Steve Boggan has written an excellent article today in the Guardian on nanotechnology and its implications in the industrial food market. The first five paragraphs are as good a primer on nanotech as you’re likely to find—send this one to your mom if she has any questions. The rest of the article is a closer look at its future in our food supply, particularly in light of consumers’ recent widespread distaste for genetically modified goods. The bottom line: the industry is outwardly hopeful about the technology’s promise, but inwardly cautious about the public response. Oh, and we have no idea what it’ll do to us when we eat it.
As in other areas of nanotech, the practical applications for food are still in their infancy, i.e., it’s not yet actually in any food. It does, however, already appear in certain pesticides as a more efficient delivery system. The chemicals used are those already approved by environmental regulations. The industry claims the technology allows the concentrations to be lower while killing more effectively, without any added side effects.
As for side effects in food when that day comes? We just don’t know. Industry claims the microscopic size of these agents means the particles will degrade more easily. Food safety experts argue that miniscule size also means they could end up and accumulate anywhere in our bodies. It is clear that the safety issue is of utmost importance and demands thorough research. As Boggan concludes, however, that may prove ultimately to be of secondary consequence. If consumers don’t balk as they did with GM foodstuffs, nanotechnology could be on your table sooner than you think.