Nanotechnology-Enhanced Food: Already Here But Untested and Unregulated

What if you found out a new undetectable and untested technology was in your food?  Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation we are now in.  According to an article from Food Safety News, food processors are already using nanoparticle additives in our food to accomplish a variety of goals, but the FDA does not require these additives to be listed as ingredients!  In short, you don’t know what you’re eating or what effects these nano-ingredients might have on your health, and neither does anyone else because there has been no testing to prove safety.  Worse yet, the FDA – the agency we depend on for food safety – does not require testing of nano-scale additives, even though they are known to have characteristics that could be defined as risky, including the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.  So what does that mean to us in the intermediate and long term?

Clearly there may be significant benefits to using nano-scale additives, but there is no way to balance benefits against risks when the risks are not known.  That means there is no basis for allowing these additives in our food, and no way to do so without putting consumers at risk, the very thing the FDA is supposed to prevent.  If it weren’t for the complete failure of the agency on this score, nanoparticles might be a boon to humanity, but this leaves open the risk that nano-additives might create a disaster of incalculable proportions.

What if nano-additives take ten points off the IQ of the consumer, permanently? Will anyone be the wiser?  These simple questions illustrate the unqualified risks of using untested products and additives.  Take most of the population down ten IQ points and … I’ll let you consider the implications for even simple tasks like driving home from work.  Do the drivers seem dumber than they did a year ago?  How much dumber can they get?

Increased food supply problems could curb the population explosion.  What might happen if unregulated corporate domination of our food supply continues?  As the food industry “accidentally” brews up ever more virulent microorganisms in factory farms and processing facilities, perhaps they will hit on one that will be deadly, highly contagious, and immune to all known antibiotics.  Imagine a bacteria that is contagious the first day after infection, doesn’t show symptoms until past the third day, and kills 90% of those infected within two weeks.  Since the pathogen arrives in our food, it could infect thousands of people over a multi-state area in just the first day after it ships to stores, and tens of thousands before any symptoms are reported.  Between being passed from person to person and the continued consumption of the contaminated foodstuff, a million people could be infected before a recall is announced and the full effects of the disease are known.  In the meantime people would have traveled the world for days spreading the infection, and food would no longer be the main source. 

The Middle Ages had their “Black Death“, but what will we call our new plague?  The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population and reduced world population (est. 450 million) by about 22%, mostly between 1348 and 1350 AD.  Translating that to today’s population, that would mean losing over 1.5 billion people in just a few years.  At this scale, world and national economies would be thrown into turmoil as low margin industries collapsed and unemployment of the survivors skyrocketed.  Hardest hit areas would suffer disproportionately, unfortunately, as the economic upheaval could translate into political problems and war. 

A pandemic would be only a temporary setback to the population explosion.  The reduction of the birth rate after the plague would be even less a concern than it is today.  In fact, there would probably be a rebound as people felt the need to repopulate, replacing those lost in the pandemic.  There is no clear reason for a greater understanding of overpopulation to develop, as the problems we have today with ever-shorter supplies and long-term price increases would be no longer evident. 

In the end, explosive population growth would continue with only little delay.  Instead of seeing a population peak between 2040 and 2050, we might see the peak delayed to 2060, but it would be no better than we expect today.  Fossil fuel would be too expensive for the average person, with the exception of coal which now has limited application beyond large scale electricity generation and is very bad for the environment.  Food supplies would be stretched to the breaking point and become intermittent, with ever worsening quality and safety problems.

Unregulated nanoparticle use in the food supply is just the beginning.  More and newer technologies will be invented and introduced in the name of profits as much as progress.  Under relentless attack and megadollar influence from commercial entities, government agencies will do less and less to protect the consumer (us), and the prevalence of infectious agents and toxic additives in our food will increase.  As commercial activity scales up to handle the demands of the burgeoning population, problems in the supply chain such as the meat packing failures we see today will increase, and food will become increasingly risky.  If the FDA is unable to do a reasonable job of protecting us now, it is unlikely it will do better in the future. 

Please contact your legislators and let them know that you demand safe food, and that you expect the government to protect you in this matter since it is almost impossible for people to do this for themselves.  Corporations will only respond to firm regulation (though part of the response will be to spend millions to avoid them or make them “toothless”.)  Without effective regulation the food industry will serve us poorly, and will increasingly put us at risk of global pandemic.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Thanks in advance — Tim


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