“From biotechnology to nanotechnology, from the development of new forms of energy to research into treatments of ancient diseases, there is so much potential to change our world and improve our lives,” said President Obama in a September 21 speech in Troy, New York, during a speech outlining his innovation strategy.
Indeed, the innovations in nanotechnology (or simply “nanotech”) — the study of controlling matter on a molecular or atomic scale — are moving forward at full speed.
Last week, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work with graphene, a two-dimensional layer of carbon that has the thickness of a single atom, what Scientific American called “nanoscale chicken wire.”
Graphene has many possible applications. Because its entire volume is exposed to its surroundings, it can be used as a sensor for objects that exist on a molecular level. It has ideal properties for working in integrated circuits, ultracapacitors and sheets of graphene oxide can be used as anti-bacterial shields.
Physicists at UCLA have recently created a controllable “molecular spring” made out of DNA and attached it to an enzyme to effect and control a chemical reaction.
Many consumer products — clothing, disinfectants and household appliances, for example — currently contain passive nanomaterials that do not actually perform mechanical tasks.
A 2008 estimate by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies found over 800 publicly available manufacturer-identified nanotech products, with 3 to 4 new ones arriving on the market every week.
Nanotech is banned under the organic standards of Canada, the United Kingdom and the US-based Organic Crop Improvement Association. The European Parliament has called for a prohibition on nanotechnology in all food.
But the United States Department of Agriculture National Organic Program has not yet banned nanotechnology, and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is currently considering allowing nanotech in products that are labeled organic.
“Some NOSB members would rather hold a further symposium to talk about imagined obstacles to implementing a ban on nano in organic food production than acting swiftly to protect organic integrity,” according to Center for Food Safety. “These symposiums are typically used by industry as a delaying tactic.”
“A major reason why consumers shop for products that are certified organic is to avoid hazardous and unlabeled Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), toxic chemicals, and now the most recent, and likely most dangerous hi-tech poison of them all: nanotechnology,” according to a recent statement by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
“Nanotechnology is now a mega-billion dollar Frankenstein monster industry churning out a vast menu of untested and unlabeled products containing tiny nanoparticles including non-organic vitamin supplements, food packaging, processed food, cosmetics and sunscreens,” says the OCA.
“One of the most worrisome threats of nanoparticles is their unparalleled mobility: they can cross biological membranes, cell, tissues, and organs more readily than larger particles,” according to the Center for Food Safety.
“When inhaled, they can go from the lungs into the blood system. Some nanomaterials may penetrate intact skin and gain access to systemic circulation. When ingested, nanomaterials may pass through the gut wall and into the blood circulation. Some nanochemicals can cross the placental barrier and affect developing children. Once in the blood stream, nanomaterials can circulate throughout the entire body and lodge in organs and tissues.”
Consumers should consider these microscopic issues and help shape the discussion about exactly what is allowed into the food supply.
After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”
GET INVOLVED @ 13.7 BILLION YEARS