The Ultimate Junk Food?
UK Environment Minister Considering
Using Nano-Particles In The Food Chain
As Previous Unhappy Experience With 'Bisphenol A'
In Plastic Bottles And Tin Cans Comes To A Head
With the wrong kind of internal coating innocent looking tin cans and plastic bottles can transfer toxic molecules into food and drink. This has been going on for decades. Only now is science catching up with the implications for health, especially the potential impact on infants.
So will the chemical Bisphenol A used for such purposes, end up being replaced by nano-particles as a 'solution' to the issue?
That option now seems potentially open following a recent statement by the British Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn. But if we go down this route will the future 'cure' end up being worse than the original problem?
For other applications some are even proposing to incorporate nano-particles into food itself.
'No' To Nano-Food
What Are Nano-Foods? - Click Here
"A controversial scientific revolution
that could give packaged foods a dramatically longer shelf life and boost crop growth has
'real potential' to help feed a fast-growing world, according to [UK] environment
secretary Hilary Benn. New developments in nanotechnology, engineering
carried out at a microscopic level, could lead to plastic
packaging designed to stop food and drink spoiling by killing bacteria or preventing oxygen getting through the
container. The technology could also be used to enrich
food with supplements and preserve vitamins that would otherwise be
destroyed as food aged..... Nanotechnology is increasingly being seen as a successor to genetically modified (GM) techniques in food production, with GM
trials meeting consumer resistance and sabotage by activists. The science is still in its
infancy, but materials currently in development include fizzy-drink bottles
made with nanoparticles embedded in the lining to stop carbon
dioxide leaking out of the bottle, and storage bins with microscopic particles of silver, which has antibacterial
properties, designed to kill any bacteria growing in the contents. Other potential
applications include nanoparticles designed to
absorb the vitamins in produce such as orange juice, where the vitamin C levels deteriorate quickly after the fruit
has been juiced, and release them only when the liquid is drunk..... 'There are many ways in which
nanoparticles could be used to boost food production,' said Professor Terry Wilkins, of
Leeds University's Nanomanufacturing Institute. 'They could be used
to encapsulate flavouring into
foods; create packages that will change colour if their food contents go off or be
used as coatings that will be bacteria-proof. However, we cannot expect the public to
accept this technology without evidence that it has been rigorously tested to show it is
completely safe. That must be the first task of any initiative in this field."
New science could defeat food crises
Observer, 8 February 2008
10 February 2009
High-tech silver bullets can be tempting options for government Ministers when they are keen to be seen to be doing something, which is one of the reasons why British taxpayers repeatedly end up paying many billions of pounds for government department IT systems that don't work.
But to believe that science is able to offer much in the way of reliable tests for determining what the long-term health impacts of introducing minute novel nano-particles into the food chain might be, would seem to represent wishful thinking of a new kind.
It has already taken scientists decades post-introduction to establish the adverse health effects emanating from the use of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) in making the linings of tin cans and hard plastic bottles (see bottom). In this respect the Canadian government has recently brought forward proposals to ban its use in baby bottles and "to develop stringent migration targets for bisphenol A in infant formula cans."
However, following an American congressional inquiry, the US Food and Drug Administration has been criticised for ignoring "the hundreds of independent studies that have found BPA is harmful to humans" according to a Dow Jones Newswires report 9 February. The FDA has preferred to rely on studies funded by the Chemical industry, and is due to explain itself later this month.
BPA was first synthesised in 1891, with widespread use in consumer products beginning to emerge from the 1940s.
The same difficulty (late problem detection post-introduction) has occurred with the use of trans fats (responsible for millions of premature deaths across the globe despite being erroneously promoted by scientists, not merely as 'safe', but as being positively good for health - for example, by using it to replace butter with margarine in the diet) and other artificial food products.
There is clearly a role for nano-technology in society - but for heaven's sake, not in food.
So just say 'no' to nano-food.
Will GM Crops Deliver Benefits To Farmers?
The Acceptable Face Of Ag-biotech
OBSERVER, 8 February
New science could defeat food crises
Breakthroughs in microscopic engineering could boost shelf life of food and increase crop yields
A controversial scientific revolution that could give packaged foods a dramatically longer shelf life and boost crop growth has "real potential" to help feed a fast-growing world, according to environment secretary Hilary Benn.
