Engineered Nanoparticles in Food - Are They Dangerous?
Copyright 2012 -Kris Heeter, Ph.D.
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted elsewhere online or offline without written consent of the author.
If you are like me, you may not have realized that nanoparticles have been added unknowingly to many of our consumer products and materials that food comes into contact with.
Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) have been one of the fastest growing markets in the last decade. Nanomaterials can occur naturally, they can be produced unintentionally, e.g. some exhausts, and they can be created or engineered.
ENPs are now being used or will soon be used in everything from computers, medical products and procedures, food, and consumer products.
How small these engineered particles?
Nanotechnology has been defined by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative as: "the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers".
To put the size further into perspective:
- a red blood cell is roughly 7,000 nanometers wide
- a human hair is roughly 80,000 nanometers wide
- a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
ENPs in consumer products are currently unregulated
As early as 2003, nanotechnology was recognized as a $7.6 billion dollar business.
By 2008, the industry exploded to more than $166 billion worth of consumer products were produced that contained nanoparticles. The market is expected to reach over $263 billion by this year.
Nanoparticles can currently be found the following consumer products categories:
- cleaning solutions and agents
- antimicrobial products
- foam and waxes
- personal hygiene products
- food packaging
- dietary supplements
- sporting goods
The question is do you know whether any of the above products you are currently using in these categories contain nanoparticles? Most likely not. The industry has been unregulated.
“It is unacceptable that the FDA continues to allow unregulated and unlabeled nanomaterials to be used in products consumers use every day...”
-Wenoach Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch
In recent weeks, a historic lawsuit has been filed against the FDA concerning the risks of nanotechnology in consumer products. The petition, filed by several groups, accuses the FDA for not responding in an adequate manner to a 2006 petition that demanded products containing nanoparticles be safety tested and labeled for consumers.
Currently, companies are not required to disclose that information nor has there been safety testing to insure that these particles are safe when consumers are exposed to them.
What is your current level nanoparticle exposure?
At this point, it's unkown.
Your skin is the largest organ of the body and your skins cells have the ability to absorb small nanoproducts that it comes in contact with. It has been widely recognized that many of these particles may be potential toxic - most have not been tested.
One known example of nanoparticle toxicity is "nano zinc oxide".
Engineered zinc oxide, found in suncreens, is a nanoparticle that has been shown to be toxic to colon cells in small amounts. There is a potential toxic risk for children that may, by accident, ingest zinc oxide (perhaps by licking fingers that touched parts of the body that had suncreen on it). The health implications may not be seen or may not manifest until years later.
Nanoparticles in our food chain
Beyond direct exposure, there are concerns about nanoparticles traveling up the food chain.
Imagine a scenario in which products containing nanomaterials have been discarded or washed down drains, those could then end up in water sources that may feed cattle, or other animals and crops that are lower in our food chain. Eventually these have the potential of making their way into our food sources. Nanopesticides have been on the market for awhile but are only recently undergoing EPA review.
Nanoparticles coming to YOUR processed foods
In the meantime, as this lawsuit is being considered, the technology in the food industry is marching forward.
Companies are hiring scientists and engineers to create nanoparticles that will make your food last longer on the shelf, taste better, and be more resilient microbes.
Beyond that, imagine foods that can be tracked, monitored, and traced by the nanoparticles they have been engineered to contain - that's all in the works.
Are we ready for these nano advances?
Not all nanotechnology advances are bad, and there will certainly be some good coming out of it (check out the YouTube video). But there are still many unanswered questions and so much that has not been tested yet.
So you have to perhaps ask yourself...
Are you comfortable not knowing which foods contain engineered particles?
And are you comfortable knowing that nanoparticles that already exist in our consumer products and food packaging have not been tested for toxicity and human safety?
Comments below are encouraged!
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