104 products on shelves already contain
toxic 'grey goo' by stealth, say Friends of the Earth
Potentially toxic chemicals are being incorporated into food, packaging,
health supplements and other products by stealth, it is claimed.
Manufacturers boast that nanoparticles can deliver
drugs or vitamins more effectively, kill harmful bugs in food or
create self-cleaning windows.
But scientists, consumer groups and green campaigners
fear the technology is being introduced into the diet, body and
environment without proper safety checks.
Nanoparticles are 80,000 times thinner than a human
hair - so small they can cross membranes protecting the brain or
a baby in the womb.
Critics say it is not known how such tiny particles
will interact with the body and organs in the long term, whether
they are toxic or how long they will persist in the body.
Doom-mongers have warned that nanoparticles could
mutate and reproduce out of control, consuming all life on earth,
a scenario often referred to as "grey goo".
Yesterday a report by Friends of the Earth said current
regulations are "ill-equipped" to deal with the unique
properties of nanoparticles.
It said: "Despite concerns about the toxicity
risks of nanomaterials, consumers are unknowingly ingesting them
because regulators are struggling to keep pace with their rapidly
The study found at least 104 food and agricultural
products available in Europe, including the UK, which use nanotech
particles or technology.
This includes some nutritional supplements under the
Solgar brand, cling wrap and containers, antibacterial kitchenware,
processed meats, chocolate drinks, baby food and chemicals used
Friends of the Earth's food and farming spokesman,
Helen Holder, said: "Europeans should not be exposed to potentially
toxic materials in their food and food packaging until proper regulations
are in place to ensure their safety.
"In the absence of proper safety regulations
or mandatory labelling, consumers are being left in the dark about
the products they consume and are unknowingly putting their health
and the environment at risk."
A Government sponsored report, published before Christmas,
said a shortage of money for research had created an absence of
basic information about nanoparticle toxicology.
It said research into how long these tiny particles
persist in the body is urgently needed.
The consumer group Which? has called on the
Government to set up a task force to take immediate steps to establish
how nanotechnologies are being used in the UK and to urgently address
gaps in current regulations.