The United States Food and Drug Administration has long been criticized for its lax standards on genetically modified foods, the overuse of drugs on farm animals, and chemicals in food, and now they may be opening the door to a whole new controversy: nanotechnology.
The FDA recently said that it is interested in new products from pharmaceutical companies and livestock feed manufacturers designed to make animals gain weight faster or absorb medications more quickly, a report from Reuters said.
The news comes even amid a growing natural and organic food movement in the United States and worldwide, and is likely to draw criticism from a wide variety of environmental and food safety groups.
Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of substances at the atomic or molecular level and may be able to improve the shelf life of food or change the way that “medicated animal feeds” are absorbed by animals among other potential uses.
But the side effects of such technologies, which are highly difficult to test, could have many unintended consequences.
The Friends of the Earth organization for example released a special report on nanotechnology that documented a tenfold increase in unregulated, unlabeled “nanofood” products on the American market since 2008, and noted the growing body of scientific evidence indicating they may be more toxic to humans and the environment.
Another Toothless FDA Safety Policy?
The FDA said it is “particularly interested” in using nanotechnology to intentionally change the tangible properties of animal feed and livestock drugs.
Nano-silver is one type of nanotechnology product that Friends of the Earth says may specifically cause problems in terms of antibiotic resistance, which is becoming an increasingly troublesome problem and health concern, especially in the meat production sector.
The FDA is saying that pharmaceutical companies and food additive makers should “consult with the agency” before using new products because of a lack of safety data on the technologies, but consumer advocates are concerned that testing and regulations will not be adequate for such a new and untested technology with wide-ranging effects, especially FOE.
The FDA released the following statement:
“We are taking a prudent scientific approach to assess each product on its own merits and are not making broad, general assumptions about the safety of nanotechnology products,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.
In the meantime, the FDA will take public comments from now until Sept. 10 on the draft guidance for nanotechnology in animal feeds.