Nanoparticles, nanoingredients and nanomaterials are terms that describe a relatively new type of applied science called nanotechnology. It's been used in various industries for several years now despite its comparatively unknown nature. Nanoingredients are used in many ways that include making sunscreen transparent, enhancing the penetration of moisturizers, and making long-lasting paint. Assorted nanomaterials are also used in applications that make fabrics moisture and odor repellent, and sporting equipment and household appliances antibacterial.
But nanoparticles were recently found in a new and unexpected location: baby formula.
Why is that of concern? For the answer, we need to look at the nature of nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology and Why it's Worrisome
Nanoparticles are teeny tiny engineered particles, about 1000 times thinner than a human hair. WOW. Imagine this, nanoparticles are several hundred times smaller than our blood cells!
Nanoingredients are so crazy small they're measured on the nanoscale. The problem lies in the fact that manipulating materials into super microscopic forms can cause well-known substances like zinc oxide and silica dioxide to change in unexpected, unpredictable ways. At nanoscale size, the physical and chemical properties of these substances are different from those of the same substances in larger form leaving us in a hugely unknown and conceivably dangerous lurch, especially in regards to our babies.
Nanoparticles are small enough to penetrate biological membranes including the blood-brain barrier, entering just about every part of the body, intended or not.
And what's more, the surface area of nanomaterials is enormously greater than larger particles which results in increased chemical reactivity and biological activity. Makes perfect sense if you think about it — like a loaf of bread whole vs. sliced. More area = greater impact, obviously introducing serious new toxicity risks.
Nanoparticles in Baby Formula
Several brands of baby formula were commissioned by Friends of the Earth and tested in the lab for the presence of nanoparticles, including Gerber (owned by Nestle), Enfamil, Similac, and Well Beginnings (Walgreens brand). The results were not encouraging.
All of the samples contained nanoparticles, and three (3) different types were found in the lab:
- “needle-like” nano hydroxyapatite
- nano TiO2 (titanium dioxide)
- nano silica dioxide
Perhaps the most concerning of the three, nano-hydroxyapatite in needle form, is being used as a calcium source and an ingredient stabilizer in the formula products. Could needle-like materials be wreaking havoc within nearly every part of the body and also presenting additional inhalation dangers in powdered formulas? We don't yet know, and that's a HUGE problem.
According to the Friends of the Earth report,
The European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has determined that needle-like nano-hydroxyapatite (found in Gerber®, Well Beginnings™, and Enfamil™ formulas) is potentially toxic, could be absorbed by and enter cells, and should not be used in cosmetics such as toothpaste, teeth whiteners and mouth washes.
What About Organic Baby Formula?
No engineered nanomaterial will be allowed for use in organic production and handling unless the substance has been: 1) petitioned for use; 2) reviewed and recommended by the NOSB; and 3) added to the National List through notice and comment rulemaking.
It's clear we need to keep our eyes on all developments as usual.
Get Involved to Help Spread the Word Far and Wide!
Our goal is always to increase the prevalence of breastfeeding, but we know that over 30% of infants are exclusively formula fed as of now which makes this a critical issue. And because nanoparticles are unregulated by the FDA and are not listed on any labels, we say it's time to push this information into the spotlight and start holding companies accountable.
Take Action! Join our grassroots movement and tell baby formula companies to remove risky nanoparticles from their products through the Friends of the Earth petition. We want to send the message loud and clear demanding thorough safety testing, encouraging the creation of nano-specific regulations, and ensuring informed decision-making through the transparency of the supply chain via labeling.
Friends of the Earth Report
Visit Friends of the Earth online to download the full testing report, access the press release and view helpful infographics.
Head over to the Friends of the Earth Facebook party on Thursday, May 19th at 6pm PST/7pm MST/8pm CST/9pm EST. Many of the people involved in making this report come to fruition will be in attendance…and there will be prizes! It's not to be missed.
Is news of nanoparticles in baby formula as shocking to you as it was to us?