Nanotecnología en nuestros alimentos
Nanoforum, a group from Europe, says in its recent report on Nanotechnology in Agriculture and Food that food is nanofood when “nanotechnology techniques or tools are used during cultivation, production, processing, or packaging of the food. It does not mean atomically modified food or food produced by nanomachines.” Although the definition seems to be artificially narrow with this exclusion, it still gives a good idea of how much food will be nanofood in the future.
The second Nano4Food Conference is around the corner. According to the conference webpage, nanotechnology will be able to solve a variety of problems in the food industry by enabling increases in productivity and cost-effectiveness; providing better food processing, packaging and logistics; helping in the design of new healthier and tastier products; and providing better food safety and quality assurance.
Envisioned applications are nanoscale biosensors for pathogen detection and diagnosis; nano-delivery of bioactive/nutrient ingredients in foodstuffs through improved knowledge of food materials at the nanoscale; and nanoscale filtration systems for improved texture modification.
According to the Helmut Kaiser Consultancy “more than 180 applications are in different developing stages and a few of them are on the market already. The nanofood market is expected to surge from 2.6 bn. US dollars today to 7.0 bn. US dollars in 2006 and to 20.4 bn. US dollars in 2010. More than 200 companies around the world are today active in research and development. USA is the leader followed by Japan and China. By 2010 Asian with more than 50 percent of the world population will be the biggest market for nanofood with the leading of China.”
Nanotechnology is envisioned to be usedin food production, processing, preservation, flavor and color improvement, hygiene, safety and packaging. Nanomaterials include nanocomposites, nanoclays, nanotubes and others. Nanosensors, nanoimaging and nanochips will be used, as will nanofilters. Nano delivery systems will use nanocapsules, nanocochleates, nanoballs, nanodevices, nanomachines and nanorobots.
The report Down on the Farm by the ETC Grou -- and others -- show that the issue is not simple (see Resources below). Questions have to be asked, such as: Are high-tech solutions the best option or are low-tech or no-tech solutions available, possible, and more feasible and effective? Golden rice is often used as an example for a high-tech solution to vitamin A deficiency but aren’t there other -- maybe better and cheaper -- ways available to deal with vitamin A deficiency? It is not self-evident or a forgone conclusion that high technology is the best or only solution for poverty, hunger and malnutrition (see UN report).
The Choice is Yours
Food is very important. It is your choice whether or not to get involved in the discourse on the scientific and technological modification of food. According to the UK food regulator, 'gaps' in regulating nanotechnology exist. It is your choice whether or not to get involved to make sure that these gaps are closed. It is also your choice to look at issues below the surface. In the case of nutraceuticals, for example, what is the best way to use bio, genetic, nano, low-tech, no-tech and social measures (or a combination) to eliminate malnutrition and disease -- especially for people in low-income countries.
Gregor Wolbring is a biochemist, bioethicist, science and technology ethicist, disability/vari-ability studies scholar, and health policy and science and technology studies researcher at the University of Calgary. He is a member of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University; Member CAC/ISO - Canadian Advisory Committees for the International Organization for Standardization section TC229 Nanotechnologies; Member of the editorial team for the Nanotechnology for Development portal of the Development Gateway Foundation; Chair of the Bioethics Taskforce of Disabled People's International; and Member of the Executive of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. He publishes the Bioethics, Culture and Disability website.