Category Archives: food

Walgreens (US-based pharmacy), As You Sow (civil society), and engineered hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles

As You Sow has graced this blog before, notably in a March 13, 2015 posting about their success getting the corporate giant, Dunkin’ Donuts, to stop its practice of making powdered sugar whiter by adding nanoscale (and other scales) of titanium dioxide. What’s notable about As You Sow is that it files shareholder resolutions (in other words, the society owns shares of their corporate target) as one of its protest tactics.

This time, As You Sow has focused on Walgreens, a US pharmacy giant. This company has chosen a response that differs from Dunkin’ Donuts’ according to a Sept. 21, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Rather than respond to shareholder concerns that Walgreens’ store-brand infant formula may contain harmful, “needle-like” nanomaterials, Walgreens filed a motion with the SEC [US Securities and Regulatory Commission] to block the inquiry.

A Sept. 21, 2016 As You Sow press release, which originated the news item, fills in a few details,

Walgreen’s Well Beginnings™ Advantage® infant formula has been reported to contain engineered hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles, according to independent laboratory testing commissioned by nonprofit group Friends of the Earth. The E.U. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has determined that nano-HA may be toxic to humans and that the needle-form of nano-HA should not be used in products.

Walgreens’ “no-action letter” to the SEC argues that the company can exclude the shareholder proposal because “the use of nanomaterials in products … does not involve a significant social policy issue.” The company also claims its infant formula does not contain engineered nanomaterials, contrary to the independent laboratory testing.

“Walgreens is effectively silencing shareholder discussion of this subject,” said Austin Wilson, Environmental Health Program Manager of shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. “If Walgreens had responded to consumers’ and investors’ concerns, there would be no need for shareholders to file a proposal.”

“Shareholders will ultimately bear the burden of litigation if infants are harmed,” said Danielle Fugere, President and Chief Counsel of As You Sow. “Walgreens’ attempt to silence, rather than address, shareholder concerns raises red flags. To be successful, Walgreens must remain a trusted name for consumers and it can’t do that by sweeping new health studies under the rug.”

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles that can permeate cell membranes and travel throughout the body, including into organs, in ways that larger ingredients cannot. The extremely small size of nanoparticles may result in greater toxicity for human health and the environment.

The shareholder proposal asks the company to issue a report about actions the company is taking to reduce or eliminate the risk of nanoparticles.

In 2014, Dunkin’ Donuts reached an agreement with As You Sow to remove the nanoparticle titanium dioxide from its donuts. Starbucks plans to remove it from all products by 2017, and Krispy Kreme is reformulating its products to exclude titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.

To seemingly dismiss concerns about their brand infant formula appears to be an odd tactic for Walgreens. After all this is infant safety and it’s the kind of thing that makes people very, very angry. On the other hand, Friends of the Earth has not always been scrupulous in its presentation of ‘facts’ (see my Feb. 9, 2012 posting).

2016 hasn’t been a good year for Walgreens. In June they ended their high profile partnership with blood testing startup, Theranos. From a June 13, 2016 article by Abigail Tracy for Vanity Fair,

After months of getting pummeled at the hands of regulators and the media over its questionable blood-testing technology, Theranos may have just been dealt its final blow. Walgreens, the main source of Theranos’s customers, has officially ended its partnership with the embattled biotech company, cutting off a critical revenue stream for founder Elizabeth Holmes’s once-promising start-up.

In a statement issued Sunday [June 12, 2016], the drugstore chain announced that it was terminating its nearly three-year-long relationship with the once $9 billion company and would immediately close all 40 Theranos-testing locations in its Arizona stores, The Wall Street Journal reports. Like so many in Silicon Valley, Walgreens fell victim to Holmes’s claims that Theranos’s technology, and its proprietary diagnostic product, Edison, would revolutionize blood testing and put its rivals, Laboratory Corporation of America and Quest Diagnostics, out of business. When it inked its deal with Holmes in 2013, Walgreens failed to properly vet the Edison technology, which was billed as being capable of conducting hundreds of diagnostics tests with just a few drops of blood.