New developments in nanotechnology, engineering carried out at a microscopic level, could lead to plastic packaging designed to stop food and drink spoiling by killing bacteria or preventing oxygen getting through the container.
The technology could also be used to enrich food with supplements and preserve vitamins that would otherwise be destroyed as food aged. Farmers could also use it to ensure the slow release of fertilisers at the right time for crops, and to detect threats from pests or pollutants. The technology is, however, highly controversial, with green campaigners arguing that its effects on human health are unknown.
Benn is spearheading a government project on how to cope with an estimated doubling in demand for food production worldwide by 2050, driven by a growing population and changing dietary habits in emerging nations.
"Nanotechnology has clear potential," he told the Observer. "As with all of these technologies, the government's job is to make sure we fully understand the consequences of using it, but clearly it has got real potential. We ought to be looking at all the means at our disposal."
Nanotechnology is increasingly being seen as a successor to genetically modified (GM) techniques in food production, with GM trials meeting consumer resistance and sabotage by activists.
The science is still in its infancy, but materials currently in development include fizzy-drink bottles made with nanoparticles embedded in the lining to stop carbon dioxide leaking out of the bottle, and storage bins with microscopic particles of silver, which has antibacterial properties, designed to kill any bacteria growing in the contents. Other potential applications include nanoparticles designed to absorb the vitamins in produce such as orange juice, where the vitamin C levels deteriorate quickly after the fruit has been juiced, and release them only when the liquid is drunk.
In the US, trials have also looked at the feasibility of developing "nanosensors" to be embedded in farm animals, which might be able to detect disease before it infected the whole herd.
Benn said a royal commission on environmental pollution recently had concluded there was "no evidence" of harm to health from nanotechnology, although the government was continuing to fund research to answer questions about its environmental or health impact. "Subject to people being assured of those things, then they will weigh up the benefits of the technology and take their decisions about whether to use it." Campaigners say the potential impacts of nanotechnology on both human health and the environment are unproven. Nanotechnology foods would require licensing in the UK, but Benn said the government was pushing for a wider regulatory regime to be established across the EU.
The changing economic climate has led to a renewed interest among governments in GM. Benn pointed to the use of GM soya, which is cheaper than conventional soya, in animal feed, adding: "Individuals will make their own choices, and I understand completely why people would be looking very hard at trying to stretch their pounds."
He said that the UK would await the outcome of scientific trials before any GM product could be approved for commercial growing, adding that producers would have to demonstrate that GM crops lived up to the claims made for them before they could contribute to any strategy to boost food production.
"If GM crops could help deliver better nutrition by enriching vitamins, and if GM was able to develop more drought-resistant or pest-resistant crops, then we have got a basis on which to have a discussion," he added.
Nano science: A backgrounder
Scientists have greeted the plans to give nanotechnology a greater role in food production with guarded optimism. Yes, the move was encouraging but it was also long overdue, they said.
Nanotechnology is engineering carried out at a microscopic level. Typical nanoparticles are around 30 nanometres, or 30 billionths of a metre, in diameter - roughly a 100,000th of the width of a human hair - and can be engineered to carry specks of chemicals or coat a surface or release signals. The potential of these materials is immense, as both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Engineering pointed out in 2003. Since then several UK universities have developed world-ranking status as nanotechnology centres, including Imperial College London and Oxford. However, support from the government has been weak and only now have there been signs of interest.
"There are many ways in which nanoparticles could be
used to boost food production," said Professor Terry Wilkins, of Leeds University's
Nanomanufacturing Institute. "They could be used to encapsulate flavouring into
foods; create packages that will change colour if their food contents go off or be used as
coatings that will be bacteria-proof. However, we cannot expect the public to accept this
technology without evidence that it has been rigorously tested to show it is completely
safe. That must be the first task of any initiative in this field."
Now They Tell Us - A Century Later!
"BPA, first synthesized in 1891,
is used to harden plastics, and it appears in everything from baby bottles to sunglasses.
Studies suggest BPA may be associated with a variety
of problems, including Type-2 diabetes, prostate cancer, genital defects in men, early
onset of puberty in women and behavioral problems."
