5 July 2017

Lay media caned over nanoparticle scare

Communication Fake News

Health experts have hit back at claims that Australian baby formula contains “potentially toxic” nanoparticles.

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald said a US study of seven baby formulas found needle-shaped hydroxyapatite nanoparticles were present in two products available in Australia.

The article acknowledged that hydroxyapatite was a naturally occurring mineral that gave bones and teeth their rigidity. But then added: “Its extremely small size may give it unique properties and behaviours, some of which are unknown and could be harmful.”

The study into infant formulas was commissioned by Friends of the Earth Australia, which has called for the regulator to immediately recall these products.

However, other health experts were less than impressed.

“This is a classical ‘nano’ scare,” Ian Rae, an adviser to the UN Environment Program on chemicals in the environment, said.

“The clue that the investigators are pushing an agenda is in their repeated use of the phrase ‘needle like’ to describe the crystals of hydroxyapatite,” he said.

“It’s a ‘dog whistle’ for ‘you will be feeding your babies sharp objects if you use these products’.”

Instead, these particles were a natural form of hydroxyapatite that easily dissolved in the acids of the digestive system, he said.

Dr Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer in the discipline of pharmacology at the University of Adelaide, echoed the sentiments.

“Nanoparticles have become the latest bogeymen,” he said, explaining that animal studies showed no ill-effects from hydroxyapatite nanoparticles, even at levels much higher than found in milk.