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Canada Bans Nanotechnology in Organics

  • US National Organic Standards Board still needs to define "nanotechnology"
    By Ken Roseboro, ed.
    The Organic and Non-GMO Report, May 2010
    Straight to the Source

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Canada has banned nanotechnology in organic food production. An amendment was added to Canada's national organic rules banning nanotechnology as a "Prohibited Substance or Method." The section lists substances or techniques that are prohibited in organic food production, including genetic engineering, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, and cloned animals, among others.

Nanotechnology involves the creation and manipulation of materials at the scale of atoms and molecules. Scientists are applying nanotechnology to many industries, including food production. Critics say that too little is known about the impact of nanoparticles on human health and the environment.

Unregulated with unknown risks

Dag Falck, organic program manager at Nature's Path Foods, sponsored the comment banning nanotechnology in organics to the Canadian General Standards Board, which then voted for the ban.

According to Falck, reasons given for the ban on nanotechnology are that consumers are very concerned about the technology, that it is incompatible with organic principles, and that safety aspects of the technology are unknown.

Falck says there is no regulation on nanotechnology, which presents even more potential problems than genetic engineering. "Genetic engineering is a definable science: splicing genes into crops. With nanotechnology there are at least 1000 different applications, all unregulated with unknown risks."

NOSB needs to define "nanotechnology"

In the United States, the Materials Handling Committee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) planned last fall to recommend that nanotechnology be banned from organic food production.

But in February the committee published a "request for information for developing a usable definition of the term (nanotechnology) in organics." The document says "a difficulty in developing a definition for the term 'nanotechnology' has prevented the committee from completing a final recommendation on this important issue."

As a result, the committee has requested a technical and scientific review of the issue to aid the committee in clearly identifying the term "nanotechnology."

The committee wants to avoid including in the definition products of technologies that are currently allowed in organic production and processing. For example, homogenizing milk and grain milling create nanosized particles-milk molecules and wheat flour dust-but would not be considered products of nanotechnology.

Already in organic products

Banning nanotechnology in organic production presents challenges because it is already being used in some organic products. Nano Green Sciences, Inc. sells a nano-pesticide that they claim is "organic." Other natural pesticides, such as pyrethrin and copper, could contain nanoparticles and nanosilver could be used to clean vegetables of bacteria. Some personal care products promoted as organic already contain nanoparticles.

Canada joins several other countries that have either banned or proposed a ban on nanotechnology in organic including the United Kingdom's Soil Association, Biological Farmers of Australia, and Austrian organic certifier Austria Bio Garantie. The US-based Organic Crop Improvement Association has added a clause in their organic standard to regulate the use of nanotechnology.

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