assessment of nanopesticides" here.