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revolution in agriculture and the food industry
ISB News Report
Phillip B C Jones
On March 20, 2006, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez announced
the launch of a state-of-the-art center for collaborative nanotechnology
research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "The
National Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology," Gutierrez
said in a press release, "will help the private sector develop innovative
products like more efficient batteries, lighter-weight and higher performing
materials for aircraft and autos, and smaller computer chips to power
Nanotechnology encompasses the ability to measure, model, and control
matter at dimensions of about 1 to 100 nanometers. The groundbreaking
potential of nanotech derives from the unusual physical, chemical, and
biological properties of nanoscale-sized matter that differ from those
of individual molecules and bulk matter. These unique properties allow
the development of novel applications, noted by Gutierrez, in the fields
of engineering and computer science. Nanotechnology will also bring innovations
to the food industry and agriculture.
Effecting Big Changes with Small Alterations in the Food Industry
The Helmut Kaiser Consultancy (Tubingen, Germany) finds nothing small
about the nanofood market, predicting that the market may reach over $20
billion dollars by 2010. Around the globe, over 400 companies research,
develop, and produce nanofood-related products. The general aims of nanotechnology
in this arena center on improving the quality of food.
Numerous food companies seek to use nanotechnology to create safer, more
nutritious, and more flavorful products. Nanotech may provide improved
functional properties, such as low sodium food products that taste salty
due to nanotech-induced interactions with the tongue, and functional food
components tailored to the individual consumer's preferences. Nanoparticles,
nanoemulsions, and nanocapsules may be designed to enhance the availability
and dispersion of nutrients, antioxidants, or nutraceuticals. These beneficial
factors may even be delivered to targeted areas of the body at selected
Research and development efforts in the nanofood industry also focus on
improved food packaging. Nanotech can enable two new types of food containers:
active packaging and smart packaging.
An example of active packaging is a plastic film with dispersed clay nanoparticles
that prevent oxygen, carbon dioxide, and moisture from reaching food.
Other types of active packaging possess antimicrobial properties.
Smart packaging incorporates nanomaterials that respond to environmental
conditions, engage in self-repair, or alert a consumer to the presence
of chemical or pathogen contamination. For example, nanoparticle films
and other packaging with embedded sensors will detect food pathogens.
These nanosensors trigger a package color change to alert consumers that
the food has become contaminated or has begun to spoil. Another type of
packaging may incorporate a bio-switch that releases a preservative if
the food within begins to spoil.
A Nanotech Transformation in Agriculture
Nanotechnology may support "precision farming," the application
of information technologies applied to the management of commercial agriculture.
Precision farming's enabling technologies include satellite-positioning
systems, geographic information systems, and remote sensing devices. By
connecting global positioning systems with satellite imaging of fields,
farm managers could remotely detect crop pests or evidence of drought.
Information about these conditions would trigger an automatic adjustment
of pesticide applications or irrigation levels. Dispersed throughout fields,
a network of sensors would relay detailed data about crops and the soil.
These sensors would need to have nanoscale sensitivity to monitor conditions,
such as the presence of plant viruses or the level of soil nutrients.
Other forms of nanotechnology may directly alter agricultural practices.
Nanoparticles or nanocapsules could provide a more efficient means to
distribute pesticides and fertilizers, reducing the quantities of these
chemicals introduced into the environment. Livestock may be identified
and tracked through commerce using implanted nanochips. Nanoparticles
may deliver growth hormone or vaccines to livestock, or DNA for genetic
engineering of plants.
Ultimately, nanotech innovations may enable the agricultural industry
to precisely control and improve production. An ability to manipulate
molecules may permit the food industry to design food with enhanced function
at lower costs. The capability to introduce revolutionary changes in agriculture
and food carries risks. Is the federal government prepared to oversee
these new developments?
Ahead of the Curve in the Regulation of Agrifood Nanotech
The University of Minnesota's Jennifer Kuzma has emphasized the lack of
a comprehensive U.S. oversight policy for nanotechnology, despite the
federal government's annual investment of about one billion dollars in
nanotech research. Kuzma sees parallels between the regulation of biotechnology
and nanotechnology in food and agricultural industries: both technologies
have raised debates about whether the government should regulate the process
or the product, both technologies offer diverse applications that touch
multiple regulatory agencies, and both technologies can be characterized
by overlapping or missing regulatory jurisdiction.