FDA To Provide Update On BPA Review Later This Month
Dow Jones Newswires, 9 Febuary 2009
The BPA Timeline - Click Here
"Exposure to bisphenol A, the hormonally active
chemical used to make the linings of most tin cans and hard plastic bottles, may be able
to alter brain function, impairing the ability to learn and remember, according to a new
study by researchers from Canada and the United States. The study, conducted on monkeys, whose brain development is
similar to that of humans, raises the possibility that ailments such as depression, Alzheimer's disease and
schizophrenia may be linked to the controversial chemical. Almost all people living in industrialized societies are exposed to BPA as
a result of trace amounts leaking from food and beverage containers. The researchers, from the University of Guelph in Ontario and
Yale University in Connecticut, found that low-level
exposure to bisphenol A, or BPA, was able to block the formation of some types of synapses
in the brain, the tissue that allows brain cells known as neurons to communicate with each
other. The proper development of these
synapses is considered crucial for remembering thoughts and experiences, and impairments
in them are common in sufferers of depression and other brain-related ailments. The study,
to be published this week in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, is a
significant advance over previous rodent-based findings that BPA is able to impair
synapses. That research was open to criticism that what happened in the brains of a mouse
or a rat was of limited applicability to the more complex brains of humans. 'If bisphenol
A at these kind of low doses is able to interfere with [monkey synapses] then there has to
be concern that continuous exposure to bisphenol A is probably not a good thing,' said
Neil MacLusky, a biomedical science professor at the University of Guelph and one of the
study authors......In April, Health Canada
proposed adding BPA to Canada's list of toxic substances, which would make the country the
first in the world to take such regulatory action. Health Canada also said it planned to
ban its use in baby bottles and have the infant formula industry cut the amount leaking
from cans into baby food, based on concerns
that current infant exposure didn't provide enough of a safety margin. In response, most
major retailers removed plastic water and baby bottles made with BPA from their shelves. About three billion kilograms of BPA are produced each
year, making it one of the highest volume synthetic chemicals. A public comment period on Health Canada's proposals ended in
June and the government expects to issue a final decision on its proposals on or before
Oct. 18. The new study by the Canadian-U.S. team is one of a growing number of scientific
findings raising questions about the chemical. Last
month, researchers at the University of Cincinnati linked BPA to heart attacks and adult
onset diabetes through its ability to suppress the production in human fat tissue of a key
hormone that protects people against these conditions. The National Toxicology Program,
part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued a report yesterday on BPA
that raised concerns the chemical may be able to alter the prostate gland and the brain,
and cause behavioural changes, particularly in cases of exposure during fetal development
Bisphenol A may impair learning and memory
Globe and Mail (Canada), 4 September 2008
"A study of 1,469 people taking part
in a US government health survey has found that levels of bisphenol A, human exposure to
which was assumed to come mainly from food sources, did not decline rapidly with increased time fasting. The researchers,
from the University of Rochester Medical Center in the USA, conclude that this suggests
either that bisphenol A accumulates in body tissues
such as fat, or that the study participants were
substantially exposed to non-food sources of bisphenol A or both."
Bisphenol A remains in bodies longer than thought and/or comes from non-food sources
Chemical Watch, 28 January 2009
"The Food and Drug Administration plans to provide more information to the public later this month about
its safety review of a potentially harmful chemical commonly found in plastic baby bottles
and canned foods. The FDA will update the public about Bisphenol-A, or BPA, a
controversial chemical used to harden products, at a meeting of scientific experts on Feb.
24, according to a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.
The FDA's handling of BPA has drawn sharp criticism from the scientific community and Congressional inquiry. Last
summer the agency, relying on studies funded by the chemical industry, said BPA was safe
at current levels found in consumer products. However, scientists balked, saying the FDA shouldn't have ignored the hundreds of independent studies
that have found BPA is harmful to humans. The FDA in
December said it was revising its assessment on BPA and would reconsider some of the
independent studies that found the chemical was unsafe at current levels. It's unclear
exactly what information the agency will present at the meeting. The FDA will be providing
the information before its Science Board, a group of outside experts charged with advising
the agency on regulatory issues. An FDA spokesman wasn't immediately available to
FDA To Provide Update On BPA Review Later This Month
Dow Jones Newswire, 9 Febuary 2009
Ban Trans Fats
Now, GM Foods Only Later?
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