Lessons from GM – 1: Don’t bring out pointless products with dubious claims!

I spoke at an interesting meeting last week hosted by Leatherhead Food Research, which sought to explore the ways that nano may be used in food.

One of the perennial questions raised it’s head – ‘how do we avoid another GM’. Coincidentally, it was followed by a presentation from the Market Intelligence Manager for Leatherhead, highlighting some of the products currently on the market using nano – mainly in Asia and the US. These provided me with a perfect illustration of one of the key issues in ‘avoiding another GM‘. I have been meaning for a while to start a blog strand on this subject, so here is Post 1.

Don’t bring out dodgy products with dubious effectiveness claims designed simply to make money with very little real benefit to consumers!

My speech at the event was about the areas of concern expressed by the public and other stakeholders around nano products. Four of the key issues I highlighted, which come out in most public engagement, (I would imagine for any product, not just nano enhanced ones) are:

  • Do I want what it does?
  • Does it do what it says it does?
  • Is it safe?
  • How do I know?

Here are three of the ones shown, they are a gift to illustrate just what many scientists and commentators were worried about – dubious products, dodgy claims, not backed up by visible science. Most of them wouldn’t be allowed on the market in the EU, but nonetheless may ‘infect’ the reputation of important and useful nano enabled products just the same.

(My opinions here are mine alone and not, necessarily, those of Leatherhead or others involved in the meeting).

Nano Wa2011-03-03_14-09-102ter


Product has to have a clear benefit to the user.

I’m not sure how this looked like a good idea from any angle, presumably they are climbing on bottled water bandwagon to make a bit of cash. But here they are, alledgedly, tweaking water to make it absorbed more quickly into the body. Hello? The delay between me being thirsty, drinking a glass of water and feeling better can’t be more than a two seconds as it is, how much faster does it need to be?

On of the key points in my presentation, illustrated perfectly by Nano Water was:

Just because science can do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to make a product out of it and try to sell it to us!

I rest my case!!2011-03-11_17-41-382

Does it do what it says on the tin?

Although not all the ingredients were included on the slide, scientists present seemed pretty sure that neither ‘high performance liquid’ or ‘extended energy release spheres’ featured on the ingredients list will have an effect on ‘extended energy release’. It looks like sugar water, much like the rest. (However it struck me that if nano encapsulation techniques did use all natural materials there may not need to be any indicator on the pack that the technique is used – which raises the labelling/safety/efficacy question anyway).

Product efficacy is SO important with a new technology. New products, with new technologies, even more so than ordinary ones, surely have to provide a clear benefit to the user, or why switch from what you use already? A con will reflect badly on the ‘ology’ as well as on the maker. Energy drinks are dubious enough, hyped-up nano fake energy drinks really don’t help!


 Nano Milk Powder – I kid you not

So we mess around with water, and then milk. Great! I suppose it’s not baby milk, for that we have to be thankful! So instead of being digested in the normal way in the gut and being carried into the bloodstream, the calciu m in this goes directly to the core of the bones? What the marrow? That’s useful! I have no idea if 100 times smaller is nano, whether the thing has any validity at all, but it seems a pointless idea with a pointless purpose to me!

I can’t find any websites to tell me anything a bout these products at all, so even in the unlikely event that:

(a) they are products that actually do have a useful purpose for someone, somewhere

(b) they do what they say they are going to do

(c) they have been adequately tested for safety

Though they probably wouldn’t be allowed to be marketed in the EU, we have no access to any information to decide for ourselves if we want to use them and if their claims are true.

Lesson One on Learning from GM

Make sure your products have a clear benefit to the user, that it is real and not a con and that they can make a reasonable judgement on safety and efficacy based on accessible information.


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