You can read more about the Theranos situation in Tracy’s June 13, 2016 article and I have some details in a Sept. 2, 2016 posting where I feature the scandal and the proposed movie about Theranos (and other ‘science’ movies).

Getting back to Walgreens, you can find the As You Sow resolution here.

Synthite and its new ‘nano’ line of intensely coloured natural extracts

Synthite Industries, an Indian firm, has just announced a new line of intensely coloured natural extracts  using a nanotechnology process. There’s a little more detail in an Aug. 25, 2016 news article by Robin Wyers for foodingredientsfirst.com,

Indian extracts company Synthite has introduced a new line of colors derived from a nanotechnology process that offers a much brighter and better hue and therefore requires far lower dosages in use. Vextrano is the result of incessant research and scientific deliberations with an aim to give key characteristics to spices and spice derived products at an elemental level. The purpose of the exercise is multi-faceted with a view to develop an array of novel products that can achieve customized applications in food, beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Ashish Sharma (…) at Synthite briefly explained the concept to FoodIngredientsFirst: “This is a new product range which we commercialized in the market two months ago. We have bought a new plant for the production of these products. We are deriving this range from natural sources. For red colors we are using chili or paprika. For yellow, turmeric, and for green colors we are using black pepper [piperin]. …

“The key thing,” he notes, “is that when we are reducing the size of the particles to a very small level [to a particle level of 180-200 mesh], the dispersion of the light in any solvent is very good. That’s why you get the hue of the color much better.” In scientific terms, the process of maximizing the various active ingredients in a spice by reducing the size and inter molecular porosity to a feasible and ideal extent, without altering its molecular structure, leads to reduced energy consumption, waste generation and time required to achieve the end result in an application.

Sharma stresses that there are no regulatory issues around the use of this new line.  …

Synthite is just starting to roll the product out into market. …

So far, however, the product is only being sold in India, but it will be exported too, with the next promotion occurring at Fi South America, which is currently taking place in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Vextrano is positioned as a vision for the future based on value addition to the bio-ingredients from spices. Synthite’s range includes: turmeric, spinach, piperine, marigold, paprika, black pepper, annatto and lutein.

Synthite Industries has a Wikipedia entry (Synthite Industrial Chemicals); Note: Links have been removed),

Synthite Industries Ltd (Synthite) is an Indian oleoresin extraction firm, supplying ingredients to the major food, fragrance and flavour houses. The company is based in Kochi. In 2008, it had 30% of the world’s market share,.[1][2]

The company was established in 1972 with 20 employees. It was founded by C.V. Jacob, who started the company after working in civil construction for two decades. Initially it produced industrial chemicals before shifting to oleoresins.[3] The oleoresin business was initially based on research by the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore. However, the technology developed was not yet mature, and it took several years of additional research and development by Synthite to make the technology viable. It took another four years before they convinced food producers that they could produce quality products on time.[2]

By 2008, it has grown to 450 crore and 1200 employees, with a 2012 goal of 1,000 crore.[1] The company achieved this goal, with a total of 2,000 employees. The company only began selling directly to consumers in its native India in 2014.[4] Some of its major clients include Nestle, Bacardi and Pepsi.[4] The company is currently run by the founder’s son, Viju Jacob.[5]

The company produces oleoresin spices, essential oils, food colors, and sprayed products. It also has products that are organic and fair-trade. The company also has investments in realty and hospitality.[1]

You can find Synthite here but I haven’t found anything about Vextrano on that site. However, there is a LinkedIn account for Vextrano here.

Nano and food discussion for beginners

I try to make sure there are a range of posts here for various levels of ‘nanotechnology sophistication’ but over time I’ve given less attention to ‘beginner’ posts, i.e., pieces where nanotechnology basics are explained as best as possible. This is largely due to concerns about repetition; I mean, how many times do you want to read that nano means one billionth?

