In various laboratories around the country, scientists are producing nanotech’s to put in food. Gone are the days when the Chef and the fire created the taste and flavor of our prepared food. Now they’re manipulating atoms into chemicals that will be put into food. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is doing nothing. They won’t even comment on this part of the industry in interviews.
At the Institute of Food Technologists conference in 2009, nanotechnology was the subject. There were over 13,000 scientists, chefs and manufacturers. They held a session on nanotechnology and it was packed to overflowing. Studies have shown that nanoparticles may cause risks to human health and when eaten may cause DNA damage that may help in causing cancer, heart, and brain disease.
Nano-Food Is Already On Our Shelves
Although the FDA says that nano-foods are not sold in the U.S., some of the world’s scientists have already manufactured them. It is hard to believe that our foods do not contain them, in some form.
A wax-like nanocoating to extend shelf-life is being used by some packers on U.S. produce, all without it being labeled on the food products. This has been confirmed by a government scientist working for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, who wants to remain anonymous. He says that some fruits and vegetables are coated with this nanocoating to extend shelf-life. No one in the USDA or the FDA have ever tested this coating to determine health effects.
Manufacturers Are Already On Board
Several of the food manufacturers have already begun testing nano-related food product development, hand in hand with major universities. They are keeping it very quiet. Nano testing is being conducted on adding flavor to food products, assisting in pouring, and extending shelf-life. Aside from foreign providers of foodstuffs, it seems that none of the U.S. manufacturers are currently using nanotechnology at this time. But with the research proceeding, we may get nanos in our food supply very soon.
Capitol Hill investigators say that the FDA have assured them that food companies in the U.S. aren’t using nanotechnology. When the companies start using it, will they tell the American public?
What Risks Are There?
The food industries have very small profit margins. They are competitive and are looking for benefits for their products. UCLA conducted a two-year examination which showed that the compound caused DNA and chromosome damage to lab animals. Although there are no known risks to humans for ingesting this nanotechnology, the FDA should ban the products until more studies can be completed. There is nothing currently on the books that require that safety research be completed.
“Testing must always be done,” says food regulatory consultant George Burdock, a toxicologist and the head of the Burdock Group. ” Because if it’s nanosized, its chemical properties will most assuredly be different and so might the biological impact.”
What’s Next On The Menu?
The prospect of eating nanoparticles isn’t something the consumer looks forward to. Of course, something new is always suspect. The consumer will probably be eating nanoparticles in the near future. Food scientists already have time-release nanolaminated coatings to assist in the delivery of ingredients to help prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and hypertension. Most nanostructures will be in packing materials, bacteria detection and tracing delivery.
So far, some studies have shown that about 80% of consumers would not buy these foods. Nanotechnology is a new development and sometimes new developments can take a very long time to accept into normal use.
Nanotechnology in Consumer Products
Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating particles that are between one and 100 nanometres in size. A nanometre is a mind-boggling one-billionth of a metre. To put it in context, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometres. The term nanotechnology is believed to have first been used by the late Professor Norio Taniguchi of Tokyo Science University in 1974.
Consumer Awareness is Low
Nanoparticles can already be found in many everyday products like sunscreen and anti-aging serums. Many sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide nanoparticles that are absorbed easily into the skin, leaving no whitish residue behind. Nanoparticles are also used in scratch-resistant glass and wrinkle-resistant clothes.
Dr. Elizabeth Nielsen, a consultant with the Consumers Council of Canada, did an extensive report on nanotechnology last year. She said the main focus of the research has been on the development and commercialisation of the technology, and not on its effects on human health and the environment. “One of the big issues is that there is a lot of information about what the benefits of the technology are. Some of it is myth, some of it is exaggerated, some of it can be phenomenal, particularly in the medical arena,” she said.
A Consumer Council survey of Canadians in late 2007 showed public awareness of nanotechnology is low, but Canadians are generally optimistic about nanotechnology, particularly in the fields of medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs and energy efficiency. Many asked for more stringent government regulations to help manage the risks and ethical issues. There are privacy concerns that nanotechnology could be used to further miniatuarise surveillance or eavesdropping devices, making them even more difficult to detect, Dr Nielsen said.
In the case of cosmetics, consumers may not be aware that they are using creams with nanoparticles in them, Dr Nielsen said. There are fears nanoparticles might end up in the bloodstream and the lymphatic system. Nanoparticles may affect unborn fetuses, or end up lodged in the brain.
New Regulatory Tools Needed
Dr Nielsen said that a lack of appropriate tools is hampering regulators and scientists from properly assessing the impact of nanotechnology. However, work has already begun in this area.
Earlier, a scientific assessment by the Council of Canadian Academies, commissioned by Health Canada, concluded that it may not be necessary to create new regulatory mechanisms to regulate nanotechnology, but recommended that existing regulations be strengthened.
As part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (CEPA) review process, Environment Canada and Health Canada are examining what changes may be required to enhance nanotechnology regulation. Health Canada is also working with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Standards Organization to develop a framework for identifying the potential health-related risks of nanomaterials, a spokesperson said.
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