Ethical Performance
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Lords call for nano action

February 2010

The emerging nanotechnology industry has been advised to create databases on nanomaterials to improve its transparency record.
A House of Lords science and technology committee in the UK has criticized food companies that fail to publish or discuss their nanotechnology research, and urges the British government to toughen regulation as a result.

Despite a Responsible NanoCode developed by the industry in 2008 pledging companies to be ‘open and transparent’ (EP10, issue 3, p7), the committee was unimpressed by the sector’s transparency.  

The committee’s newly-published Nanotechnology and food report recommends that the Food Standards Agency should develop, in partnership with the food industry, a database of information about nanomaterials being researched to help develop ‘appropriate risk assessment procedures’.

The report says: ‘Industry participation in this database should be mandatory, given the failure of... voluntary schemes in the UK and elsewhere.’

Nanotechnology, involving the creation of objects from individual atoms and molecules, is a growing market, especially in the food sector. However, there are worries about toxicity, and some pressure groups have warned that nanoparticles may damage living organisms.

The Lords committee also recommends that the Food Standards Agency should strengthen consumer confidence in the use of nanomaterials by creating a publicly accessible database of food and food packaging containing nanomaterials.

This is suggested instead of universal labelling requirements because of its potential to provide more detailed information, says the committee.

Hilary Sutcliffe of the Responsible Nano Forum, which runs a consumer information website on nanotechnology called ‘nano&me’, welcomed the report’s recommendations, saying they were applicable to other sectors using nanotechnology, including cosmetics and cleaning products.

She told EP: ‘Companies could have headed off [the demand for mandatory reporting] had they conducted previous, voluntary initiatives in a sensible way.

‘The dilemma now is that while mandatory reporting in the area will probably come into effect, it will take a few years. To make sure consumers have something to go on, a voluntary scheme is worth doing in the meantime. But it needs to be done properly.’

House of Lords | UK & NI Ireland | Transparency

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