Our entire food chain has been altered beyond recognition. Thanks to genetically modified seeds, crops, toxic pesticides, and fertilizers, the produce in your local supermarket is only half as nutritious as the produce your grandmother bought.
Salmonella outbreaks are common place. Our fish are contaminated with pharmaceutical residues. With genetically engineered crops in such wide circulation, even the integrity of our beloved organic food industry is in question.
When plastic hit the food packaging scene, it revolutionized food preparation and distribution. Now we know plastic food packaging is linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, liver-enzyme abnormalities, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer.
Now another emerging intervention looms which promises again to revolutionize the food we eat beyond our wildest dreams — nanotechnology. Foods produced using nanotechnology will make genetically modified food seem as innocuous as an occasional rotten apple.
Nanowerk.com reports “clay nanocomposites are being used in plastic bottles to extend the shelf life of beer and make plastic bottles nearly shatter proof. Embedded nanocrystals in plastic create a molecular barrier that helps prevent the escape of oxygen. The technology currently keeps beer fresh for six-months, but developers at several companies are already working on a bottle that will extend shelf life to 18 months. Several large beer makers, including South Korea’s Hite Brewery and Miller Brewing Company, are already using the technology.
“Thanks to nanotechnology, tomorrow’s food will be designed by shaping molecules and atoms. Food will be wrapped in smart safety packaging that can detect spoilage or harmful contaminants. Future products will enhance and adjust their color, flavor, or nutrient content to accommodate each consumer’s taste or health needs. And in agriculture, nanotechnology promises to reduce pesticide use, improve plant and animal breeding, and create new nano-bioindustrial products”” or so states the US Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies’ recent report on the use of nanotechnology in food and agriculture.
To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, nanoscience studies and manipulates atomic structures at the nanoscale of 100 nanometres. To put things in prospective, a strand of DNA is 2.5nm wide, a protein molecule is 5nm, a red blood cell 7,000 nm and a human hair is 80,000 nm wide. With nanotechnology scientists reconstruct nature on the atomic and molecular level — reshaping the world beginning with the atom up. To what end? For the purpose of maximizing corporate profits.
“The properties of Nan particles,”writes Georgia Miller for Global Research, “are not governed by the same physical laws as larger particles, but by quantum mechanics. The physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles ” for example, color, solubility, strength, chemical reactivity and toxicity – can therefore be quite different from those of larger particles of the same substance.
“The altered properties of nanoparticles have created the possibility for many new profitable products and applications. Engineered nanoparticles are used in literally hundreds of products that are already available on supermarket shelves ” including transparent sunscreens, light-diffracting cosmetics, penetration enhanced moisturisers, stain and odour repellent fabrics, dirt repellent coatings, long lasting paints and furniture varnishes, and even some food products”
As with genetically modified food, supermarkets already stock an unknown amount of unlabeled nano food products on their shelves; thus far, there is no mandatory product labeling anywhere in the world. “The Helmut Kaiser Consultancy Group, a pro-nanotechnology analyst, suggests that there are now over 300 nano food products available on the market worldwide. It estimates that the global nano food market was worth US$5.3 billion in 2005 and will rise to US$20.4 billion by 2010. It predicts that nanotechnology will be used in 40% of the food industries by 2015”
Want chocolate chip cookies without the fat and sugar? No problem. Nanoparticles can be programmed to prevent your body from digesting or absorbing the fats and sugars. Want ice cream without the fat? Nanotechnology can replace the fat with whatever nanotechnology wants — the ice cream’s fatty texture and flavor are still retained.
“Companies such as Kraft and Nestle are designing smart’ foods,”says Miller, “that will interact with consumers to personalise’ food, changing color, flavor or nutrients on demand. Kraft is developing a clear tasteless drink that contains hundreds of flavors in latent nanocapsules. A domestic microwave could be used to trigger release of the color, flavor, concentration and texture of the individual’s choice. Smart’ foods could also sense when an individual was allergic to a food’s ingredients, and block the offending ingredient. Or alternatively, smart’ packaging could release a dose of additional nutrients to those which it identifies as having special dietary needs, for example calcium molecules to people suffering from osteoporosis”
Associate Professor Thomas Faunce, from Australian National University’s Medical School, expresses his concern: “All the research at the moment tends to indicate nanoparticles have unusual toxicities related to size and shape. In this sort of climate it’s much better if regulatory authorities apply the precautionary principle and start developing nano-specific regulatory structures. If we don’t we’re going to have a catastrophe-driven approach to regulation, where we wait for a major public health crisis to arise because of nanoparticles causing toxicity in people”
But why let potential human health hazards voiced by a few contrary scientific voices get in the way of “progress”? Any potential risks have yet to stop a few of the world’s largest food manufacturers — Kraft, Nestle, Altria, H.J. Heinz, and Unilever.
In fact, “Kraft established the Nanotek Consortium, a collaboration of 15 universities and national research labs…Kraft’s focus is on interactive foods and beverages. These products will be customized to fit the tastes and needs of consumers at an individual level. Possible products include drinks that change colors and flavors to foods that can recognize and adjust to a consumer’s allergies or nutritional needs. Other large companies, such as Nestle and Unilever, are exploring improved emulsifiers that will make food texture more uniform. These huge Western companies are responsible for the bulk of the food industry’s research and development, however the nanofood industry is truly a global phenomenon”
“We are in an epic battle for control of our food supply,”writes Miller. “Corporate or community ownership, global or local, small versus massive, processed versus wholesome. These are the paradigms that we need to choose between. A key way to promote healthy, holistic agriculture is to support it with our purchasing choices. Certified organic foods offer you better health, a better environment and a way for you to support a nano-free food future. With personal care products, buy organic or from a company that states they do not use nanotechnology”