Listen to Georgia Miller, nanotechnology project co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth Australia as she discusses Nano foods.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at a minuscule scale. A human hair is 80,000 nanometres wide. One nanoparticle is just 100 nanometres wide.
Milk cartons that glow when their contents turn sour. A sinful-tasting, non-fat ice-cream with loads of fibre, protein and nutrients. Programmable soft drinks, even (simply select the flavour and pull the tab). Such wonders are still being developed, yet engineered nanoparticles are already used across the globe in everything from antibacterial sponges to iron-fortified baby formula.
Who knows how nano-sized iron particles react in humans? Could they slip past the barriers to the brain that keep larger particles out? Or could they be a godsend to iron-deficient women? What's more, food manufacturers don't have to tell consumers or regulators whether their products contain nanoparticles. Nobody can say for sure which, if any, foods in Australia contain engineered nanomaterials (an Epicure investigation found only one brand - a line of body building supplements made by Advanced Sports Nutrition - claiming to contain nanomaterials). There are few rigorous studies of the effects of nanoparticles in humans and most laboratory research examines particles that are inhaled or injected rather than eaten.
It's these concerns that have this week prompted Friends of the Earth to call for a moratorium on all nanomaterials in food until nano-specific testing procedures and laws are developed. Nanomaterials should be regulated as new substances, the group insists, even where the properties of larger-scale counterparts are well-known. And mandatory labelling must be introduced.