Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules (a nanometer [nm] is one-billionth of a meter), is rapidly converging with biotech and information technology to radically change food and agricultural systems. Over the next two decades, the impacts of nano-scale convergence on farmers and food will exceed that of farm mechanisation or of the Green Revolution.
What Will Be the Likely Effects of Using Nanotechnology Methods in Food Production?
Converging technologies could reinvigorate the battered agrochemical and agbiotech industries, igniting a still more intense debate - this time over “atomically-modified” foods. No government has developed a regulatory regime that addresses the nanoscale or the societal impacts of the invisibly small. A handful of food and nutrition products containing invisible, unlabeled and unregulated nano-scale additives are already commercially available. Likewise, a number of pesticides formulated at the nano-scale are on the market and have been released in the environment.
How Nanotechnology Will Change the Food Industry, Estimated Value of Nano-Food Markets and Possible Drawbacks
From soil to supper, nanotechnology will not only change how every step of the food chain operates but it will also change who is involved. At stake is the world’s $3 trillion food retail market, agricultural export markets valued at $544 billion, the livelihoods of some 2.6 billion farming people and the well-being of the rest of us who depend upon farmers for our daily bread. Nanotech has profound implications for farmers (and fisher people and pastoralists) and for food sovereignty worldwide. Agriculture may also be the proving ground for technologies that can be adapted for surveillance, social control and biowarfare.
Government Regulation of Nanotechnology Food Products - the Current Picture
The GM (genetically modified) food debate not only failed to address environmental and health concerns, it disastrously overlooked the ownership and control issues. How society will be affected and who will benefit are critical concerns. Because nanotech involves all matter, nano patents can have profound impacts on the entire food system and all sectors of the economy. Synthetic biology and nano-materials will dramatically transform the demand for agricultural raw materials required by processors. Nano-products came to market - and more are coming - in the absence of regulation and societal debate. The merger of nanotech and biotech has unknown consequences for health, biodiversity and the environment. Governments and opinion-makers are running 8-10 years behind society’s need for information, public debate and policies.