As a step toward analyzing regulation of agrifood nanotechnology, Kuzma
and Peter VerHage have created a database of nanotechnology food and agriculture-related
research funded by the U.S. government. They also examined publicly available
information from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Kuzma and VerHage presented analyses of their data on March 30, 2006,
at a program hosted by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and via webcast. During
the meeting, Kuzma suggested a bottom-up method for studying regulatory
oversight of agrifood nanotech. The process would have three phases: (1)
use the research and development database to assess applications of nanotechnology
to food, agriculture, and agroecosystems; (2) select individual products
to identify risks and benefits; and (3) after assessing particular products,
extrapolate to analyze appropriate regulatory or non-regulatory governance
systems for agrifood applications. Applying lessons from agbiotech, Kuzma
suggested that independent research and safety studies should be performed
and made available to the public, and that regulatory agencies should
ensure a transparency in the product review and oversight process.
Most of the agrifood applications included in the database, Kuzma and
VerHage predict, have a commercial timeframe of 5 to 15 years. David Rejeski,
director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, noted that those
concerned about nanotech and food issues enjoy a unique position. "We
are ahead of the curve," he said, "and have time to prepare."
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website provides copies of the
database, which Kuzma and her colleagues will expand in the future (http://www.nanotechproject.org/index.php?id-11).
Bello M (2006) Commerce Secretary Gutierrez Announces New Nanotechnology
Center. March 20, 2006. Available at: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/news.htm.
Kuzma J (ed.) (2005) The Nanotechnology-Biology Interface: Exploring Models
for Oversight. Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs (University
of Minnesota). September 15, 2005. Available at: http://www.hhh.umn.edu/centers/stpp/nanotechnology.html.
Precision Agriculture - Nanotech Methods Used, Such as "Smart Dust,"
Smart Fields and Nanosensors. 2004. Available at: http://www.azonano.com.
drinks killing you softly
June 9, 2006
Sydney Morning Herald
Benzene, a poison more often found in tobacco smoke and air pollution,
has been discovered in half the soft drinks tested on the shop shelves.
In some cases, the benzene level was 40 times the level recommended for
safe drinking water by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The national food regulator, Food Standards, said 10 per cent of flavoured
beverages had benzene traces at "undesirable levels" that exceeded
World Health Organisation guidelines.
Food Standards has asked the soft-drink industry to reformulate its products
and take steps to lower benzene levels. The chief executive of the Australian
Beverages Council, Tony Gentile, said the council had "advised manufacturers
of how to minimise the incidence of benzene".
have their own immune system protecting against outside DNA
June 8, 2006
University of Washington
Bacteria like Salmonella have a complicated immune system that helps them
recognize and isolate foreign DNA trying to invade their cell membrane,
according to a University of Washington-led study in the June 8 issue
of Science Express.
The research, which also included scientists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer
Center in San Diego, could have major implications for understanding the
evolution of disease-causing bacteria. The findings may also impact the
biotech industry, where bacteria are used to produce recombinant human
proteins for medical treatments and research.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Ferric Fang, professor of laboratory
medicine and microbiology at the UW School of Medicine, were interested
in learning how bacteria respond to genetic information coming from outside
sources. Just as immune cells recognize and attack foreign invaders in
the human body to protect against harmful infections, single-cell organisms
have a protein called H-NS that recognizes foreign DNA and prevents it
from becoming active, the researchers discovered.
But bacteria can also benefit from foreign DNA. When Salmonella is infecting
an animal or person, for instance, many proteins the bacteria need to
cause disease are encoded by DNA acquired from other bacteria. The researchers
found that when the bacteria is infecting a host, other molecules can
compete with the H-NS protein, allowing the disease-causing genes to be
expressed. When the bacteria are in the environment, H-NS turns these
genes off to avoid detrimental consequences if all the disease-causing
genes were to be expressed at once.
These findings give scientists new insight into how bacteria can protect
themselves from an invasion by foreign DNA, yet still take in genetic
information from diverse sources that makes them more virulent.
"By harnessing foreign DNA, bacteria that cause typhoid, dysentery,
cholera and plague have evolved from harmless organisms into feared pathogens,"
explained Dr. William Navarre, a senior fellow at the UW and primary author
of the study. "This research gives us an explanation of how pathogenic
bacteria have evolved over millions of years."
The researchers also learned that the H-NS protein is able to recognize
foreign DNA on the basis of its increased content of adenine and thymine,
the building blocks of DNA.
"It has been a great mystery why disease-causing genes of bacteria
usually contain more adenine and thymine," said Michael McClelland,
professor and director of the Molecular Biology Program at the Kimmel
Cancer Center. "Now we know this is because such sequences are easier
to recruit and regulate than other DNA."
