The coalition, spearheaded by the group As You Sow, takes a unique look at the issue, addressing it more from a position of good corporate governance rather than a conviction about the value of nanotechnology and whether it has a place in food and supplement products. The group approaches it more as a matter of managing shareholder risk, said Austin Wilson, environmental health program manager for As You Sow.
“Since 1992 we have worked in a niche of the wider world of advocacy called shareholder advocacy. We promote corporate responsibility, and we do so with the conviction that responsibility leads to better long term shareholder value. We organize investors to support that message of responsibility,” Wilson told NutraIngredients-USA.
“We have grown significantly in the last five years. So far this year we have filed 31 shareholder resolutions,” Wilson said. These resolutions can run the gamut of corporate activities from political campaign contributions to environmental issues. One of the organization’s early wins was to work with Home Deport to start stocking lumber that certified has having been sustainably harvested, Wilson said.
It’s not the technology, it’s how it’s used
As far as technology applications are concerned, Wilson said the organization takes an agnostic approach.
“We don’t think nanotechnology is inherently good or bad. We look at its use and the risks. Inhalation of nanoparticles has been studied for decades now and there is pretty conclusive evidence for its harmful effects,” Wilson said.
“We mostly concerned about the inadvertent inclusion of small, inorganic particles. We look at inhalation, at transdermal exposure and what might be the effects. We have been talking to companies to encourage policies to manage the risk of using these materials.
“In general the organic nanoparticles that are used in foods and supplements are not something we are as concerned about. We are definitely concerned about the inorganic nanoparticles, materials like gold, silver, titanium dioxide and carbon nanotubes,” he said.
The recommended corporate policy was drawn up by a coalition of nine groups including, in addition to As You Sow, the Environmental Working Group, the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy and the Center for Food Safety. The policy has four main points: 1. Adoption of a publicly accessible corporate policy on the use of nanotechnology in its food products or in its packaging. 2. Standards for suppliers. 3. A label declaration of what materials included in the product or packaging that are less than 500 nm in size and 4. a ‘hierarchy of hazards’ approach to dealing with workplace safety in the presence of nanomaterials.
Nanotech for bioavailability
While Wilson said the group is less concerned about organic nanoparticles—such particles occur naturally in the body, after all—the policy does address the most common use of nanotechnology in the supplement sphere, which is to subject hard-to-absorb and difficult-to-solubilize ingredients to a manufacturing step to reduce particle size both to improve bioavailability and to lower formulation hurdles.
“Naturally-occurring organic nanoscale particles (e.g. milk proteins, essential minerals) are not considered engineered or manufactured materials for this purpose. The term “naturally occurring” excludes engineering or manufacturing processes that reduce the size of materials,” the policy states.
“I think there should be research into safety whenever a novel substance is introduced,” Wilson said.