In that spirit, this June 22, 2016 news item on Nanowerk about food and nanotechnology provides a good entry piece that is not terribly repetitive,

Every mouthful of food we eat is teeming with chemical reactions. Adding ingredients and cooking helps us control these reactions and makes the food taste better and last longer. So what if we could target food at the molecular level, sending in specially designed particles to control reactions even more tightly? Well, this is exactly what scientists are trying to do and it has already produced some impressive results – from food that tastes salty without the health risks of adding salt, to bread that contains healthy fish oil but without any fishy aftertaste.

But while this nanotechnology could significantly enhance our food, it also raises big questions about safety. We only have to look at the strong reaction against genetically modified foods to see how important this issue is. How can we ensure that nanotechnology in food will be different? Will our food be safe? And will people accept these new foods?

Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that creates and uses materials and particles at the scale of a nanometre, one billionth of a metre. To get an understanding of just how small this is, if you imagine a nanoparticle was the size of a football then an animal like a sheep would be as big as our planet.

Working with such small particles allows us to create materials and products with improved properties, from lighter bicycles and more durable beer bottles to cosmetic creams with better absorption and toothpastes that stop bacteria from growing. Being able to change a material’s properties means nanotechnology can help create many innovative food products and applications that change the way we process, preserve and package foods.

For example, nanotechnology can be used for “smart” packaging that can monitor the condition of foods while they are stored and transported. When foods are contaminated or going off, the sensors on the packaging pick up gases produced by bacteria and change colour to alert anyone who wants to eat the food.

A June 22, 2016 essay by Seda Erdem (University of Stirling; UK) on The Conversation, which originated the news item, provides more information in this excerpt,

Silver is already used in healthcare products such as dental equipment for its antibacterial properties. Nano-sizing silver particles improves their ability to kill bacteria because it increases the surface area of silver the bacteria are exposed to. Israeli scientists found that also coating packaging paper with nano-sized silver particles [also known as silver nanoparticles] combats bacteria such as E. coli and extends product shelf life.

Another example of nanotechnology’s use in food manufacturing is nano-encapsulation. This technology has been used to mask the taste and odour of tuna fish oil so that it could be used to enrich bread with heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil particles are packed into a film coating that prevents the fish oil from reacting with oxygen and releasing its smell. The nanocapsules break open only when they reach the stomach so you can receive the health benefits of eating them without experiencing the odour.

Meanwhile, researchers at Nottingham University are looking into nanoscale salt particles than can increase the saltiness of food without increasing the amount of salt.

As with silver, breaking salt into smaller nanosize increases its surface area. This means its flavour can be spread more efficiently. The researchers claim this can reduce the salt content of standard crisps by 90% while keeping the same flavour.

Despite all the opportunities nanotechnology offers the food industry, most developments remain at the research and development stage. This slow uptake is due to the lack of information about the health and environmental impacts of the technology. For example, there is a concern whether ingested nanomaterials migrate to different parts of the body and accumulate in certain organs, such as liver and kidneys. This may then affect the functionality of these organs in the medium to long term.

Unknown risks

However, our knowledge of the risks associated with the use of nanomaterials is incomplete. These issues need to be better understood and addressed for the public to accept nanotechnology in food. This will also depend on the public’s understanding of the technology and how much they trust the food industry and the regulatory process watching over it.

Research has shown, for example, that consumers are more likely to accept nanotechnology when it is used in food packaging rather than in food processing. But nanotechnology in food production was seen as more acceptable if it increased the food’s health benefits, although consumers weren’t necessarily willing to pay more for this.

In our recent research, we found no strong attitudes towards or resistance to nanotechnology in food packaging in the UK. But there was still concern among a small group of consumers about the safety of foods. This shows how important it will be for food producers and regulators to provide consumers with the best available information about nanotechnology, including any uncertainties about the technology.

There you have it.

Biodegradable films from cellulose nanofibrils

A team at Purdue University (Indiana, US) has developed a new process for biodegradable films based on cellulose according to a June 8, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Purdue University researchers have developed tough, flexible, biodegradable films from cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls. The films could be used for products such as food packaging, agricultural groundcovers, bandages and capsules for medicine or bioactive compounds.

