Currently browsing posts about: Nanotechnology

Feb 7 2013

Yet another food worry? Nanoparticles.

As You Sow, an advocacy group for environmental corporate accountability, has been paying close attention to nanotechnology.  It has just issued a report, Slipping Through the Cracks: An Issue Brief on Nanomaterials in Foods.

An Issue Brief on Nanomaterials in Foods

 

According to an account in the New York Times, the CEO of As You Sow, Andy Behar, says:

We’re not taking a no nano position…We’re saying just show it’s safe before you put these things into food or food packaging.
Nanotechnology, as I have discussed previously, is the use of tiny particles for many purposes, among them food.  These particles are really, really small, on the scale of nanometers (nm), one billionth, or 10−9, of a meter.
Are they safe to eat?

The FDA’s nanotechnology web page provides a 2007 report from a task force, a 2012 fact sheet, and a draft-for-comment on how industry should deal with nanoparticles in foods and food packaging.

The fact sheet says:

FDA has long encountered the combination of promise, risk, and uncertainty that accompanies emerging technologies…The very changes in biological, chemical and other properties that can make nanotechnology applications so exciting also may merit examination to determine any effects on product safety, effectiveness, or other attributes. Understanding nanotechnol­ogy remains a top FDA priority. FDA is monitoring the evolving science and has a robust research agenda to help assess the safety and effectiveness of products using nanotechnology.

My translation: the FDA has no idea whether this technology is safe or not and is depending on industry to find out.

Because the FDA does not require labeling of nanomaterials (the European Union does), you have to decide for yourself whether this is something you want to add to your list of food worries.

Just a thought: real foods don’t have added nanoparticles.

Dec 13 2011

Is nanotechnology the new GMO?

Food Navigator reports that UK experts are demanding public debate and regulation of nanomaterials in foods.  Without that, they warn, nanotechnology risks “facing the same fate as genetically modified (GM) foods in consumer perceptions.”

Nanotechnology is about manipulating materials on the scale of atoms or molecules, measured in nanometers (nm), one billionth, or 10−9, of a meter.

Many companies are already using nanomaterials in agriculture, food processing, food packaging, and supplements.  This is not something the public has heard much about.  Food companies often don’t know whether or not they are using these materials.

Nanotechnology science is new, and the industry is unregulated.

The FDA’s nanotechnology web page links to a quite thorough 2007 report from a task force,  but the agency’s only guidance to date tells companies how they can find out whether they are using nanomaterials.

Jumping into that gap, As You Sow has issued a Sourcing Framework for Food and Food Packaging Products Containing Nanomaterials.

As You Sow says:

Not only is this technology unregulated and untested for its implications on public health but companies may not even be aware if they are using products made with nanomaterials….In consultation with food companies such as: Kraft, McDonald’s (which has adopted a “no nano” policy), Whole Foods, Yum! Brands, and Pepsi, the nonprofit organization As You Sow developed this practical tool which clearly outlines what companies should ask their suppliers regarding the safety of products containing nanomaterials.

The report fills an important gap.  Companies using this technology should be telling the public more about it.  Nanotechnology is technical, difficult to grasp intuitively, “foreign,” and not under personal control.  This places it high on the scale of “dread-and-outrage.”

Does it belong there?  Who knows?  But the sooner its risks and benefits are assessed, the better.   Otherwise it risks becoming the next GMO in public perception.

 

 

Mar 26 2011

The latest on food nanotechnology

FoodNavigator.com periodically collects its posts about specific topics.  This one is called Nanotechnology – Challenges and Opportunities. Nanotechnology, this European industry site says, “offers the food processing and packaging industries significant gains in terms of performance, safety and functionality. But uncertainties remain over the long-term effects of exposure to nanomaterials.”

Indeed, they do.  As I have discussed previously, nanotechnology is the use of extremely small particles to do any number of things to food, food processing, and food packaging.   I’m still having a hard time knowing what to think about it.  So are others, apparently.