This research could also have major implications for the biotech industry,
which uses bacteria for the production of recombinant proteins for medicine
and research. These proteins, such as insulin or human growth hormone,
are created when a piece of human DNA corresponding to that protein is
introduced into bacteria. The bacteria then reproduce many times over,
creating more of the protein each time they reproduce. The proteins are
purified out from the bacteria, leaving behind only the useful protein.
However, in that process, the yield of some human proteins produced in
bacteria can be low. The new research indicates that the H-NS "immune
system" may be responsible for interfering with the expression of
human genes in bacteria.
"Having a better understanding of this system could help the biotech
industry make recombinant proteins more efficiently," said Fang.
"More foreign protein can be produced in bacteria that don't have
the H-NS molecule."
Becoming More Common In Children
Children's Memorial Seeks Kids With Allergies For Study
Mary Ann Childers
Source of Article: http://cbs2chicago.com/topstories/local_story_158172106.html
(CBS) CHICAGO Food allergies
among children have been increasing since the late 1990s, but funding
for research into prevention and treatment hasn¡¯t. CBS 2 Medical Editor
Mary Ann Childers reports on how a group of concerned parents and doctors
is hoping to change that.
Ice cream can cool you
off on a hot day, but for some kids one lick could be life threatening.¡°Milk
to a milk-allergic child is like cyanide is to you and I,¡± said David
Bunning of the Food Allergy Project.
Bunning created the Food
Allergy Project after learning his two sons, Daniel and Bryan, have allergies.
Bunning has donated $15 million for research. Now he, along with other
parents and doctors, is urging the government to increase funding from
$8 million to $50 million dollars a year.
Up to 8 percent of American
children suffer from allergies to foods such as peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat,
shellfish and more.
"It might have been
one in 20, but now more than half of the kids I take care of have food
allergies," said Dr. Jacqueline Pongracic, head of allergy at Children¡¯s
Researchers at Children¡¯s
are studying whether genes, the environment or both might be to blame.
For now, kids with allergies must always be prepared. They must know how
to use an epipen for severe allergic reactions and do without foods other
kids can eat easily.
¡°Doughnuts I can't eat
and I really want to eat those," said 12-year old Andrew Thompson.
And 9-year-old Daniel
Bunning has to pass on the pizza his friends enjoy.
¡°They keep trying to
get me to do it but I just can't,¡± said Daniel. ¡°It's not worth risking
The Children's Memorial
Hospital study hopes to enroll 900 families. Some preliminary results
are expected in a year or two.
Cow Cases Are Mysterious Strain
(THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Two cases of mad cow disease
in Texas and Alabama seem to have resulted from a mysterious strain that
could appear spontaneously in cattle, researchers say.
are trying to play down differences between the two U.S. cases and the
mad cow epidemic that has led to the slaughter of thousands of cattle
in Britain since the 1980s.
It is precisely these
differences that are complicating efforts to understand the brain-wasting
disorder, known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE
''It's most important
right now, till the science tells us otherwise, that we treat this as
BSE regardless,'' the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, John
Clifford, said in an interview.
The Texas and Alabama
cases -- confirmed last year and this one, respectively -- are drawing
At a meeting in London
last month, experts presented research on the U.S. cases and on similar
ones in Europe.
These cows appear to
have had an ''atypical'' strain that scientists are only now starting
to identify. Such cases have been described in about a dozen cows in France,
Italy and other European countries, as well as in Japan.
In the two U.S. cases,
researchers did not detect the telltale spongy lesions caused by prions,
the misfolded proteins that deposit plaque on the brain and kill brain
cells. In addition, the prions in brain tissue samples from the Texas
and Alabama cows seemed to be distributed differently from what would
be expected to be found in cows with the classic form.
Laboratory studies on
mice in France showed that both the classic and atypical strains could
be spread from one animal to another. But scientists theorize the atypical
strain might have infected cattle through an unusual way.
Mad cow disease is not
transmitted from cow to cow like a cold or the flu. It is believed to
spread through feed, when cows eat the contaminated tissue of other cattle.
That happens when crushed cattle remains are added to feed as a protein
source. This once-common practice ended in the United States in 1997.
Humans can get a related
disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, in similar fashion -- by eating
meat contaminated with mad cow. Mad cow in humans afflicts younger people;
the average age at death is 28 years. A
more common form of CJD -- not linked to mad cow -- can happen spontaneously
and is reported in nearly 300 people in the U.S. each year. This form
occurs mostly in older people; the average age at death is 68. Some
scientists are raising the possibility that the atypical strain also might
happen spontaneously in cattle. The Texas and Alabama cows were older
animals, as were some of the other animals in Europe with seemingly atypical
Linda Detwiler, a former
Agriculture Department veterinarian who consults for major food
Top Of Document companies, cautioned against making that assumption. ''I
think it's kind of early to say that would be the case,'' Detwiler said.
