Food Machine

Food Machine

Why don’t we drink pig milk?

We could. Apparently it’s very nutritious. But pigs are really hard to milk. They just won’t stay still and behave. So no pig milk, unless you go out there and milk them yourself.

What got me thinking about pig milk is this sentence from a recent FDA News release: “Milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, and the offspring of clones from any species traditionally consumed as food, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals.”

Swine milk. Who knew?

Of course, the REAL news in that sentence is the decision by FDA scientists that milk and meat from cloned animals is “as safe to eat as food from conventionally bread animals.”

Notice, they don’t actually say it’s “safe,” but rather “as safe.” And knowing what we know about animals conventionally bread for food (abnormally fattened in abysmal factory farms and shot full of growth hormones and antibiotics), that’s far from a ringing endorsement.

Of course, cloning is just another way to genetically modify a food source, and genetically modified (GM) food has been on grocery shelves for years. Executives for corporations that produce these foods assure us that their products are perfectly safe, but there’s plenty of research that indicates we won’t really know just how safe they are until quite a bit more testing is done.

Meanwhile – eat up! And while you enjoy your “meal” (such as it is), I’ll tell you about another unsettling food “enhancing” technique that scientists have dreamed up.

Think smallreally small

If you’ve never heard of nanotechnology – or even if you have – you might find it nearly impossible to conceive of something on the nano scale.

A human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide. In nanotechnology, matter is controlled on a scale as small as one nanometer, but no larger than 100 nanometers. The smallest nanomachines are so small that some of their parts are made up of single molecules. (If you Google “nanotechnology” you’ll find some amazing images of nanomachinery.)

Nowhow do you feel about food manufacturers using nanoadditives in spices to keep them from getting lumpy? Or how would you feel about using nanoparticles to extend the amount of time that food looks appealing?

When a German risk assessment company asked those questions of European consumers, you can imagine the response. Nearly 70 percent said they didn’t want nanoadditives in spices, and more than 80 percent said no to using nanoparticles to spiff up the way food looks.

The president of the risk assessment company told NutraIngredients-USA that consumers use emotional criteria rather than facts when judging nanotechnology. And that’s probably a good thing for nanotechnologists, because if consumers knew the facts they might judge this new technology more harshly.

For instance – here’s a headline from a 2006 LiveScience article: “Scientists Worry About Potential Risks of Nanotechnology in Food.”

So do you suppose the worry among SCIENTISTS is caused by emotional criteria or facts?

Messing with DNA

In the 1980s, scientists created synthetic carbon nanoparticles they named buckyballs. Hey! Sounds like fun! But when Duke University scientists placed buckyballs in a laboratory aquarium, they prompted brain damage in largemouth bass. And even worse: Buckyballs might harm DNA.

Okaymaybe that’s not so fun.

About two years ago, LiveScience interviewed Peter Cummings, the director of the Nanomaterials Theory Institute at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Professor Cummings (who teaches chemical engineering at Vanderbilt University) told LiveScience about a buckyball simulation he designed with NTI colleagues.

Prof. Cummings: “We found, somewhat surprisingly, that these buckyballs bond quite strongly to both double-stranded and single-stranded DNA. They bond strongly enough that they distort the structure of DNA.” He added that buckyballs insert themselves in a way that prevents the DNA from self-repairing.

Suddenly, a cloned pork chop doesn’t seem quite as disturbing as finding a buckyball in my soup.

“FDA Issues Documents on the Safety of Food from Animal Clones” FDA News, 1/15/08,
“Consumers Against Nanotech in Food, Says BfR” NutraIngredients-USA, 12/20/07,
“Manufactured Nanoparticles Might Pose Health Threat” Scott Fields, LiveScience, 3/6/06,
“Scientists Worry About Potential Risks of Nanotechnology in Food” Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience, 9/7/06,