The natural problem with nanotech

The natural problem with nanotech

I'm concerned about nanotechnology. I have been ever since I attended an industry symposium where the Washington-based speaker told the assembled crowd of manufacturers that safety protocols for nanotech have not been worked out "but don't let that stop you from incorporating nano particles into your products."

Life on this planet is made up of interrelated systems. As a result of centuries of thinking that breaks systems down into simpler parts, we tend to follow the latest science rather than thinking holistically. We haven't cultivated the breadth of view to understand the complex systems of nature or even the intricate functioning of our own bodies and their inextricable integration with the environment. In my opinion, this calls for a bit of humility and even a sense of wonder.

Science offers us studies of this or that isolated event but it's only part of the story and not in context. Shouldn't we respect what we don't fully comprehend?

Every act of interference with the course of nature changes it in unpredictable ways. A human organism which has absorbed antibiotics or GMOs or pesticides is not quite the same kind of organism that it was before. The behavior of its micro-organisms has been altered. We now have an ever-growing volume of unstudied information about the results of chemical, biotech and medical interference in the planetary system (which includes us). Is this the legacy we're going to leave for our children?

On top of this body and environmental burden, are we smart to throw open the doors to nanotechnology? Are we not heading down the same road as GMOs? Do we have any idea of how we might be altering natural systems? Are we behaving—or allowing others to—like bulls in a china shop?

I can understand the economic attraction of a new technology for industrial manufacturers who are largely disconnected from the effects of their products on people and our habitat, but I would think the natural products industry by definition would neither employ nor support nanotech without a far greater understanding. 

Might this, like a clear stand on labeling what's in our food, be another issue that helps define the natural products industry?

Ken Whitman is the president of Natural Vitality.

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