As my grandmother once said…Size does matter!

size mattersMy grandmother was a huge inspiration for me especially in the world of cooking. She dedicated herself to growing, canning, baking and preserving much of the delectable German fare that graced our table. She always allowed me to indulge in culinary sport, creating my own concoctions such as rose and grape cookies or honey-barley moon cakes. My creativity ran amok as I freely mixed ingredients from different gastronomic hemispheres under her shocked but tolerant gaze. I will always remember her advice to be mindful of the small but powerful components, such as hot pepper or horseradish that could make a large impact despite their small relative size.

Today we have small and mighty materials in our food called nanoparticles to contend with. If my grandmother could contemplate these food components, what would she say?

She wouldn’t know where to begin to understand the nature of nanoparticles, because these materials have been reduced in size so small it boggles the mind. Nano means that they have been reduced at the molecular level to one billionth of a meter! The process consists of taking a substance and splicing it into the smallest imaginable particle that can exist and still be classified as the same material.  But the question remains: Is it really the same material with the same properties in macro size, or is it something that behaves differently?

Scientific evidence shows when a material is scaled down to this molecular level its reactivity and properties do change drastically. This very change is what makes it so valuable to science. But this change can also affect its toxicity to humans and animals. When a material is scaled down to one billionth of a meter it has more surface area per weight, meaning it is more reactive. The small size also allows the particles to pass through skin, cell walls and even human placentas. More reactive and easily passed through the body?? – It sounds like a recipe for those little things to become dangerous.

When I read an article in Mother Jones citing a study that found over 1600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market today I was a bit concerned. Who knew? The Headline read “Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food” naming several bands of yogurt, soy milk, chocolate and cheese that use nanoparticle to help brighten their brands. For the sake of ascetics they add the nanoparticle titanium dioxide. This tiny entity is used in very small amounts but it may be having an enormous impact on our health.

Back in 2012 the FDA took a look at nanoparticles and acknowledged that they pose risks that are substantially different from those of their regular-sized counterparts. “…Particle size and surface area may impact absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion… and potentially the safety of the nano-engineered food substance.” So the FDA agrees with my grandmother that size does really matter when it comes to our food. The FDA has done nothing more to test or regulate these little particles that, according to the Friends of the Earth report, are “entering the market at a rate of three to four new products per week.”

Friends of the Earth is pushing our government and policymakers in other countries to regulate nanotech industries with a precautionary approach that puts people’s health before corporate profits. They are pushing for the mandatory labeling of products that contain nanomaterials so that consumers can make informed decisions. – Read the full report here.

nanoparticlesNanoparticles are common in our socks, washing machines and most sunscreen products. Now they are being added to our food supply with little thought to the big impact they may be having.  The As you Sow group recently urged company shareholders to vote for safety before using nanoparticles to brighten their donuts. Over 18% of the shareholders voted to request a safety report to prove they are safe for human consumption before they are used.

I am glad my grandmother doesn’t have to look with shock and a bit of awe as we add these newcomers, these little ingredients with a big impact, to our recipes. I urge the FDA to conclude that the little things count and that size does matter. Let’s properly test, fully regulate and then label nanoparticles in our food.

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