Stop Dithering Over Nanotech Regulation

Reading reports of government plans for the regulation of nanotechnology sometimes feels like being on death row. The outcome is inevitable, and all you can do is hope that it will be short and painless. The European Commission has been debating regulations for the best part of a decade,and now apparently has been given a deadline of 2011 by the European Parliament to “properly regulate nanotechnology.”

Plastics & Rubber Weekly reports that the Belgian Environment Minister, Paul Magnette proposed five elements that should be included in nanotechnology legislation, including

  • A register of nanomaterials used within the EU is established, so regulators can trace the origin of any nanoparticles to their source if they cause health or environmental problems.
  • Manufacturers and retailers inform consumers of the presence of nanomaterials in their products
  • Regulations provide for risk evaluation and management of nanomaterials at an EU level
  • Member states also draft integrated national strategies for nanotechnology risk management, information dissemination and monitoring
  • Claims made on labels of products containing nanomaterials are controlled

As with any legislation the devil will be in the detail, and that will determine whether the result is to shift all production of basic nanomaterials out of the EU or simply create a lot of meaningless labels that consumers won’t understand. Unfortunately, that plays into the hands of pressure groups who managed to influence public opinion against all forms of GMOs based on some rather dodgy science, and leaves companies using nanomaterials between a rock and hard place. Do they add a (nano) suffix to ingredients and risk a consumer backlash, or do they simply fudge the definition – many commonly used materials contain quite a range of particle sizes, and so adjusting to the mean size to 100.001nm could easily sidestep any EU legislation.

But the bottom line is that anyone involved in nanomaterials would like the politicians to make their minds up about regulation. Many companies are unwilling to spend large sums on developing technologies and products they may be outlawed or perceived differently by consumers as a result of pending legislation. The sooner that rules are in place the easier it will be to justify developing nanomaterial based products.

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