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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

Nanotechnology comprises technological developments on the nanometer scale, usually 0.1 to 100 nm. (One nanometer equals one thousandth of a micrometre or one millionth of a millimeter.) The term has sometimes been applied to microscopic technology. This article discusses nanotechnology, nanoscience, and molecular nanotechnology. Recent research shows that nanoparticles are being found in sewage sludge. [1]

"Nanotech joins biotech among those promising technologies that hold the potential to change our world radically," Citigate Cunningham vice president Bill Bennett told PR trade publication The Holmes Report in early June 2003. Many in the PR industry are looking to nanotechology as the next big thing. "Such potential will never be without controversy, and already there are pockets of 'gray goo' paranoia springing up. The key here is to show the marketplace that the risks are no different than those attending the advent of the ATM," Bennett said.

While the PR marketers paid to over-hype biotech are preparing to do the same for nanotechnology, public interest activists led by ETC Group are raising precautionary concerns about the downside of the rapidly developing new technology.[2][3][4]

Nanotechnology in Your Food?

A 2013 report by As You Sow reports nanoparticles in a number of foods, including Dunkin' Donuts and M&Ms.[5] A UK study reveals that two hundred food manufacturing companies are already working on ways to insert nanotechnology into foods. No more details were given on why this is being done, nor how it would improve the marketability or shelf life of those foods. [6][7]

In 2004 a report by the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy noted that:

"The nanofood market is expected to surge from 2.6 bn. US dollars today to 7.0 bn. US dollars in 2006 and to 20.4 bn. US dollars in 2010. More than 200 Companies around the world are today active in research and development. USA is the leader followed by Japan and China."[8]

For further details see Nanofood Conference 2005/2006

More recently, in 2006: "The Institute of Food Science and Technology has identified possible deficiencies in current regulations concerning the impact of nanotechology on food and packaging."[9]

In December 2006, Alex Renton reported in The Guardian (UK):[10]

The Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington research institute, runs a database of nano-tech products that are commercially available, and the list under Food and Beverage is only 29 products long, compared with 201 under Health and Fitness. ... But the list has grown 50 per cent since March, when it was only 19 products long. ...
Only three items on the Woodrow Wilson list are listed as food. One is 'Nanotea', from a Chinese company, that will increase tenfold the amount of selenium absorbed from green tea (that's a good thing), through capsules engineered to bypass the stomach and dissolve in your lower gut. There's Canola Activa Oil, an Israeli invention: nano-capsule-delivered chemicals in rapeseed cooking oil that will stop cholesterol entering the bloodstream - this is exciting technology, utilising nano's ability to suspend or dissolve any substance you like in water or in oil. And finally there's SlimShake chocolate - a powdered drink that uses nanotechnology to cluster the cocoa cells, and thus cut out the need for sugar.

For more information see the article on Nanotechnology in Food

Nanotech Research

The Sacramento Bee reported in August 2006 that while nanotech particles had already been incorporated into "hundreds" of consumer products, "from cosmetics to contraceptives ... those looking into nanotechnology's possible downsides are scrambling to catch up." [11]

"This is a whole new category of substances," said Paul Schulte, who heads a nanotechnology research center for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.
"There are so many great properties in the nano scale," Schulte said. Yet the same features that could build tomorrow's marvels "may have potential toxic effects, too."

At the University of California at Davis' Center for Health and the Environment, Kent Pinkerton and colleagues are researching "airborne, contaminant-free suspension[s] that a mouse could inhale," in order to approximate workplace dangers. "In earlier studies, when the nanotubes were suspended in a droplet of liquid and inserted into the lungs of mice, some died and others developed lung damage," reported the Sacramento Bee. [12]

Environmental and Health Risks

According to the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology which describe themselves as "boosters for safe use of nanotechnology" [13]:

Molecular manufacturing allows the cheap creation of incredibly powerful devices and products. How many of these products will we want? What environmental damage will they do? The range of possible damage is vast, from personal low-flying supersonic aircraft injuring large numbers of animals to collection of solar energy on a sufficiently large scale to modify the planet's albedo and directly affect the environment. Stronger materials will allow the creation of much larger machines, capable of excavating or otherwise destroying large areas of the planet at a greatly accelerated pace. It is too early to tell whether there will be economic incentive to do this. However, given the large number of activities and purposes that would damage the environment if taken to extremes, and the ease of taking them to extremes with molecular manufacturing, it seems likely that this problem is worth worrying about. Some forms of damage can result from an aggregate of individual actions, each almost harmless by itself. Such damage is quite hard to prevent by persuasion, and laws frequently don't work either; centralized restriction on the technology itself may be a necessary part of the solution. Finally, the extreme compactness of nanomanufactured machinery will tempt the use of very small products, which can easily turn into nano-litter that will be hard to clean up and may cause health problems [14]. The site list numerous other risks and benefits.

The Project On Emerging Nanotechnologies currently lists 502 products that manufacturers have voluntarily identified that use nanotechnology [15]. No labeling is required by the FDA [16] so that number could be significantly higher.

The ongoing debate over nanofood safety and regulations has slowed the introduction of nanofood products, but research and development continue to thrive - though, interestingly, most of the larger companies are keeping their activities quiet (when you search for the term 'nano' or nanotechnology' on the websites of Kraft, Nestle, Heinz and Altria you get exactly zero results). Although the risks associated with nanotechnology in other areas, such as cosmetics and medicine, are equally blurry, it seems the difference is that the public is far less apt to jump on the nanotechnology bandwagon when it comes to their food supply Nanotechnology food coming to a fridge near you.

Proposed guidelines and regulations

Resources and Articles

Related SourceWatch Resources

External Resources


  • Geoffrey Hunt and Michael Mehta (eds), Nanotechnology: Risk, Ethics and Law, Earthscan, London, June 2006. ISBN ISBN 1844073580

External Articles