Cola-tasting nano-milk and fat-reduced nano-mayonnaise are just two of the nanotechnology-based food products in the pipeline from Wageningen University in Holland. The fact that these researchers were prepared to talk about their work is unusual – use of nanotechnology in the emotive area of food production is shrouded by secrecy. Although the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy Group estimates that over 300 nano-food products are now on the market, the US Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies consumer products inventory lists only three food products whose labels disclose their nano content.
Last year I was invited to speak at the International Council on Nanotechnology’s conference in Tokyo. My presentation, ”The social, environmental and political impacts of nanotechnology" made three key points: 1) existing evidence of nanotoxicity requires us to take a precautionary approach to risk management – we should not expect workers, the public and the environment to continue facing unregulated exposure to nanomaterials; 2) we must look beyond the question of toxicity risk management to ask critical questions about nanotechnology’s purpose, predictability, ownership and responsibility (who bears the risks, who stands to gain?); and 3) given the scale of nanotechnology’s predicted impacts, we must involve the public in decision making about its introduction.
In the face of growing concerns about the toxicity risks that nano silver poses to environmental systems and human health, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced recently that it would move to introduce the world’s first nanotechnology-specific regulations. The US EPA will now move to regulate products that contain nano silver and claim to act as “anti-bacterial” as pesticides, including Samsung’s “Nano Silver” range of appliances (washing machine, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and air conditioner).
I was recently invited and attended an expert meeting on nanotechnology and ethics hosted by the UNESCO, Division of Ethics and Science and Technology in Paris (Nov 16/17th 2006). I was the only NGO representative amongst twenty invited ‘experts’. Other participants included representatives of the Japanese, US, French, Dutch and EU governments, OECD and ISO representatives, as well as a selection of academics from Hungary, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Qatar and the UK.