Food scientists Srinivas Janaswamy and Qin Xu engineered the cellophane-like material by solubilizing cellulose using zinc chloride, a common inorganic salt, and adding calcium ions to cause the cellulose chains to become tiny fibers known as nanofibrils, greatly increasing the material’s tensile strength. The zinc chloride and calcium ions work together to form a gel network, allowing the researchers to cast the material into a transparent, food-grade film.

A June 7, 2016 Purdue University news release by Natalie van Hoose, which originated the news item, discusses the need for these films and provides a few more technical details about the work (Note: A link has been removed),

“We’re looking for innovative ways to adapt and use cellulose – an inexpensive and widely available material – for a range of food, biomedical and pharmaceutical applications,” said Janaswamy, research assistant professor of food science and principal author of the study. “Though plastics have a wide variety of applications, their detrimental impact on the environment raises a critical need for alternative materials. Cellulose stands out as a viable option, and our process lays a strong foundation for developing new biodegradable plastics.”

Cellulose’s abundance, renewability and ability to biodegrade make it a promising substitute for petroleum-based products. While a variety of products such as paper, cellophane and rayon are made from cellulose, its tightly interlinked structure and insolubility – qualities that give plants strength and protection – make it a challenging material to work with.

Janaswamy and Xu loosened the cellulose network by adding zinc chloride, which helps push cellulose’s closely packed sheets apart, allowing water to penetrate and solubilize it. Adding calcium ions spurs the formation of nanofibrils through strong bonds between the solubilized cellulose sheets. The calcium ions boost the tensile strength of the films by about 250 percent.

The production process preserves the strength and biodegradability of cellulose while rendering it transparent and flexible.

Because the zinc chloride can be recycled to repeat the process, the method offers an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional means of breaking down cellulose, which tend to rely on toxic chemicals and extreme temperatures.

“Products based on this film can have a no-waste lifecycle,” said Xu, research assistant professor of food science and first author of the study. “This process allows us to create a valuable product from natural materials – including low-value or waste materials such as corn stover or wood chips- that can eventually be returned to the Earth.”

The methodology could be adapted to mass-produce cellulose films, the researchers said.

The next step in the project is to find ways of making the cellulose film insoluble to water while maintaining its ability to biodegrade.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A facile route to prepare cellulose-based films by Qin Xu, Chen Chen, Katelyn Rosswurm, Tianming Yao, Srinivas Janaswamy. Carbohydrate Polymers Volume 149, 20 September 2016, Pages 274–281 doi:10.1016/j.carbpol.2016.04.114

This paper is behind a paywall.

Australia and New Zealand weigh in on nanotechnology and food

Two reports from FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) on nanotechnology and food were released in early June 2016 according to a June 2, 2016 Science Media Centre New Zealand press release,

Nanomaterials currently used in food additives and packaging do not appear to pose a health risk but we will need to keep an eye on newer materials in the pipeline, reports Trans-tasman food regulator.

FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) has released two reports reviewing the evidence for the safety of nanotechnologies in food packaging and food additives.

Certain compounds, when engineered as particles measuring on the nano scale (one billionth of a meter), can exhibit certain properties; for example, nano-silver particles have antimicrobial properties.

More information can be found on the FSANZ website’s Food and Nanotechnology Report webpage,

In 2015 an expert toxicologist prepared two reports for FSANZ on the potential use of nanotechnologies in existing food additives and food packaging. The reports were then peer reviewed by an expert pharmacologist and toxicologist to evaluate whether the conclusions for each of the reports were supported by the weight of evidence in scientific literature.  The peer review agreed with the overall conclusions of the reports.

Scope of the work 

The consultant was asked to review publically available scientific literature on whether there is reasonable evidence of health risks associated with oral ingestion of titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide and silver in food.  These food additives may contain a proportion of material with at least one dimension in the nanoscale range. 

As an extension of this work, evidence of risks to health from nanomaterials used in food packaging was also investigated.

Key findings

  • The consultant reviewed the evidence on nanoscale silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver in food and found the weight of evidence does not support claims of significant health risks for food grade materials.
  • Titanium dioxide and silicon dioxide are used internationally in a range of food products and have been used safely for decades. They are approved food additives in Australia and New Zealand. Silver is also an approved additive in Australia and New Zealand but is permitted in very few foods.

