The White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) has developed a set of principles (pdf) specific to the regulation and oversight of applications of nanotechnology, to guide the development and implementation of policies at the agency level.
I’m glad to see that it addresses those two old bugbears, the confusion between risk and hazard and the prejudging of issues without reference to scientific evidence (my italics below).
Nanomaterials should not be deemed or identified as intrinsically benign or harmful in the absence of supporting scientific evidence, and regulatory action should be based on such scientific evidence. Where there is evidence of either safety or likely harm, the corresponding regulatory actions are usually clear. For some statutes, the mere existence of a hazard, regardless of the probability of it causing harm, may trigger some form of regulatory action. In general, however, and to the extent consistent with law, regulation should be based on risk, not merely hazard, and in all cases the identification of hazard, risk or harm must be evidence-based. In applying these principles, regulators should use flexible, adaptive, and evidence-based approaches that avoid, wherever possible, hindering innovation and trade while fulfilling the Federal Government’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment.
It is an approach which appears to diverge slightly from the European adoption of the precautionary principle, which states that “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.”
As with any regulation, the problems will arise not from the the original wording, but through its (mis)interpretation and inconsistent application.