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Posted: November 29, 2007
Fears over nanotechnology in food
(Nanowerk News) This is a transcript from AM, ABC Radio's flagship current affairs program in Australia on Thursday, November 29, 2007. The program is broadcast around Australia at 08:00 on ABC Local Radio.
TONY EASTLEY: The lifting of bans on genetically modified crops has revived the debate about the safety of the food we eat.
But the next step in industrial food production has got Australia's food regulator bracing itself for even more controversy.
Opponents to nanotechnology say it's a much scarier prospect than GM (genetically modified) food, and while it can make food look better and last longer, there are fears about how it might affect the human body.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: Imagine if the package your meal comes in could tell you before it goes off, or make a microwave lasagne brown on top, like a homemade one. These are the possibilities which have Australia's food safety regulator asking: how do you regulate when the packaging becomes part of the food?
The CEO (chief executive officer) of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Steve McCutcheon, says it's called interactive packaging, where the food takes in chemicals from the packet as it sits on the shelf.
STEVE MCCUTCHEON: At the moment, the shelf life of prepacked salad vegetables, it's fairly short, but with the application of this technology we understand that you could actually package fresh salads, and they would be fresh still after the 30-day period on the shelf.
SIMON LAUDER: The development that's given birth to the one-month fresh salad is called nanotechnology - working with particles thousands of times smaller that the width of a human hair.
It's not only for packaging, some companies want to use nanoparticles as ingredients in the food itself.
STEVE MCCUTCHEON: We understand that a company in the United States has applied for a patent to cover the use of titanium dioxide and silicone dioxide in chocolate, in nanoparticle form, to give the surface a gloss.
So at this stage we're aware of applications to use this technology in the marketplace, but whether that's actually happening or not, I don't know.
SIMON LAUDER: Would it be legal for someone to sell food using this technology in Australia?
STEVE MCCUTCHEON: Well, certainly, within Australia and New Zealand it wouldn't be legal. Any new forms of technology require pre-market approval. So Food Standards Australia New Zealand would be required to conduct an assessment of such a product that used that technology before it hit the market here.
SIMON LAUDER: Dr Rye Senjen is researching nanotechnology for Friends of the Earth. She says it could already be in some food we eat, and it's a bigger concern than genetically modified organisms.
RYE SENJEN: I think it's genetically engineering on steroids (phonetic), 'cause nanotechnology has much bigger application that will be applied to every single aspect of the food chain. It's much more scary.
SIMON LAUDER: Although nanotech food hasn't been approved, Dr Senjen says there's no law to prevent manufacturers using their regular ingredients in nanoparticle form.
RYE SENJEN: There's no legal requirement whatsoever to tell the regulator that now you've shrunk the particle size. It's not in the regulations. You don't even have to mention it!
SIMON LAUDER: She says nanoparticles are dangerous, simply because they're small and could breach the body's defences in ways no natural food can.
RYE SENJEN: You know, when you ingest something and then if it can cross from the digestive system to elsewhere, well it can go anywhere.
SIMON LAUDER: Steve McCutcheon from Food Standards Australia New Zealand says it's too early to say there are risks.
STEVE MCCUTCHEON: We don't know yet what the hazards and risks are from its application to food, if indeed there are any hazards or risks.
SIMON LAUDER: Mr McCutcheon says the regulator's only just beginning to look at the global evidence on the impact of eating nanoparticles.