Nanotechnology: Transforming Food and the Environment

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Nano food packaging is the most commercialized of the agri-food nanotechnologies, designed to enhance shelf-life durability and freshness of food.  Despite all the perceived benefits, there are mounting ecological concerns with nanotechnologies. Studies show that nanoparticles gain ready access to the blood stream after being inhaled, while some can directly penetrate the skin. There is also evidence demonstrating nanoparticles are cytotoxic (toxic to cells) in the human body. Carbon nanotubes (used in food packaging) have been likened to asbestos; with evidence demonstrating exposure may lead to mesothelioma or lung cancer in test mice.

It is possible that nanoparticles in food packaging materials may migrate into food it comes into contact with. This is cause for alarm, a range of nanoparticles that are widely used in food packaging (including nano silver, nano zinc oxide and nano chlorine oxide) demonstrate specific adverse health impacts – with tests on nano zinc oxide producing damaging health impacts on mice and rats as well as being very toxic to human cells, even at very low concentrations. Despite the myriad claims from government and industry associated with nanotechnologies the global, corporate nano-revolution is set to steer us further away from a localized, democratic and sustainable agri-food system.


Title: Nanotechnology: Transforming Food and the Environment
Source: Food First Backgrounder, April 5, 2010
Author: Dr. Kristen Lyons

Student Researcher: Garrett Scafani, Sonoma State University
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Charmaz, Sonoma State University