EFSA publishes draft guidance on nano risk assessment: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published draft guidance giving more specific risk assessment information regarding the use of nanotechnology in food…

Scientists developing ‘rechargeable’ antimicrobial layer for food processing surfaces: The germ-killing properties of a prototype nano-scale antimicrobial layer for food handling surfaces can be chemically ‘recharged’ every time it is rinsed with household bleach, said US scientists…

Assess risk from nano-pollution and antimicrobials in packaging – IFST: The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) has called for greater appraisal of the potential risks from the release into the environment of nanomaterials used in food packaging…

Nano-coated ‘killer paper’ developed to extend food shelf life: Israeli scientists have said their new nano-coated “killer paper” could be used in food packaging to combat bacteria such as E.coli to extend product shelf life…

New ISO standard gauges nano-toxicity risks: New guidelines from the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) have been published in a bid to help key industry players assess the possible risks presented by the burgeoning growth of nano-based products…

UK mulls confidentiality pact with industry over nano research: The Food Standard Agency (FSA) said it is considering signing confidentiality agreements with food and packaging companies in a bid to persuade them to share information on nanotechnology research…

I’m hoping for for more research, and soon.

Jul 8 2010

The news in food nanotechnology

Nanotechnology involves the ability to control matter at the scale of a nanometer—one billionth of a meter. The world market for products that contain nanomaterials is expected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2015.

So says a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO): Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials Are Widely Used in Commerce, but EPA Faces Challenges in Regulating Risk. GAO-10-549, May 25, 2010.

GAO identified a variety of products that currently incorporate nanomaterials already available in commerce…[in] food and agriculture….The extent to which nanomaterials present a risk to human health and the environment depends on a combination of the toxicity of specific nanomaterials and the route and level of exposure to these materials. Although the body of research related to nanomaterials is growing, the current understanding of the risks posed by these materials is limited.

The effects of nanotechnology on the environment are regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which is why this report targets recommendations to EPA.

Shouldn’t some of those recommendations be directed toward FDA, the agency that regulates food safety?  Maybe GAO needs to do another report?

In the meantime, the European Food Safety Authority is preoccupied with issues related to the safety of food nanotechnology.

The risk assessment framework for nanotechnology in Europe – like so much else connected to the technology – appears to be in its infancy but developing at a rapid pace…. Nano knowledge gaps have led some to call for a ban on the use of nanomaterials in food products until their safety has been fully established. One area of concern is whether nanoparticles can migrate from packaging materials into foods.

In seeking to assess nanomaterials, the food safety body repeatedly used phrases such as “specific uncertainties”, “limited knowledge” and…“difficult to characterise, detect and measure” in relation to toxicokinetics and toxicology in food. Likely usage and exposure levels are also largely a mystery.

The European Food Safety Authority says that lack of knowledge means that risk assessment of risk assessments must be done on a “cautious case-by-case approach.”

Last April, the European Parliament’s environment committee said nanotech products should be withdrawn from the market until more is known about their safety.  In June, that committee added that nanotech foods should be assessed for safety before they are approved for use and labeled.

Doesn’t that sound reasonable?  Let’s hope it’s not too late to put such constraints in place, and in the U.S. too.

Jan 4 2010

Thinking about nanotechnology

I am trying to understand what to think about food nanotechnology and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent.  Nanotechnology refers to the use of very small particles for doing any number of things to food.  I’ve been collecting items about it:

But what about their safety?  Could nanoparticles cross cell-membranes and end up being harmful?  The technology to produce the particles does not cost much.  This means anyone can make and use them, including food manufacturers who don’t want to bother with safety testing.  So: is nanotechnology the new asbestos?

If you know something about this, please weigh in.  Thanks and happy new year!

Update, January 8: A the U.K. House of Lords Science and Technology committee warns that the lack of transparency in research on nanotechnology is likely to induce a consumer backlash similar to that on genetically modified foods.  Indeed.

Jun 16 2009

Nanotechnology: threat or promise?

A recent meeting of the Institute for Food Technologists included presentations on applications of nanotechnology to food. These, say food technologists, have the potential to improve the safety, quality, and shelf life of foods.  They cite as examples anti-microbial coatings on food packaging materials and improved delivery systems for vitamin and flavor ingredients.

Nanotechnology deals with substances at the atomic and molecular levels, which means really, really small.  One nanometer is 0.000,000,001 meters (10 to the minus 9, or one millionth of a millimeter).

Until now, I haven’t said anything about food nanotechnology because I really don’t know what to say about it.  Is it safe?  How would we know?  Friends of the Earth says nanotechnology is the antithesis of organic agriculture and  represents a new threat to our food supply.  Even Food Technology thinks it should be disclosed on package labels.

The FDA says it already has the authority to regulate food nanotechnology.  The industry says that overly strict regulations are impeding progress in this industry (sounds like the GMO arguments, no?).

What’s going on here?  I’m having trouble getting a handle on this one.

If you know something about this, comments are most welcome.