from EmergingTech Website
Senior scientists have warned that nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, introduces serious new risks to human and environmental health.
Yet in the absence of public debate, or oversight from
regulators, unlabelled foods manufactured using nanotechnology have
begun to appear on our supermarket shelves.
Where are products produced, how, why, by whom, how far have they travelled, how long have they been stored etc. The organic and local food movements have emerged as an intuitive and practical response to the increasing use of chemicals in food production, and to the growing alienation of industrial agribusiness from holistic agricultural systems.
People have chosen
to eat organic foods because they care about the health of their
families and the health of the environment. Organic agriculture also
enables people to support integrated, environmentally friendly
agriculture, and appropriate technology, rather than
chemical-intensive factory farming.
For many, the inevitable conclusion was that whereas the
biotechnology companies stood to benefit from the entry of
genetically engineered foods into the food chain, consumers, farmers
and the environment shouldered all the risks.
It further transforms the farm into an automated extension of the high technology factory production line, using patented products that will inevitably concentrate corporate control.
It also introduces
serious new risks for human health and the environment.
Nanotechnology embodies the dream that scientists can
world from the atom up, using atomic level manipulation to transform
and construct a wide range of new materials, devices, living
organisms and technological systems.
To put 100nm in context:
The properties of nano-particles are not governed by the same physical laws as larger particles, but by quantum mechanics.
physical and chemical properties of nano-particles - for example,
color, solubility, strength, chemical reactivity and toxicity
therefore be quite different from those of larger particles of the
Engineered nano-particles are used in literally hundreds of products that are already available on supermarket shelves, including,
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Centre for Technology
Foresight has predicted that nanotechnology will revolutionize all
aspects of our economy and all aspects of society, with associated
large-scale social upheaval.
The food and agriculture industries have been investing billions of dollars into nanotechnology research, with an unknown number of unlabeled nano-food products already on the market.
In the absence of mandatory product labeling anywhere in the world, it is impossible to tell how many commercial food products now contain nano-ingredients.
The Helmut Kaiser Consultancy Group, a pro-nanotechnology analyst, suggests that there are now over 300 nano-food products available on the market worldwide.
that the global nano-food market was worth US$5.3 billion in 2005
and will rise to US$20.4 billion by 2010. It predicts that
nanotechnology will be used in 40% of the food industries by 2015.
All farm inputs - seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and labour - will become increasingly technologically modified. Nanotechnology will take the genetic engineering of agriculture to the next level down - atomic engineering.
Atomic engineering could enable the DNA of seeds to be rearranged in order to obtain different plant properties including color, growth season, yield etc.
Highly potent atomically engineered fertilizers and pesticides will be used to maintain plant growth. Nano-sensors will enable plant growth, pH levels, the presence of nutrients, moisture, pests or disease to be monitored from far away, significantly reducing the need for on-farm labour inputs.
Food 'fortification' will be used to increase the nutritional claims that can be made about a given processed food - for example the inclusion of 'medically beneficial' nano-capsules will soon enable chocolate chip cookies or hot chips to be marketed as health promoting or artery cleansing.
Nanotechnology will also enable junk foods like ice cream and chocolate to be modified to reduce the amount of fats and sugars that the body can absorb.
This could happen either by replacing some of the fats and sugars with other substances, or by using nanoparticles to prevent the body from digesting or absorbing these components of the food.
In this way, the nano-industry could market
vitamin and fibre-fortified, fat and sugar-blocked junk food as
health promoting and weight reducing.
A domestic microwave could be used to trigger release of the color, flavor, concentration and texture of the individual's choice.
'Smart' foods could also sense when an individual was allergic to a food's ingredients, and block the offending ingredient.
Or alternatively, 'smart' packaging could
release a dose of additional nutrients to those which it identifies
as having special dietary needs, for example calcium molecules to
people suffering from osteoporosis.
Mars Inc. already has a patent on an invisible, edible, nano-wrapper which will envelope foods, preventing gas and moisture exchange.
'Smart' packaging (containing nano-sensors and anti-microbial activators) is being developed that will be capable of detecting food spoilage and releasing nano-anti-microbes to extend food shelf life, enabling supermarkets to keep food for even greater periods before its sale.
Nano-sensors, embedded into food products as tiny chips that were invisible to the human eye, would also act as electronic barcodes.
They would emit a signal that would allow food, including fresh
food, to be tracked from paddock to factory to supermarket and
The failure of governments to
introduce laws to protect the public and the environment from
nanotechnology's risks is a most serious concern.
Applications of nanotechnology to
food processing assume that humans can 'improve' the taste, texture,
appearance, nutritional content and longevity of food by
manipulating it at the atomic level. It has even been argued that
this will result in food that is 'safer'.
Unfortunately, history tells us that we are simply not very good at predicting the outcomes of complex systems - witness the disasters that resulted from the introduction of biological controls such as the Cane Toad, or the introduction of rabbits and foxes for sport.
History is similarly littered with examples of huge health and environmental problems that resulted from the failure to respond to early warning signs about previous perceived "wonder" materials such as CFCs, DDT and asbestos.
suggests that we should take the early warning signs associated with
the toxicity of nano-particles very seriously.
Preliminary scientific research has shown that many types of nano-particles can result in increased oxidative stress which can result in the formation of,
Fullerenes, carbon nano-particles, have been found to cause brain damage in largemouth
bass, a species accepted by regulatory agencies as a model for
defining ecotoxicological effects.
Despite this warning, two years after the
Royal Society's report, there are still no laws governing the use of nano-materials in consumer products to ensure that they do not cause
harm to the public using them, the workers producing them, or the
environmental systems in which waste nano-products are released.
As the food industry's use of nano-tracking increases, it will gain the capacity to track the movement of food from the paddock, to the factory, to the supermarket and to your dinner plate.
This will raise serious new privacy issues for which
we are poorly prepared.
...these are the paradigms that we need to choose between.
A key way to promote healthy, holistic agriculture is to support it with our purchasing choices.
Certified organic foods offer you
better health, a better environment and a way for you to support a
nano-free food future. With personal care products, buy organic or
from a company that states they do not use nanotechnology.
Consider joining a community garden, or starting a garden of your own. Start an organic kitchen garden at your pre school or school.
Read product labels, get involved and interested. Talk to your
friends and family about the food issues that matter most to you.
Let companies know through their 1800 feedback lines that you are
concerned about the use of nanotechnology in their products. Tell
your local member of parliament that you want to see products that
contain engineered nano-ingredients labeled to allow you to make an
informed purchasing choice.
However while there are already unlabelled food products that contain engineered nano-ingredients available in our supermarkets, nanotechnology is only just starting to gain some attention.
There are no regulations in
place to protect public and environmental health, and almost no
corporate or public monies being spent looking at the long-term
consequences of manipulating our food at the atomic level. The
similarity to the introduction of genetic engineering with the added
risk that there is no regulatory oversight is chilling.
It is essential that we get moratoria enacted on the use of nanotechnology until we have regulatory systems in place to protect human and environmental health, and until we have genuine public involvement in decision making regarding nanotechnology's introduction.
We must also ensure our
Governments put our hard-earned taxpayer dollars into support for
the organic sector.
Unregulated, untested, Nanotechnology was a $One Trillion dollar
market in 2014 while Engineered NanoFood's was said to be at $5.8
Billion in 2012.