Nanomaterials in Foods

Engineered nanomaterials are being used and sold in common food products, but there is a lack of transparency by companies on this issue.

That’s according to a new reported released today by As You Sow, a public interest group based in Oakland, California.

The report is titled Slipping Through the Cracks: An Issue Brief on Nanomaterials in Food.

“We conducted a survey in 2012,” Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow and an author of the report told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview. “We asked 2,500 food manufacturers and distributors about their nano policies — whether they were using nanomaterials, whether they were engaged with their supply chains in determining whether there were nanomaterials.”

“Probably the biggest takeaway from that survey was that the majority of the companies didn’t respond and tell us if they were or were not using nanomaterials.”

“We still don’t know whether these companies are using nanomaterials or not, whether they are testing or working with their supply chains to understand whether nanomaterials are coming through the supply chains into their products,” Fugere said.

Of the 26 companies that did respond to the survey, 10 said that they did not know if they had nanomaterials in their products or supply chains and 14 companies stated that they were not using nanomaterials.

Two companies stated they have nanomaterials in their products: one company uses silver as an antibacterial in its products and the other uses nanomaterials in its packaging.

Neither of these two companies has a policy on nanomaterials nor has plans to develop one.

“It was a confidential survey, so we can’t make the names public,” Fugere said.

Since they got such a poor response from the companies, Fugere said that group decided to test for nanomaterials in food.

“There was a study from Europe indicating that nano titanium dioxide was found in food products,” Fugere said.

“We went to the stores and purchased white donuts. Many of them were listed as having titanium dioxide as a product. We wanted to see if these products had nano titanium dioxide.”

“We first tested for the presence of titanium dioxide. And then we tested for nano titanium dioxide.”

“We tested Dunkin Donuts and Hostess donuts — the white powdered variety.”

According to the report, test data revealed TiO2 nanoparticles of 10 nm or smaller in the white powdered sugar on both Dunkin’ Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts and Hostess Donettes.

“Whether these TiO2 nanoparticles were engineered or a byproduct of manufacturing processes is not known,” the report found.

As You Sow plans to continue to test more products including M&M’s, Trident gum, and Pop-Tarts as well as a range of other food products in the near future.

“We were particularly concerned about foods that children eat. Children are more susceptible to chemicals and particles, because their bodies and brains and still forming.”

“Particles that can move freely throughout the body and permeate the blood/brain barrier are of special concern when it comes to children.”

“There are studies finding that nanometals can move throughout the body and negatively impact the body,” she said.

“Food grade titanium dioxide has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But when those particles become so small, they don’t react like the larger additive.”

“The FDA has taken the position that food additives generally recognized as safe may not be safe at the nano scale.”

As You Sow reports that Nestle, Unilever and others are employing nanotechnology to change the structure of food.

“That information is from a report published by an insurance company and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” Fugere said.

What’s the technological benefit for having something smaller rather than larger?

“When working at the nanoscale, it is possible to manipulate the structures of materials to better achieve specific properties,” Fugere said. “Essentially, materials can be made stronger, lighter, more durable, or more reactive.”

Fugere said that her group has engaged with McDonald’s, Kraft, Whole Foods, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC).

“We began with resolutions against Kraft and McDonalds,” Fugere said.

“McDonald’s and Kraft Foods say they are not using nanomaterials in their food. And both have posted policies on their web sites,” she said.

“And then it became clear that there was not a lot of information, even within the companies we were talking to, about nanomaterials. It became clear that they did not know whether or not nanomaterials were coming to them through the supply chain.”

“We took a step back and developed a sourcing framework for products containing nanomaterials. That is a guide for companies on how they can assess the potential risk from sourcing products that contain nanomaterials. It has recommendations on how they can create policies and get accountability from their suppliers.”

[For the complete transcript of the Interview with Danielle Fugere, see 27 Corporate Crime Reporter 6(12), February 11, 2012, print edition only.]

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