  • Overall, the findings of the report are consistent with recently published information in the OECD’s Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials Sponsorship Programme for the Testing of Manufactured Nanomaterials toxicological dossiers on silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and silver.

  • There is no direct evidence to suggest novel nanomaterials are currently being used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand, with most patents found from the United States.

  • From the case studies on the use of nano-clay and nano silver in packaging, the report concludes that there is no evidence from the literature of migration of nano-clay from packaging into food.  The nanoscale nature of nanosilver (whether used in packaging or food) is also not likely to be dangerous to consumer’s health. 

  • An independent peer review agreed with the overall analysis and conclusions of both reports stating that they were appropriately balanced in their reporting and that none of the nanotechnologies described are of health concern.

You can find (1) Potential Health Risks Associated with Nanotechnologies in Existing Food Additives here and (2)  Nanotechnologies in Food Packaging: an Exploratory Appraisal of Safety and Regulation here.

There is also a June 7, 2016 essay about these reports by Ian Rae for The Conversation,

We know that nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics can penetrate the skin, and this raises questions about what they can do in the body. …

For the most part, I found the piece informative and interesting but there is one flaw as can be seen in the sentence I’ve excerpted. In fact, there is very little penetration by nanoparticles found in sunscreens as noted in my Oct. 4, 2012 posting and those findings do appear to have been contradicted in the years since.

Nanoparticles in baby formula

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU [Arizona State University] researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Nanowerk is featuring an essay about hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in baby formula written by Dr. Andrew Maynard in a May 17, 2016 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

There’s a lot of stuff you’d expect to find in baby formula: proteins, carbs, vitamins, essential minerals. But parents probably wouldn’t anticipate finding extremely small, needle-like particles. Yet this is exactly what a team of scientists here at Arizona State University [ASU] recently discovered.

The research, commissioned and published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) – an environmental advocacy group – analyzed six commonly available off-the-shelf baby formulas (liquid and powder) and found nanometer-scale needle-like particles in three of them. The particles were made of hydroxyapatite – a poorly soluble calcium-rich mineral. Manufacturers use it to regulate acidity in some foods, and it’s also available as a dietary supplement.

Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay first appeared on The Conversation website,

Looking at these particles at super-high magnification, it’s hard not to feel a little anxious about feeding them to a baby. They appear sharp and dangerous – not the sort of thing that has any place around infants. …

… questions like “should infants be ingesting them?” make a lot of sense. However, as is so often the case, the answers are not quite so straightforward.

Andrew begins by explaining about calcium and hydroxyapatite (from The Conversation),

Calcium is an essential part of a growing infant’s diet, and is a legally required component in formula. But not necessarily in the form of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles.

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system.

He then discusses size and shape, which are important at the nanoscale,

Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.

These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.

Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Currently, hydroxyapatite is considered safe at the macroscale by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the agency has indicated that nanoscale versions of safe materials such as hydroxyapatite may not be safe food additives. From Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay,

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system. Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Putting particle size to one side for a moment, hydroxyapatite is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “Generally Regarded As Safe.” That means it considers the material safe for use in food products – at least in a non-nano form. However, the agency has raised concerns that nanoscale versions of food ingredients may not be as safe as their larger counterparts.Some manufacturers may be interested in the potential benefits of “nanosizing” – such as increasing the uptake of vitamins and minerals, or altering the physical, textural and sensory properties of foods. But because decreasing particle size may also affect product safety, the FDA indicates that intentionally nanosizing already regulated food ingredients could require regulatory reevaluation.In other words, even though non-nanoscale hydroxyapatite is “Generally Regarded As Safe,” according to the FDA, the safety of any nanoscale form of the substance would need to be reevaluated before being added to food products.Despite this size-safety relationship, the FDA confirmed to me that the agency is unaware of any food substance intentionally engineered at the nanoscale that has enough generally available safety data to determine it should be “Generally Regarded As Safe.”Casting further uncertainty on the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in food, a 2015 report from the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) suggests there may be some cause for concern when it comes to this particular nanomaterial.Prompted by the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in dental products to strengthen teeth (which they consider “cosmetic products”), the SCCS reviewed published research on the material’s potential to cause harm. Their conclusion?

