Two recent reports, one in a UK scientific journal and the other from an environmental lobbying group, warn that untested nanotechnologies are being used in common supermarket items such as beer, chocolate, and cling wrap.
Nanotechnology is the use of atomic- and molecular-sized particles (nanoparticles) to manipulate materials. (Here is an excellent video primer.)
In industrial foods, this technology can be used to manipulate flavor, texture, color and nutritional qualities or to lengthen shelf life. It's also used to provide 'traceability' to food products -- that is, to allow governments and corporations to be able to track a particular food back to its source in case of a food safety incident. It's also being used in food packaging and storage materials and in agricultural chemicals.
The issue is that when materials are manipulated at this level, the properties of the material can change profoundly. Which means that nanotechnology foods may have major differences at the molecular level from the real foods they resemble, which in turn means we can't be sure what they'll do once they're inside our bodies. Unfortunately, little testing is being done -- because none is required -- on the safety of these new nanofoods. And no labelling is required, so consumers can't easily avoid the altered foods.
From lobbying group Friends of the Earth's Out of the Laboratory and Onto Our Plates:
Nanoparticles can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles. Because of their very small size, nanoparticles have much greater access to our bodies, so they are more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues, and organs.
Their recommendation? Buy local and organic. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. I'm detecting a pattern here.
Scientists from the Central Science Laboratory in York, UK, writing in the scientific journal Food Additives and Contaminants, agree that there has not been adequate testing to asses the risks of using nanotechnology in food processing and packaging. They too warned that nanoparticles can cross into the body's cells.
More good reasons to get to know your food.