The challenge is clear: globally, we will need to feed two billion extra people by 2050. As politicians, industry and scientists turn their attention to the problem of world food security, many believe we will need to use every available tool to tackle this impending crisis. One such tool could be nanotechnology, the applications of which could potentially help us to produce more food, using less water and fertiliser, and with less of an impact on the environment.
A recent Guardian seminar, sponsored by the
"The scale of the challenge is reasonably well known," suggested Jones, director of communications at trade association the
Nanotechnology is the engineering of the very small, at the scale of millionths of a millimetre. It can describe both the futuristic goals of building tiny molecular machines and the more contemporary practice of adding nanoparticle substances to consumer products to make them lighter, stronger or more hygienic.
The current use of nanotechnology in the food industry is still in its early stages and generally builds upon longstanding processes and practices in food production. Jones, however, says it is clear that nanotechnology might provide solutions to a range of industry problems.
"You could see nanotechnology used in the cultivation, production, processing or packaging of food," he said. "It could be used to develop new food products or, indeed, improve existing ones."
As well as reducing water use and contamination in food processing, Jones believes nanotechnology could help make food healthier. "In the
These ideas sound ambitious and all-encompassing, but, in reality, the current use of nanotechnology in food production is limited. An often-cited contemporary example is nanosalt, smaller grains of salt that provide better coverage of a plate of chips while reducing the overall amount of salt used. So far, however, it has been slow to catch on.
The slow uptake of nanotechnology in food might, in part, be down to people's reluctance to see technology tampering with what they eat.
According to Groves, a food microscopist at
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