The available information indicates that nano-hydroxyapatite in needle-shaped form is of concern in relation to potential toxicity. Therefore, needle-shaped nano-hydroxyapatite should not be used in cosmetic products.

This recommendation was based on a handful of studies, none of which involved exposing people to the substance. Researchers injected hydroxyapatite needles directly into the bloodstream of rats. Others exposed cells outside the body to the material and observed the effects. In each case, there were tantalizing hints that the small particles interfered in some way with normal biological functions. But the results were insufficient to indicate whether the effects were meaningful in people.

As Andrew also notes in his essay, none of the studies examined by the SCCS OEuropean Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) looked at what happens to nano-hydroxyapatite once it enters your gut and that is what the researchers at Arizona State University were considering (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

The good news is that, according to preliminary studies from ASU researchers, hydroxyapatite needles don’t last long in the digestive system.

This research is still being reviewed for publication. But early indications are that as soon as the needle-like nanoparticles hit the highly acidic fluid in the stomach, they begin to dissolve. So fast in fact, that by the time they leave the stomach – an exceedingly hostile environment – they are no longer the nanoparticles they started out as.

These findings make sense since we know hydroxyapatite dissolves in acids, and small particles typically dissolve faster than larger ones. So maybe nanoscale hydroxyapatite needles in food are safer than they sound.

This doesn’t mean that the nano-needles are completely off the hook, as some of them may get past the stomach intact and reach more vulnerable parts of the gut. But the findings do suggest these ultra-small needle-like particles could be an effective source of dietary calcium – possibly more so than larger or less needle-like particles that may not dissolve as quickly.

Intriguingly, recent research has indicated that calcium phosphate nanoparticles form naturally in our stomachs and go on to be an important part of our immune system. It’s possible that rapidly dissolving hydroxyapatite nano-needles are actually a boon, providing raw material for these natural and essential nanoparticles.

While it’s comforting to know that preliminary research suggests that the hydroxyapatite nanoparticles are likely safe for use in food products, Andrew points out that more needs to be done to insure safety (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

And yet, even if these needle-like hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in infant formula are ultimately a good thing, the FoE report raises a number of unresolved questions. Did the manufacturers knowingly add the nanoparticles to their products? How are they and the FDA ensuring the products’ safety? Do consumers have a right to know when they’re feeding their babies nanoparticles?

Whether the manufacturers knowingly added these particles to their formula is not clear. At this point, it’s not even clear why they might have been added, as hydroxyapatite does not appear to be a substantial source of calcium in most formula. …

And regardless of the benefits and risks of nanoparticles in infant formula, parents have a right to know what’s in the products they’re feeding their children. In Europe, food ingredients must be legally labeled if they are nanoscale. In the U.S., there is no such requirement, leaving American parents to feel somewhat left in the dark by producers, the FDA and policy makers.

As far as I’m aware, the Canadian situation is much the same as the US. If the material is considered safe at the macroscale, there is no requirement to indicate that a nanoscale version of the material is in the product.

I encourage you to read Andrew’s essay in its entirety. As for the FoE report (Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny new ingredients are a big concern), that is here.

AquAdvantage salmon (genetically modified) approved for consumption in Canada

This is an update of the AquAdvantage salmon story covered in my Dec. 4, 2015 post (scroll down about 40% of the way). At the time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just given approval for consumption of the fish. There was speculation there would be a long hard fight over approval in Canada. This does not seem to have been the case, according to a May 10, 2016 news item announcing Health Canada’s on phys.org,

Canada’s health ministry on Thursday [May 19, 2016] approved a type of genetically modified salmon as safe to eat, making it the first transgenic animal destined for Canadian dinner tables.

This comes six months after US authorities gave the green light to sell the fish in American grocery stores.

The decisions by Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration follow two decades of controversy over the fish, which is an Atlantic salmon injected with genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and a fish known as the ocean pout to make it grow faster.

