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Posted: April 20, 2007
European Commissioner outlines balanced approach to developing nanotechnology
(Nanowerk News) EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has provided further details of what is being done to keep Europe at the forefront of the fast-moving field of nanotechnology in a safe and responsible way.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels on April 17, Mr Potocnik noted that one of the greatest challenges facing the rapidly changing field is how best to join together the three sides of the triangle of knowledge.
This has been one of the goals of the Commission's 2005 action plan on nanotechnologies. 'We wanted to improve the field from start to finish by fostering innovation; increasing investment; boosting inter-disciplinarity; creating the necessary infrastructures and expanding human resources,' said the Commissioner.
At the same time, the plan addresses some of the health and environmental concerns that have been raised in relation to new nanotechnology applications, which the Commissioner said were taken very seriously at EU level. 'The EU is committed to ensuring a balanced approach to developing nanotechnology. It is fundamental to have a high level of public health, safety, and environmental and consumer protection.'
To ensure greater protection, the Commissioner pointed to the need to further identify safety concerns; collect more data for health and environmental impact assessments of products, and act at the earliest possible stage through adjustments, where necessary, of risk assessment procedures for nanotechnology.
A sign perhaps of the EU's commitment to safeguarding the public is the work undertaken currently by the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to provide ethical guidelines on nanomedicine. The Commission has also expanded funding for projects assessing the risk of nanotechnology for humans and the environment within the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which has become the world's largest public funding source for nanotechnology.
In addition, the Commission is looking at the European legislation applicable to nanotechnology. 'We are assessing how adequate and appropriate it is to deal with the increasing use of nanotechnologies. We also need to consider potential regulatory issues,' said Mr Potocnik.
However, legislation and regulation cannot cover everything in such a broad and fast moving area, argued the Commissioner. 'We need to rely on a responsible approach, which allows nanotechnology the freedom it requires to develop. But we also need the safeguards to ensure it works for our benefit as a whole,' he added.
One of the best ways of achieving this balance between freedom and safety is to have a clear code of good conduct, in which everyone can participate, which can act as a flexible blueprint for the nanotechnology field. 'This not only provides clarity and an inclusive approach, it also avoids the need for a top-down attitude to nanotechnology from law makers,' said Mr Potocnik. The Commission, he said, was very active in many international fora where it is seeking to develop this code.