While it's common knowledge in the natural world that nanoparticles are found in sunscreen, where else are these somewhat unstudied particles showing up? Well, everywhere. Nano has penetrated foods, packaging and the environment for more than a decade, reports a recent cover story in E Magazine.
But while the thinner-than-a-human-hair-sized particles abound, government regulation is sporadic.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance on nanotechnology, its safety in food and how manufacturers should label nano. Perhaps due to known lack of science, in April this year the USDA gave UMass Amherst food scientist David Julian McClements a $400,000 grant to study the design and fabrication of all-natural nanoparticles for food products. And in July, The Safe Chemicals Act which passed its Senate committee, briefly alluded to nanotechnology, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to require safety testing on an individual basis.
By 2015, the nanotech industry is estimated to reach $1 trillion, which could mean more nanos in food. What foods contain nano now? E Magazine reports that the common culprits include:
- Carbon nanoparticles in foods with caramelized sugar, including bread and corn flakes
- Copper, silver or iron annoparticles in nutritional supplements
- Titaniium dioxide in toothpaste and many processed foods, including Mentos, gum, M&Ms and Jello Banana Cream Pudding, among others
According to the article, "each of us likely consumes some amount of titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles each day, and children under 10 likely consume the greatest amounts (around 1-2 mg TiO2 per kilogram body weight per day) due to their higher intake of frosted foods, candy, gum and other sweets."
The problem: Companies aren't keeping track of how nano is showing up in their supply chain. Meanwhile, science points to various problems with ingesting or inhaling nanos, such as lung toxicity or inflammation in exposed mice, as well as potential damage if nanoparticles move through the digestive system into the bloodstream. What's even more problematic is different nanomaterials interact differently with the human body, meaning one test for safety will not fit all.
Bottom line for nanos
Like GMOs, the science on ingested nanoparticles and human health is lacking. In the meantime, natural companies can stay ahead of the game by keeping nano out of their foods long before we definitively find out that the particles are harmful for our health.
"If you really think about it, the NATURAL products industry should be the last place nano technology would find a home," Ken Whitman, president of Natural Vitality, told newhope360. "If we don't believe in the inherent power of nature (and by that I mean natural systems), we're either in the wrong business or we're conning the public."
With surging demand for food transparency, perhaps the anti-nano heyday is not far off.