From Laboratory to Dinner Table - Nanotechnology in Food and Farming

From Laboratory to Dinner Table - Nanotechnology in Food and Farming

Nanotechnology in Food and Farming - New consumer products with hidden nanotech ingredients hit the U.S. market in a nearly unregulated fashion each week, including baby toys, personal care products, clothes, food and countless other products.

OCC | What is NanoTechnology?- Nanotechnology is the experimental process of manipulating matter at a scale of 1/100th the width of human hair, in order to create new products and materials.

New consumer products with hidden nanotech ingredients hit the U.S. market in a nearly unregulated fashion each week, including baby toys, personal care products, clothes, and countless other products.

The nanoparticles in these products are so small, they leach through the skin and spread through the environment in unpredictable ways.

What is Synthetic Biology?- Synthetic Biology is the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world and also the redesign of existing biological systems to perform specific tasks.

Advances in nanoscale technologies - manipulation of matter at the level of atoms and molecules - are contributing to advances in synthetic biology.

An excerpt from Out of the Laboratory and Onto Our Plates, a special report by Friends of the Earth:

In the absence of mandatory product labelling, public debate or laws to ensure their safety, products created using nanotechnology have entered the food chain. Manufactured nanoparticles, nano-emulsions and nano-capsules are now found in agricultural chemicals, processed foods, food packaging and food contact materials including food storage containers, cutlery and chopping boards. Friends of the Earth has identified 104 of these products, which are now on sale internationally. However given that many food manufacturers may be unwilling to advertise the nanomaterial content of their products, we believe this to be just a small fraction of the total number of products now available worldwide.

Nanotechnology has been provisionally 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.

Nanoparticles can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles. Because of their very small size, nanoparticles also have much greater access to our bodies, so they are more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs. These novel properties offer many new opportunities for food industry applications, for example as potent nutritional additives, stronger flavourings and colourings, or antibacterial ingredients for food packaging. However these same properties may also result in greater toxicity risks for human health and the environment.

There is a rapidly expanding body of scientific studies demonstrating that some of the nanomaterials now being used in foods and agricultural products introduce new risks to human health and the environment. For example, nanoparticles of silver, titanium dioxide, zinc and zinc oxide, materials now used in nutritional supplements, food packaging and food contact materials, have been found to be highly toxic to cells in test tube studies. Preliminary environmental studies also suggest that these substances may be toxic to ecologically important species such as water fleas. Yet there is still no nanotechnology-specific regulation or safety testing required before manufactured nanomaterials can be used in food, food packaging, or agricultural products.

Early studies of public opinion show that given the ongoing scientific uncertainty about the safety of manufactured nanomaterials in food additives, ingredients and packaging, people do not want to eat nanofoods. But because there are no laws to require labelling of manufactured nano ingredients and additives in food and packaging, there is no way for anyone to choose to eat nano-free.

Nanotechnology also poses broader challenges to the development of more sustainable food and farming systems. At a time when global sales of organic food and farming are experiencing sustained growth, nanotechnology appears likely to entrench our reliance on chemical and energy-intensive agricultural technologies. Against the backdrop of dangerous climate change, there is growing public interest in reducing the distances that food travels between producers and consumers, yet nanotechnology appears likely to promote transport of fresh and processed foods over even greater distances. The potential for nanotechnology to further concentrate corporate control of global agriculture and food systems and further erode local farmers’ control of food production is also a source of concern.

Given the potentially serious health and environmental risks and social implications associated with nanofood and agriculture, Friends of the Earth Australia, Europe and United States are calling for:

A moratorium on the further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials until nanotechnology-specific safety laws are established and the public is involved in decision making.


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