Other theories, she said,
suggest the atypical strain might come from a mutation of mad cow disease
or even from a related disease in sheep.Mad
cow disease has turned up three times in the United States: in native-born
animals in Texas and Alabama and in a Canadian import in Washington state.
In the Texas and Alabama cows,
tests found patterns distinct from what turned up in an infected cow in
Washington state and a cluster of Canadian cases, researchers say. The
Washington and Canadian cases resemble the classic British cases.
No matter what the origins
might be of an atypical strain, the government says there is no reason
to change federal testing or measures that safeguard animals and people
from the disease.
''We still feel confident
in the safeguards that we have,'' Clifford said. ''We have to base our
assumptions on what is scientifically known and understood.''
Meanwhile, mad cow research
has been halted at the Agriculture Department's lab in Ames, Iowa, because
of employee allegations that the lab improperly was disposing of animal
The department asked
a group of international experts to review the lab's disposal practices.
The city of Ames also is investigating. 6-11-06
carts get little scrutiny
June 11, 2006
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Knight Ridder Tribune
Philadelphia may, according to this story, have the most lax restaurant
inspection rate among the nation's largest cities, but its inspection
of food carts is even worse, because the city rarely examines the 1,465
or so food trucks once they are on the street.
The city asks each owner, when licensed, to drive his cart to the Health
Department for inspection. Inspectors make sure the carts are clean and
capable of keeping food at the proper temperatures.
But, the story says, the carts are never examined again unless inspectors
find a problem at the outset or someone complains.
Terrance Powell, director of special operations and planning for Los Angeles
County's inspection unit, was quoted as saying, "If you're not inspecting
a cart when it's operating, you're not doing anything."
The story adds that when Philadelphia inspectors have taken a closer look,
they have found inadequate hand washing and coolers that didn't work,
two major causes of food-borne illness.
Food-safety experts criticized Philadelphia's policy as unsafe, noting
that other major cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Pittsburgh,
perform unannounced street inspections of food carts.
John Rafes, director of Environmental Health Services for Philadelphia,
was cited as saying that carts were less likely to have pest infestations,
so they didn't need street inspections, and that the owners buy food each
day from licensed commissaries or kitchens, w hich are inspected.
As proof that carts are safe, Rafes said only a dozen people complained
in 2005., adding, "Over the years, we have not seen an overwhelming
reason to increase the frequency of inspections."
Powell was cited as saying that waiting for a complaint to inspect a cart
is a mistake because few complain while many get sick, adding, "We
estimate 150,000 people get sick from food each year, and we only receive
about 1,800 complaints. It's very underreported."
He said Los Angeles has 30 inspectors who check each of the county's 10,000
food carts at least twice a year, even though all food must be precooked,
a less risky operation than found in Philadelphia.
Don Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick,
was quoted as saying, "If I was designing an inspection program,
I would want to see it in operation on the street. There are problems
that might arise on the street that you would not see in a n inspection,
like keeping food hot on a cold winter's day and keeping food cold on
a hot summer's day."
In Seattle, food carts are required to submit their routes so inspectors
can conduct two spot checks per year.
An Allegheny County food-safety official, Steve Steingart, was cited as
saying he can empathize with Philadelphia's staff shortage, but the system
didn't work, adding, "To have them just come in, what kind of sense
does that make?"
E coli strain found in UK outbreak
Source of Article: http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/fs/food-disease/news/jun0806ecoli.html
Jun 8, 2006 (CIDRAP News) ?
An unusual strain of Escherichia coli O157 that standard laboratory culture
methods cannot detect has been identified in a disease outbreak associated
with a nursery in Scotland and in other cases in Scotland and England,
according to recent news reports.
The outbreak strain grows on
sorbitol-containing agar (SMAC) and does not grow on the selective media
(CT-SMAC) usually used for Shiga toxin?producing E coli (STEC) O157. Thus,
illness cases caused by this strain, called a sorbitol-fermenting strain,
could be missed in laboratories unless other testing methods are used.
The disease outbreak began
at a nursery in Dunfermline, Scotland, on May 9, and had involved 13 cases
of gastrointestinal illness in children and adults by late May, according
to BBC News reports. Four children were hospitalized for treatment for
hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), physicians at the Royal Hospital for
Sick Children in Glasgow told BBC News.
