Nanotechnology in Food


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Food & Water Europe challenges the promotion of nanotechnology in food and food packaging by:

  • Demanding the immediate withdrawal from sale of nanotech consumer products until reliable and independent safety assessments show that it’s safe.
  • Supporting the no data, no market approach of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee.
  • Writing to the UK Food Standards Agency criticising the alarmingly one-sided presentation of nanotechnology in its BITE magazine. Read the letter.

Nanotechnology may just be the scariest thing you’ve never heard of. It already is in hundreds of products, like cosmetics and sunscreen, but there are no labels to help us avoid it. Some want to use nanotech in food and food packaging, too, even though we don’t understand how it may affect us or what damage it may do in our environment.

Definitions of nanotechnology are vague, but it involves the use of extremely small particles engineered at the molecular level to create materials with new behaviours and chemical properties. Some of these materials, like nanosilver used in household products as an antibacterial treatment, are deemed “extremely toxic” by scientists.

Hailed by some as a new industrial revolution, nanotech’s proponents claim that it is a win-win for business and consumers. However, nanoparticles are so small that they can penetrate cells, tissues and organs more easily than larger particles, so the potential harms may be much greater than the alleged benefits. Some of the known risks include:

  • Damage to DNA
  • Disruption of cellular function and production of reactive oxygen species
  • Asbestos-like pathogenicity
  • Neurologic problems (such as seizures)
  • Organ damage, including significant lesions on the liver and kidneys
  • Destruction of beneficial bacteria in wastewater treatment systems
  • Stunted root growth in maize, soya, carrots, cucumber and cabbage
  • Gill damage, respiratory problems and oxidative stress in fish

You can read more about nanotechnology in our report, Unseen Hazards.

Food & Water Europe believes that nanotechnology has no place in basic human necessities like our food and water. Given the immense uncertainties over its safety, nanotech is a clear case for invoking the precautionary principle until a robust regulatory system is in place, including clear labels for consumers. When the risks are this big, we cannot afford a “wait-and-see” approach.