'Grey Goo' Nanoparticle
Food Could Swamp Britain
Britain is on the brink of a massive expansion in foods containing
controversial 'grey goo' nanoparticles, according to the former
head of the Food Standards Agency.
Low-calorie chocolate and beer that doesn't go flat could be
on sale within just five years, Lord Krebs said last night.
However, he and other peers believe there will be no requirement
for the hi-tech products to be labelled as containing nanoparticles
- microscopic compounds that can worm their way into the brain,
liver and kidneys with unknown consequences.
But critics said the public have the right to know what they
are putting into their bodies, and point out that new legislation
will mean that cosmetics that contain nanoparticles will have
to be clearly labelled.
Once derided by Prince Charles as 'grey goo', nanoparticles are
tiny particles - 300 million would fit in a pinhead - with powerful
properties that make them of interest to food companies.
Although they are small, they have a large surface area at which
key chemical reactions can take place. This means that relatively
low numbers of sugar nanoparticles can have the same effect as
a large amount of normal sugar, creating tasty chocolate or cakes
with a fraction of the calories.
The same principle could be applied to fat, allowing the creation
of low-fat icecreams and mayonnaise that taste like the real thing.
Nanotechnology-inspired packaging promises to improve food shelf-life,
and in the U.S. plastic beer bottles have been lined with 'nanoclay'
to stop the brew from going flat.
Lord Krebs chaired an inquiry by the House of Lords science and
technology committee into the safety of nanotechnology in food,
which found that although there is no evidence that the tiny particles
are harmful, there are 'large gaps' on our knowledge.
The committee called for the Food Standards-Agency to compile
a database of nanoproducts that can be accessed by the public.
The FSA is not in favour of nanoparticles being declared on food
labels, saying they are cluttered enough already.
The inquiry also criticised the food industry for being unnecessarily
' secretive' about the products it has in the pipeline. It said
this seemed mainly to be because it was concerned about the public's
Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation said: 'Given that
nanotechnology is in its infancy in the food and drink sector,
and that bringing innovations to market is a long and complex
process, we are surprised that the report seems to criticise the
food industry for an apparent reluctance to communicate extensively
on this subject.
'There are many questions and unknowns about the potential future
uses of nanotechnologies in our sector, and there is much work
still to be done by scientists, governments and regulators, as
well as the food and drink industry.'
January 8, 2010