CHOICE magazine invites consumers to think about nano

choice-imageSarah: Having recently renovated my house, I still subscribe to CHOICE magazine (so many white goods, so little time!). This month, CHOICE invites consumers to think about the presence of nanotechnology-enhanced products in their supermarket trolleys.   The editors seem adequately worried about the issue to have created a pretty scary image of a crazy-looking scientist promoting ‘nano milk’ and ‘nano pops’ to go with its article, entitled “Small stuff, but nanofood is a big deal’ (CHOICE March 2009, pages 40-42) or online here. Also appearing in the same edition is an article entitled ‘Safer sunscreens’ (CHOICE March 2009, page 7) or online here.

The ‘nutshell’ section of the longer article presents the following 3 points to consider:

  • Nanotechnology involves structures as small as molecules, with new and unexpected properties that could make them hazardous to health.
  • Nanofoods may already be on supermarket shelves with us knowing – and without violating current Australian food regulations.
  • CHOICE wants nanofoods better regulated to ensure they are both safe and properly labelled.

The CHOICE articles seem to have been prompted by some recent activity from Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Australian Office of Nanotechnology (AON). FOE have released a consumer guide listing companies which produce nanotechnology-free sunscreens; they also conducted a poll suggesting that 90% of Australians want safety checks on nanofood additives.  The AON found a similar level of concern in their poll, with just under 80% of respondents worried about accurate labelling of nanotechnology in foods.

All in all, CHOICE would like to see the following safeguards enacted in Australia:

  • A definition of ‘nano’ incorporated into the Food Standards Code
  • Appropriate safety assessments carried out by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
  • Specific labelling on all foods containing nanoparticles
  • All manufactured nanoparticles be treated as new chemicals and subjected to rigorous new safety testing – even those previously available in bulk form.

In researching this blog, I was most interested to read in the press release from FOE regarding skin protection that  “iconic ‘nano-sunscreen’ brands such as Invisible Zinc, previously endorsed by model Megan Gale, have changed their formulations to go ‘nano-free’.” We’ve had lots of discussions at Bridge8 about Invisible Zinc’s claim that their product is ‘micronised, not nano’: the website now contains specific (albeit brief) information addressing this point. Hmmm…..maybe I will give InvisibleZinc a go. I do love a local success story.

Comments

  1. Good blog posting. I think I agree with all of it.

    I’ve argued *against* labelling for GM foods…

    http://www.businessethics.ca/blog/2006/12/gm-foods-environment-and-corporate.html

    …but I think nano is substantially different. The science just isn’t there on the safety of nano-particles. Consumers *should* be worried.

  2. Thanks for your comments Chris. I think another important point to consider is that most consumers don’t even know what ‘nano’ is, and often don’t have the scientific background to comprehend its implications. Whereas GM foods have been beaten up so much and can be distorted with lots of talk of ‘foreign genes’ etc which most people can be scared off by.

    Limited knowledge versus none…..what’s worse? I don’t know! I just think we all need to learn some science.

  3. I think consumer awareness is good, but knowing what nano means doesn’t help you know whether nano-particles of titanium dioxide will or won’t do cellular damage, or whether carbon nanotubes will act like asbestos in your lungs.

    I think consumer information is great for things like caloric counts, and fibre content. I think for things like GM and nano, we need smart regulations.

  4. Yes, that’s true – informed and balanced regulations are critical. Public engagement with science is also important.

    Does Canada regulate nano products?

  5. No, as far as I know nano products aren’t subject to any special regulation yet in Canada.

  6. I was a little disapointed in the Choice article -not just for the factual errors that I spotted (eg. the Australian Office of Nanotechnology survey found that about 50% of the public were concerned about accurate labelling of nanotechnology in foods – not 80% – but also that the only orgnaisation listed for further information on nanotechnology was Friends of the Earth. There are many credible sources of consumer information on nanotechnology now available in Australia, and it does a disservice to the public to only provide one option. That is certainly not Choice, and if was researching an article on providing the pluses and minuses of nanotechnology that the public might like to consider – I would not be able to rate this article too highly.

  7. Dr Craig Cormick
    Manager of Community Engagement
    Australian Office of Nanotechnology

  8. Small Times has also picked up the CHOICE article. See http://smalltimes.com/news/display_news_story.cfm?Section=WireNews&Category=HOME&NewsID=175767. Not sure if it adds anything new though.

    It does seem that public information is fraught. It seems difficult to find a representative community group apart from those that tend towards anti-nano. Pros and Cons is just an argument. I’d rather see three categories of information: 1) benefits of nanotechnology development 2) anti-nano (and I support the place of all views here) and 3) nano as it might intersect with the public interests. Then at least ‘public’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘no nano’ and we have a chance for debate.

  9. Thanks for your comment Craig.

    NanoVic produced a series of podcasts which did touch on various aspects of this and related issues – see the website below if you are interested.

    http://www.nanovic.com.au/?a=nanosociety.podcast&p=253

    What would be your top 5 list of credible sources of info on nano in Australia?

  10. Nice mark out of things – Interesting – one could think this way also . Thanks for the post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: