Nanotechnology in food and agriculture – a disturbing new report.

Just when we thought that some things, like the food on our plates could not get more complicated! Additives, preservatives, genetically modified, artificial colours, food substitution, chemicals, pesticide residues, trans-fats, and now we have to contend with nano particles, in foods, additives and packaging that manufacturers are not required to specify on labelling. Friends of the Earth have a link to an interesting and disturbing report by and Georgia Miller and Rye Senjen, Out of the Laboratory and Onto our Plates, Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture.

The report defines term ‘nanofood’ as

“food which has been cultivated, produced, processed or packaged using nanotechnology techniques or tools, or to which manufactured nanomaterials have been added (Joseph and Morrison 2006). Examples of nano-ingredients and manufactured nanomaterial additives include nanoparticles of iron or zinc, and nanocapsules containing ingredients like co-enzyme Q10 or Omega 3. Nanotechnology has been defined as relating to materials, systems and processes which exist or operate at a scale of 100 nanometres (nm) or less. It involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems at the scale of atoms and molecules, the nanoscale. The properties and effects of nanoscale particles and materials differ significantly from larger particles of the same chemical composition.”

The report asserts that foods that contain nanoscale ingredients and additives are already on the supermarket shelf:

“Nanotechnology is being used in every sector of food production. Manufactured nanomaterials are already used in some food products, nutritional supplements, many packaging and food storage applications and some agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilisers and pesticides.)”

The science on the health and environmental effects of using these materials is at best limited and this in itself raises questions about the regulation of their use.

The really disturbing part of this story is the lack of transparency for the consumer. Unlike the debate over GM foods, these materials are being included in processing in spite of what the consumer may want and governments are not requiring manufacturers to advise the consumer of their presence in these foods and materials. This is obviously an effective way to stifle debate and move the implementation along. In addition, the food and agriculture industry limits information being made publicly available about its use of nanotechnology, and in doing so is even inhibits the ability of government regulators to know whether or not nanomaterials are already in commercial use.

As this area is moving into unknown territory as far as research into the health and toxicology effects of these new substances, those likely to be affected have a right to know and choose to use, consume or work with them. In fact it is questionable whether existing laws are adequate to assess the risks posed by nanofoods, nano food packaging and nano agrochemicals. Is the technology moving ahead of the legislature? The report states that, ” in the EU, Australia and elsewhere, US legislation fails to recognise that nanoparticles present new and often greater toxicity risks than larger particles of the same chemical composition.”

It seems clear that manufacturers and processors have an obligation and consumers have the right to be fully and adequately informed of the health consequences of the foods and products that they are consuming. The basic freedom to opt out of such consumption surely is our right and government regulation of this new technology needs to be adequate to ensure the safety of foods and the environment. A sobering though is that some of the foods mentioned in the report: dairy products; cereals; breads and beverages are now fortified with vitamins, minerals such as iron, magnesium or zinc, probiotics, bioactive peptides, antioxidants, plant sterols and soy, and that some of these active ingredients are now being added to foods as nanoparticles or particles a few hundred nanometres in size. Were you aware of that?

It is an interesting and thought provoking report that is full of information that could not be included in this short blog. I recommend this report if only so that readers can read further and become informed and able to asks questions of their governments as to what is being done to ensure the safety of their food. The Pdf can be downloaded at the link mentioned above.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Tuesday, 11 March, 2008.

2 Responses to “Nanotechnology in food and agriculture – a disturbing new report.”

  1. […] Ellen […]

  2. […] carcinogenic? – “No data, no problems” say governments. On March, 11 this year I reported on a study by and Georgia Miller and Rye Senjen, Out of the Laboratory and Onto our Plates, Nanotechnology in […]

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