The resulting fish, called AquAdvantage Salmon, is made by AquaBounty Technologies in Massachusetts, and can reach adult size in 16 to 18 months instead of 30 months for normal Atlantic salmon.

A May 19, 2016 BIOTECanada news release on businesswire provides more detail about one of the salmon’s Canadian connections,

Canadian technology emanating from Memorial University developed the AquAdvantage salmon by introducing a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon into the genome of Atlantic salmon. This results in a salmon which grows faster and reaches market size quicker and AquAdvantage salmon is identical to other farmed salmon. The AquAdvantage salmon also received US FDA approval in November 2015. With the growing world population, AquaBounty is one of many biotechnology companies offering safe and sustainable means to enhance the security and supply of food in the world. AquaBounty has improved the productivity of aquaculture through its use of biotechnology and modern breeding technics that have led to the development of AquAdvantage salmon.

“Importantly, today’s approval is a result of a four year science-based regulatory approval process which involved four federal government departments including Agriculture and AgriFood, Canada Food Inspection Agency, Environment and Climate Change, Fisheries and Oceans and Health which demonstrates the rigour and scope of science based regulatory approvals in Canada. Coupled with the report from the [US] National Academy of Sciences today’s [May 19, 2016] approval clearly demonstrates that genetic engineering of food is not only necessary but also extremely safe,” concluded Casey [Andrew Casey, President and CEO BIOTECanada].

There’s another connection, the salmon hatcheries are based in Prince Edward Island.

While BIOTECanada’s Andrew Casey is crowing about this approval, it should be noted that there was a losing court battle with British Columbia’s Living Oceans Society and Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre both challenging the federal government’s approval. They may have lost *the* battle but, as the cliché goes, ‘the war is not over yet’. There’s an Issue about the lack of labeling and there’s always the  possibility that retailers and/or consumers may decide to boycott the fish.

As for BIOTECanada, there’s this description from the news release,

BIOTECanada is the national industry association with more than 230 members reflecting the diverse nature of Canada’s health, industrial and agricultural biotechnology sectors. In addition to providing significant health benefits for Canadians, the biotechnology industry has quickly become an essential part of the transformation of many traditional cornerstones of the Canadian economy including manufacturing, automotive, energy, aerospace and forestry industries. Biotechnology in all of its applications from health, agriculture and industrial is offering solutions for the collective population.

You can find the BIOTECanada website here.

Personally, I’m a bit ambivalent about it all. I understand the necessity for changing our food production processes but I do think more attention should be paid to consumers’ concerns and that organizations such as BIOTECanada could do a better job of communicating.

*’the’ added on Aug. 4, 2016.

Coat fruit with silk to keep it fresh

A May 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily describes a way to keep fruit fresh without refrigeration,

Half of the world’s fruit and vegetable crops are lost during the food supply chain, due mostly to premature deterioration of these perishable foods, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Tufts University biomedical engineers have demonstrated that fruits can stay fresh for more than a week without refrigeration if they are coated in an odorless, biocompatible silk solution so thin as to be virtually invisible. The approach is a promising alternative for preservation of delicate foods using a naturally derived material and a water-based manufacturing process.

A May 6, 2016 Tufts University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work,

Silk’s unique crystalline structure makes it one of nature’s toughest materials. Fibroin, an insoluble protein found in silk, has a remarkable ability to stabilize and protect other materials while being fully biocompatible and biodegradable.

For the study, researchers dipped freshly picked strawberries in a solution of 1 percent silk fibroin protein; the coating process was repeated up to four times.  The silk fibroin-coated fruits were then treated for varying amounts of time with water vapor under vacuum (water annealed) to create varying percentages of crystalline beta-sheets in the coating. The longer the exposure, the higher the percentage of beta-sheets and the more robust the fibroin coating. The coating was 27 to 35 microns thick.

The strawberries were then stored at room temperature. Uncoated berries were compared over time with berries dipped in varying numbers of coats of silk that had been annealed for different periods of time. At seven days, the berries coated with the higher beta-sheet silk were still juicy and firm while the uncoated berries were dehydrated and discolored.