Health Protection Scotland
stated that the sorbitol-fermenting strain has been rare in the United
Kingdom, the BBC reported. The strain had first been identified in Germany
in 1988 and was thought to be restricted to continental Europe until 2002,
when it was identified in Australia and the UK. more
cleared of food poisoning
June 08, 2006
Source of Article: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/
INITIAL tests by Queensland
Health have cleared food at a Sizzler restaurant as the cause of seven
cases of suspected food poisoning last Sunday. Those who fell ill had
earlier eaten at the restaurant chain's Brookside outlet, in Brisbane's
west. Queensland Health
was notified on Monday and took away 43 samples of food and environmental
swabs from the restaurant.
has failed to find any evidence of foodborne pathogens and tests are being
finalised to determine the causes of the illness," a Queensland Health
Earlier this year the
restaurant chain beefed up security after having to shut down its salad
bars nationwide when rat poison was found in food at two Brisbane outlets.
A 57-year-old woman was
charged with two counts of contaminating goods with intent and three counts
of acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm.
surface sanitizing solutions; Proposed revocation of tolerance exemptions
for sanitizers with no food-contact uses in registered pesticide products
and with insufficient data for reassessment
June 9, 2006
[Federal Register: (Volume 71, Number 111)]
40 CFR Part 180
AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
ACTION: Proposed rule.
SUMMARY: This document proposes under section 408(e)(1) of the Federal
Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to revoke the existing exemption
from the requirement of a tolerance for the food-contact surface
sanitizing solution use of certain antimicrobial pesticides because the
Agency has determined that the tolerance exemption corresponds to the
food-contact sanitizing use for which there are no longer registered
pesticide products, and because there are insufficient data to make the
determination of safety required by FFDCA section 408(b)(2). The
regulatory actions proposed in this document will contribute toward the
Agency's tolerance reassessment requirements under the FFDCA section
408(q), as amended by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996.
By law, EPA is required by August 2006 to reassess the tolerances that
were in existence on August 2, 1996.
DATES: Comments must be received on or before July 10, 2006.
ADDRESSES: Submit your comments, identified by docket identification
(ID) number EPA-HQ-OPP-2006-0495, by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments.
Mail: Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) Regulatory Public
Docket (7502P), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania
Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460-0001.
Delivery: OPP Regulatory Public Docket (7502P),
Environmental Protection Agency, Rm. S-4400, One Potomac Yard (South
Building), 2777 S. Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA. Deliveries are only
accepted during the Docket's normal hours of operation (8:30 a.m. to 4
p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays). Special
arrangements should be made for deliveries of boxed information. The
Docket telephone number is (703) 305-5805.
Instructions: Direct your comments to docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPP-
2006-0495. EPA's policy is that all comments received will be included
in the docket without change and may be made available on-line at
http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information
provided, unless the comment includes information claimed to be
Confidential Business Information (CBI) or other information whose
disclosure is restricted by statute. Do not submit information that you
consider to be CBI or otherwise protected through regulations.gov or e-
mail. The Federal regulations.gov website is an ``anonymous access''
system, which means EPA will not know your identity or contact
information unless you provide it in the body of your comment. If you
send an e-mail comment directly to EPA without going through
regulations.gov, your e-mail address will be automatically captured and
included as part of the comment that is placed in the docket and made
available on the Internet. If you submit an electronic comment, EPA
recommends that you include your name and other contact information in
the body of your comment and with any disk or CD-ROM you submit. If EPA
cannot read your comment due to technical difficulties and cannot contact
you for clarification, EPA may not be able to consider your comment. Electronic
files should avoid the use of special characters, any form of encryption,
and be free of any defects or viruses.
Docket: All documents in the docket are listed in the docket index.
Although listed in the index, some information is not publicly
available, e.g., CBI or other information whose disclosure is
restricted by statute. Certain other material, such as copyrighted
material, is not placed on the Internet and will be publicly available
only in hard copy form. Publicly available docket materials are
available either in the electronic docket at http://www.regulations.gov
, or, if only available in hard copy, at the OPP
Regulatory Public Docket in Rm. S-4400, One Potomac Yard (South
Building), 2777 S. Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA. The hours of operation
of this Docket Facility are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through
Friday, excluding legal holidays. The Docket telephone number is (703)
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Bailey, Antimicrobials Division
(7510P), Office of Pesticide Programs, Environmental Protection Agency,
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW., Washington, DC 20460-0001; telephone
number: (703) 308-6212; e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.