Could nanotech deliver sustainable food supplies?

Could nanotech deliver sustainable food supplies?

With the sustainability of the world's food supplies under threat, a group of respected scientists has risked courting controversy by suggesting nanotechnology could be part of the solution.

In a new report, Vital Ingredient — Chemical Science and Engineering for Sustainable Food, the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institution of Chemical Engineers argue that the contentious technology could help enhance delivery of nutrients and improvement of the diet in a world where access to food can no longer be taken for granted.

"Nanotechnology will provide the food industry with more capability and precision, which will in turn make processes more efficient and sustainable, both in manufacturing and in subsequent digestion," the report said.

The report cited as a potential application the use of nanoemulsions to preserve omega-3 fats, which are prone to oxidise quickly. "The need for mechanisms to control the delivery of functional ingredients within the body has focused on the development of nanostructures such as encapsulation systems used to provide protection against environmental factors, and controlled release and nutrient delivery," the report said.

The authors write that nanotech "can play a role in increasing the content and bioavailability of micronutrients of food, which are taken either as supplements, added to fortify existing foods or optimised in new raw materials and processes."

Their comments will not please the many critics of nanotech, who claim not enough is known about the safety of the technology. In a recent report, the US Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies warned this meant consumers were "potentially exposed to unknown risks."

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