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Recent nano-initiatives

There are a number of initiatives designed to supplement or improve current laws in their application to nano.

New or amended laws

There is a new EU law on food additives and a proposed new law on cosmetics which refer specifically to 'nano', and clarify how specific legal requirements apply to nanomaterials. The European Commission has also recently presented proposals to change a specific area of food law (novel foods) so that it mentions nano.

Reducing uncertainty

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) ran a voluntary reporting scheme between 2006 and 2008 to gather evidence on current uses of nanomaterials and their potential risks. Anyone dealing with nanomaterials was invited to submit information on their properties, safety and use.

This information, Defra argued, would help the government to develop appropriate controls on nano. Very few submissions were made. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recently recommended that Defra’s reporting scheme should become mandatory. The government is preparing a response to this recommendation.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology has launched an inquiry into Nanotechnologies and Food to investigate the use of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in the food sector. The Committee will look at a wide range of issues, including the state of science and its current use in relation to food products, health and safety, the regulatory framework, public engagement and consumer information.

The Committee’s findings will be published in a report, and will make recommendations to the government and others involved in food regulation.

The Environment Agency, in collaboration with the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) and Defra, has set up the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative (ENI) to fund research into the environmental effects of nanomaterials.

Nano-specific assessment methods

International standards organisations are currently working on the standardisation of methods to identify and measure potential risks from nanomaterials and their applications. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have set up a special committee groups on nanotechnologies to monitor and address the challenges presented by nano.

The ISO is in the process of creating nano-specific standards, and has already published guidelines on health and safety practices for nano in the workplace, and terminology used in nanotechnologies and nanosciences.

It is currently developing standards on a range of other nano-related topics, such as nanoparticle measurement methods, and the safe handling and disposal of nanomaterials.

Other organisations working on nano-standards include:

British Standards Institute (BSI)

European Committee for Standardization (CEN)

In addition, several nano-specific risk strategies have also been designed to help companies assess, monitor and manage the possible impacts of nano-based products and processes.

For more information, see SAFENANO, CENARIOS Managing Nano Risks and DuPont and Environmental Defense Fund Nano Risk Framework.

Codes of conduct

There are a number of guidance documents that companies can choose to follow. The European Commission has published a Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research which sets out general principles and guidelines for research into nano. In the UK, a Responsible Nano Code has been developed, which seeks to establish a framework of good practice in the research, production, sale and disposal of products using nanotechnologies.

Government groups

The government has set up a series of different groups to work on nano policy. The Nanotechnology Issues Dialogue Group (NIDG) co-ordinates and monitors government activities relating to nano. Its sub-group, the Nanotechnology Research Coordination Group (NRCG), is in charge of developing a cross-government research programme on nano.

For more information on the work of the NRCG, click here. A Ministerial group on nanotechnologies was established in 2007 to provide strategic oversight and direction for the NIDG and NRCG.

The Nanotechnology Engagement Group (NEG) was set up in 2005 to promote public involvement in nano matters, and to ensure that government policies and decisions are transparent and allow members of the public to have input. The NEG’s final report can be found here.

For further information, see:

2008 statement by the UK government on nanotechnologies: summary and full text

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