Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nanoparticles-Huge Implications?

Nano technologies are the hype of almost every major engineering and science field because of their theoretically endless applications. The food industry is no different, and many companies are working on uses for nanoparticles to enhance their own products. Nevertheless, with every new technology that is developed with all the best intentions, there is the chance for unseen consequences later down the road.

A great example that nanotechnology does not want to be like is genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their use in the food system. The public developed a very negative perspective of this technology after its introduction and it can be greatly attributed to the fact that it was not thoroughly researched and that he public was not properly informed of this technology.

The approach of researching a product to ensure there is no risk is known as practicing the precautionary principle, and I believe this to be the most responsible way for a company to introduce a new technology to the public. Through public education and thorough research a company can gain the trust of the public. With the public’s trust, a company can ensure the consumption of their product and profit from this technology. The problem is that research is an expensive venture, and most companies will not undergo this risk unless they are assured that conducting the research will give results that prove the safety of their product. This seems to present a conflict.

The fact is that many of the largest food companies have added a new dimension to their vertical integration of their respective food industries by developing their own nano-labs instead of contracting an outside source. This research is however focused on the uses of nanoparticles and not its affect from human consumption. Many applications that have either been developed or in the process of being developed are presented in the chart below:

I think that nanoparticles have very good uses and that they can possible be used in the food industry for many beneficial reasons. However, the appropriate research needs to be conducted to ensure product safety for human consumption. Should the government step in and mandate that companies conduct this research? Should companies be left to regulate themselves on product safety? (We have read how effective companies are at this!)

It would be a real waste if this technology gets blacklisted by the public because one company causes a public scene due to rushing a product into the market before adequate research. All we need is to see such blacklisting images as these on every product that contains nanoparticles:

News articles on nanotechnology in food:
Regulated or Not, Nano-Foods Coming to a Store Near You
Why Nanotech Hasn't (Yet) Triggered 'the Yuck Factor'

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