Have you had your serving of nanos today? If you brushed your teeth with conventional toothpaste, used creamer in your coffee or even just drank purified water, there's a good chance you have. The engineered particles are increasingly popping up in our food system, according to a recent survey from As You Sow, but if you're like most consumers out there, you're probably completely unaware—exactly how the CPG companies want to keep it.
Of the 2,500 companies asked to participate in the study, only 26 responded including PepsiCo, Whole Foods Market and the corporate parent of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Of those, only 14 said they don't use nanomaterials and two companies (that's right, just two) had policies against the use of nanos, Andy Behar, chief executive of As You Sow told the New York Times.
If it sounds like these companies are trying to hide something, that's because they are. As we know from following nanomaterials in the personal care industry, the verdict is still out on their relative health impacts. Their size (roughly 2,000 times smaller than the width of a hair) allows them to enter the blood stream and go other places in the body where larger particles cannot. Research on their health effects is limited, but studies have shown them to destroy the chromosomes and DNA of mice.
Wealth over health
CPG companies aren't interested in curbing their addiction to nanotech (or investigating what impacts these foods may have) because nanos promise so much. Nanos can make products creamier without additional fat, intensify and improve flavors as well as brightening colors. Foods where they can appear? Toothpastes, gums, M&Ms, Jell-O Pudding, Pop Tarts, Mentos, Coffee Creamers and the list hypothetically goes on...
In truth, we don't actually know what foods contain nanomaterials. The FDA hasn't shown any interest in regulating or even determining where they appear. Check out this email correspondence with FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci which appeared in the article "Eating Nano" in E Magazine.
E Magazine: What can you tell me about the prevalence of nanomaterials in our food supply?
Sebastian Cianci: FDA does not have a list of food products that contain nanomaterials.
E: Where are nanomaterials most often found within food products? In colorings or additives?
SC: FDA does not maintain a list of food products that contain nanomaterials so we cannot reliably answer this question.
Until research is done to determine the relative safety or harm of nanos on human health, I believe shoppers have a right to know if they're present in the food they're buying. Hmmm… sound familiar?