The FDA is Reluctant to Regulate Harmful Nanotechnology in Food and Packaging
There is a general consensus these days that "nanotechnology-enhanced" foods are dangerous to human health. Thanks to their obvious small size, nano-particles find it easier to enter various vital parts of our body. Here, they can get in the way of what we would consider to be regular cellular function, something that could cause a whole laundry list of potentially harmful complications. We still don't know the extent to which contact with these nano-particles would damage an individual's health, but most agree there is at least very little good that can come of it.
The infamous U.S. Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) is well aware of the research being carried out in the area which almost exclusively yields bright red flags regarding the health risks of nano-tech enabled foods, yet they seem reluctant to take control over the issue. The FDA has yet to establish clear guidelines or regulatory definitions of what nano-tech is in food. They claim that they are holding off until the science progresses to the point where "it can be fully understood." FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura said that as with organic/non-organic foods, the FDA won't make "a categorical judgment that nanotechnology is inherently safe or harmful."
Watchdog groups like Oakland-based "As You Sow," along with an angry army of health-advocates, are deeply disappointed with the FDA's new and incredibly loose guidelines. "The guidance is simply insufficient," said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, "It doesn't provide clarity. It doesn't provide a standard to industry." They believe that without a state-assigned definition of nanotechnology in foods, manufacturers will be able to push and pull their activities, making their own definitions for "nanotech-free" products based on their interest.
For example, As You Sow has scientifically detected nano-particles in Kraft foods, despite the fact that the giant junk-food company self-advertises as "nanotech-free." "We identified titanium dioxide as ingredients in their foods," Fugere said, referring to an ingredient used in paint and sunscreen. "What that means is we have also detected titanium dioxide from most of the major manufacturers." Russ Dyer, Kraft spokesman tried to defend the company's claim by stating "There are some ingredients in our products that may be nano-sized, [...] But that would be infrequent because they are not intentionally engineered on the nano-scale."
According to Fugere."Companies are saying they don't use nanotechnology because they are defining nanotechnology as the majority of particles are larger than one to one hundred nanometers. When they deny they are using nano, we believe they are."
Fugere and As You Sow also found sub-microscopic particles of titanium dioxide in Dunkin' Donuts products. The watchdog "filed an open letter requesting the board of Dunkin's Brand to publish a report by Nov. 1, on policies regarding public health concerns of nano-materials in its products or packaging."
The letter read: "We are concerned about liability arising from use of nanotechnology in food products, [...] Because of their small size, nano-particles are more likely to enter cells, tissues, and organs where they may interfere with normal cellular function and cause damage and cell death." Michelle King, senior director of Dunkin' Donut's global public relations responded by letting know that the company is "reviewing the Food and Drug Administration's new guidance on nano-materials in food products."
The Washington-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, an organization sponsored by The Woodrow Wilson Center Research Institute, identified a good 1,795 "nano-enabled products". About 10% of those products classify as food & drink.