Risky food business


Something has been quietly slipping into food products. Tiny nanoparticles have been finding their way into a number of items on the supermarket shelves, unlabelled and subject to minimal regulation. A number of scientists and environment groups are calling for greater oversight and precaution.

In terms of its size, a nanoparticle measures less than 100 nanometres (nm) in at least one dimension. To put this in perspective, a sheet of paper is about 100,000nm thick. Particles of such size can exhibit unusual behaviour more in common with the quantum realm and are generally more reactive. Their tiny size alone represents a potential safety issue.


Nanotechnology foods have some similarities to genetic modification of food. Both are novel technologies that were quietly introduced into the food supply without any fanfare and suffer from a lack of consumer enthusiasm that can extend to mistrust. In both cases, there is a tension between democratised low-tech food and the corporate world of high-tech.

Food manufacturers may add nanofoods to their products for reasons like extended shelf life, altered texture, enhanced nutritional qualities and changes in taste. Sometimes the nano-scale intensifies the properties of conventional ingredients, an example being nanosalt grains that have a greater surface area and

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