$3.8 Million in Grants from USDA to Develop and Promote Nanotech in Food

By Cassius Methyl and Nick Bernabe

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is giving millions of dollars to universities across America for the development and study of nanotechnology to be used in food.

Despite research existing on the potential concerns over health and safety of nanotech in food, the USDA wants to push forward with nanotech in full force. This agency of the government is known for its revolving door relationship with Big Food.

A statement from the Center for Food Safety sums up the health concerns well:

The subject of nanotechnology and our food supply offers an alarming view of the potential for human health issues. Amazingly, the U.S. government currently does not regulate the use of nanotechnology in food products, despite its widespread use and serious public health concerns. Europe and the Canadian government have taken the first steps to limit the use of nanotechnology in food, but the U.S. has so far only issued draft guidelines to companies.

So what is this nanotechnology exactly? That’s a complicated question. According to the USDA,

Nanomaterials can occur naturally, for example in volcanic ash and ocean spray, and may also be incidental byproducts of human activity, such as homogenization or milling. They can also be produced intentionally with specific properties through certain chemical or physical processes.

These intentionally created nanomaterials have been in use in the US food supply for over ten years — mostly in packaging and processing. According to UnderstandingNano.com,

Clay nanocomposites are being used to provide an impermeable barrier to gasses such as oxygen or carbon dioxide in lightweight bottles, cartons and packaging films. Storage bins are being produced with silver nanoparticles embedded in the plastic. The silver nanoparticles kill bacteria from any material that was previously stored in the bins, minimizing health risks from harmful bacteria.

Nanotech is increasingly being pursued for use directly in the food we eat, rather than just in the packaging. According to Popular Mechanics:

The most commonly used nanoparticle in foods is titanium dioxide. It’s used to make foods such as yogurt and coconut flakes look as white as possible, provide opacity to other food colorings, and prevent ingredients from caking up. Nanotech isn’t just about aesthetics, however. The biggest potential use for this method involves improving the nutritional value of foods.

Nano additives can enhance or prevent the absorption of certain nutrients. In an email interview with Popular Mechanics, Jonathan Brown, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota, says this method could be used to make mayonnaise less fattening by replacing fat molecules with water droplets.

There has been a 1000% increase in nanotech used for food since 2008 and is now being deployed by major companies including Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, Nestle, Mars, Unilever, Smucker’s and Albertsons.

This is where the $3.8 million in USDA grants come in. According to the PDF released by the USDA, the grants entail;

University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI $450,100 | Tailor polyanhydride nanoparticles to encapsulate and release antibiotics to protect shrimp against bacterial pathogens.

Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA $447,788 | Obtain a basic understanding of starch-nanoclay interactions in dispersion; evaluate the disintegration, release, and antimicrobial properties of cross-linked, crystallized, and iodine-loaded starch fibers; determine the effect of alignment and drawing on thermomechanical properties of starch fibers; and assess the feasibility of using a multi-jet electrospinning setup to scale the electrospinning process for starch fiber production. 

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ $450,000 | Complete a national survey that will examine the acceptance of food nanotechnology; assess consumers’ beliefs about the relationship of nanotechnology to healthfulness; evaluate acceptability of nanomaterials in functional foods and pet food applications; examine the acceptable characteristics of nano-enabled smart food packaging; assess use value of visuals communicating the potential for nanotechnology; and examine how consumers use visuals to interpret nanotechnology concepts.

The Rutgers University grant reveals that the USDA will be funding market research to directly benefit the businesses seeking to manufacture and market nanotechnology for food.

What are the real implications of this? There’s one thing for sure; the element of power is a very necessary thing to consider. With all technology like this, monopolization and hierarchical structures are a potential problem. The USDA and other health oversight agencies have a long track record of approving controversial practices used in our food that later turn out to have deadly health and environmental impacts. Understanding the current players in the agro-tech business including Monsanto and Syngenta, you can see how this could end badly.

The implications of this are significant for the future of Agorism, sustainable food, independent agricultural business, monopolization of food, the health of the people consuming this food, and much more.

No one is saying that nanotech in food is inherently bad (actually this article does, and so does this oneEd.), but with the history of the organizations funding this technology, people are naturally suspicious. More research is needed and concerns must be addressed before nanotech in our food becomes our next big mistake.

Please share this with as many people as possible. It is relevant to everyone.

Cassius Methlyl and Nick Bernabe write for TheAntiMedia.org, where this first appeared, Tune in! The Anti-Media radio show airs Monday through Friday @ 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: National Cancer Institute. Help us fix our typos: edits@theantimedia.org.

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