Nanobots in Your Food

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A recent meeting of the Institute for Food Technologists included presentations on applications of nanotechnology to food. These, say food technologists, have the potential to improve the safety, quality, and shelf life of foods. They cite as examples anti-microbial coatings on food packaging materials and improved delivery systems for vitamin and flavor ingredients.

Nanotechnology deals with substances at the atomic and molecular levels, which means really, really small. One nanometer is 0.000,000,001 meters (10 to the minus 9, or one millionth of a millimeter).

Until now, I haven't said anything about food nanotechnology because I really don't know what to say about it. Is it safe? How would we know? Friends of the Earth says nanotechnology is the antithesis of organic agriculture and represents a new threat to our food supply. Even Food Technology thinks it should be disclosed on package labels.

The FDA says it already has the authority to regulate food nanotechnology. The industry says that overly strict regulations are impeding progress in this industry (sounds like the GMO arguments, no?).

What's going on here?  I'm having trouble getting a handle on this one. If you know something about this, comments are most welcome.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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