Brussels – Industries claim that nanotechnology is both good for business and good for consumers quality of life, a seemingly obvious win-win situation. Yet the less advertised risks of nanotechnology applications require close scrutiny.
The application of nanotechnology began with semiconductors, but the presence of nanomaterials in your laptop and car is not the same as ingesting it from your chocolate bar.
In its new report on the hazards of nanotechnology, released to coincide with the proposal for a Framingnano governance platform at the European Commission, Food & Water Europe believes that basic human needs such as food and water should remain nanotechnology-free, as potential harms may be much greater than the alleged benefits.
Justifying the risk taken in the use of nanomaterials by saying that everything we use contains an element of risk anyway, is a weak argument. The analogy between the risk of driving a nanotechnology powered car and that of consuming a product that we apply to our skin or swallow is over simplistic, as the nature of the risks involved in these two cases differs significantly. Given today’s immense uncertainty with respect to absorbing a nanoparticle (through ingestion or application to hair and skin), the precautionary principle should be enforced through a moratorium on all consumer products whose safety has not been proven beyond doubt.
Food & Water Europe focuses on the risks of nanotechnology applications in areas such as occupational safety, environment and consumer products while pointing out the insufficiency of existing regulations both in the United States and the European Union alike. In the absence of meaningful regulations that would prioritize consumers safety over profit, Food & Water Europe supports the “no data no market” approach of the European Parliament’s environment committee, which includes market withdrawal of consumer products containing nanotechnology until reliable and independent safety assessments can be made.
Lawmakers need to scale back the widespread proliferation of consumer products containing nanoparticles until a robust regulatory program is in place. In the interim, it is essential that regulators require all consumer products containing nanotechnology to be labelled (even when the production process contains less than 1 tonne of nanomaterials) and that an inventory of such products will be available to consumers through the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General (SANCO) of the European Commission.
The application of nanotechnology takes different forms along the manufacturing chain and each individual holder only remains liable for their stage of the production and not for whatever manipulations are carried out further down the line. Taking this into account, voluntary best practice codes are insufficient; a mandatory code of conduct needs to be enforced among all parties dealing with the application of nanotechnologies.
The European Commission may be increasing its funding for nanotechnology R&D, but should not put the focus on innovation and the commerciality of nanomaterials as was previously done. More attention needs to be given to the pressing matter of risk assessment and exposure hazards of nanoparticles. When products are already on the shelves, we cannot afford a “wait-and-see” approach.
Food and Water Europe is the program of Food and Water Watch, Inc (a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, DC), working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.