Tests showed that the silk coating prolonged the freshness of the fruits by slowing fruit respiration, extending fruit firmness and preventing decay.

“The beta-sheet content of the edible silk fibroin coatings made the strawberries less permeable to carbon dioxide and oxygen. We saw a statistically significant delay in the decay of the fruit,” said senior and corresponding study author Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Ph.D. Omenetto is the Frank C. Doble Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and also has appointments in the Department of Electrical Engineering and in the Department of Physics in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Similar experiments were performed on bananas, which, unlike strawberries, are able to ripen after they are harvested. The silk coating decreased the bananas’ ripening rate compared with uncoated controls and added firmness to the fruit by preventing softening of the peel.

The thin, odorless silk coating did not affect fruit texture.  Taste was not studied.

“Various therapeutic agents could be easily added to the water-based silk solution used for the coatings, so we could potentially both preserve and add therapeutic function to consumable goods without the need for complex chemistries,” said the study’s first author, Benedetto Marelli, Ph.D., formerly a post-doctoral associate in the Omenetto laboratory and now at MIT.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Silk Fibroin as Edible Coating for Perishable Food Preservation by B. Marelli, M. A. Brenckle, D. L. Kaplan & F. G. Omenetto. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 25263 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep25263 Published online: 06 May 2016

This is an open access paper.

$5.2M in nanotechnology grants from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

A March 30, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces the 2016 nanotechnology grants from the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA),

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today [March 30, 2016] announced an investment of more than $5.2 million to support nanotechnology research at 11 universities. The universities will research ways nanotechnology can be used to improve food safety, enhance renewable fuels, increase crop yields, manage agricultural pests, and more. The awards were made through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s premier competitive, peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences.

A March 30, 2016 USDA news release provides more detail,

“In the seven years since the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety. Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology are key pieces of our investment in innovation to ensure an adequate and safe food supply for a growing global population,” said Vilsack. “The President’s 2017 Budget calls for full funding of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative so that USDA can continue to support important projects like these.”

Universities receiving funding include Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, Conn.; University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla; University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.; Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa; University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.; Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.; Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.; Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.; and University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

With this funding, Auburn University proposes to improve pathogen monitoring throughout the food supply chain by creating a user-friendly system that can detect multiple foodborne pathogens simultaneously, accurately, cost effectively, and rapidly. Mississippi State University will research ways nanochitosan can be used as a combined fire-retardant and antifungal wood treatment that is also environmentally safe. Experts in nanotechnology, molecular biology, vaccines and poultry diseases at the University of Wisconsin will work to develop nanoparticle-based poultry vaccines to prevent emerging poultry infections. USDA has a full list of projects and longer descriptions available online.

Past projects include a University of Georgia project developing a bio-nanocomposites-based, disease-specific, electrochemical sensors for detecting fungal pathogen induced volatiles in selected crops; and a University of Massachusetts project creating a platform for pathogen detection in foods that is superior to the current detection method in terms of analytical time, sensitivity, and accuracy using a novel, label-free, surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) mapping technique.

The purpose of AFRI is to support research, education, and extension work by awarding grants that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture. AFRI is the flagship competitive grant program administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture [NIFA]. Established under the 2008 Farm Bill, AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; bioenergy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities. Since AFRI’s creation, NIFA has awarded more than $89 million to solve challenges related to plant health and production; $22 million of this has been dedicated to nanotechnology research. The President’s 2017 budget request proposes to fully fund AFRI for $700 million; this amount is the full funding level authorized by Congress when it established AFRI in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Each day, the work of USDA scientists and researchers touches the lives of all Americans: from the farm field to the kitchen table and from the air we breathe to the energy that powers our country. USDA science is on the cutting edge, helping to protect, secure, and improve our food, agricultural and natural resources systems. USDA research develops and transfers solutions to agricultural problems, supporting America’s farmers and ranchers in their work to produce a safe and abundant food supply for more than 100 years. This work has helped feed the nation and sustain an agricultural trade surplus since the 1960s. Since 2009, USDA has invested $4.32 billion in research and development grants. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over $20 to our economy.

Since 2009, NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety.