Nanoparticles in Your Food

B. McPherson

Are you ingesting nanoparticles with your tasty lunch? What the heck is a nanoparticle? It’s something that is definitely smaller than a bread box. What the heck is a bread box? Never mind, it was in use when food was food. Back to the subject – a nanoparticle is a piece of matter that is smaller than one billionth of a metre(about 39 inches) across.

Nanoparticles occur naturally. They are present in wood smoke and industrial by-products. Now clever researchers have found ways to produce nanoparticles tailored to do specific jobs. Some of the jobs these tiny bits of matter do involve the cosmetic and food industries.

This is a new and exciting branch of science. When substances are reduced to a few molecules, they behave differently that when they are a more substantial size. Uses for this new area are being found almost daily. One of the areas with much potential is the food industry.

The American Food and Drug Agency(FDA) is aware of the possible ramifications of using nanoparticles in food and cosmetics. In 2011 they issued draft guides to industry regarding the use of the new technology in food production and cosmetics. As well as their draft guides they reiterate the responsibility for safety lies with industry.

Industry remains responsible for ensuring that its products meet all applicable legal requirements, including standards for safety -- regardless of the emerging nature of a technology involved in the manufacturing a product. 

Perhaps you and I think of food as something that grows under the sun, roots in loamy soil and occasionally doused with rain. Or you might think of your steak coming from one of those white faced cattle grazing on green meadows.  You might even think of food as something your body needs, much like providing fuel for your amazing furnace.

Others think differently. Following is a quote taken from a workshop about nanotechnology and food.
The third presenter, Jochen Weiss of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, provided an overview of how nanotechnologies are being developed to add novel functionalities to food products.
Another scientist at the same conference concluded his presentation with this caveat.
 We do not fully understand, however, how most of these structures are going to function within the food matrix where they will be applied. Many unanswered questions remain about their lifetime, mobility, and location inside actual food systems. Understanding this complex interaction between the nanostructures and the food products that contain them is critical to discussing safety.
In other words, they can build the structures but they don’t know what they will do in your body.
The global food industry is massive, garnering in the trillions of dollars every year. And, unlike other industries food never loses its market. Uses for this new technology range from delivering increased nutrition to detecting food spoilage.

On the other side of the discussion are the organic and biodynamic farmers who see many dangers in adopting this emerging technology.

The following is a statement taken from Friends of the Earth.

Nanotechnology is the high technology, atomically processed antithesis to organic agriculture, which values the natural health-giving properties of fresh, unprocessed wholefoods. 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.

There are also huge privacy issues associated with the tagging of food and food products with nanotags. The tags can then be tracked from field or factory or feed lot to your fridge. If you think that the NSS is intrusive now, how about when it can detect what’s sitting in your fridge and interacting with your ‘smart’ appliances.
In Canada no labelling of nanointerfered food is required. I think I’ll stick with my organic seeds and my organic/biodynamic vegetable garden.

Word to the wise:  You are what you eat.

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