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Posted: Jan 20th, 2009
Governing the risk of nanotechnology in food and cosmetics
(Nanowerk Spotlight) In case you want to get up to date on what's happening around the world with regard to the development of risk governance for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics, a new report just out from the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) provides a good overview. An early version of this report was originally written as a briefing paper for an expert workshop organized by the IRGC in 2008. It is also a companion to the IRGC Policy Brief due for publication in early 2009. While this report does not include any primary research, is is a useful primer for anyone who wants to get an overview of what is happening in this area.
IRGC is an independent organization whose purpose is to help the understanding and management of global risks that impact on human health and safety, the environment, the economy and society at large. The organization's focus on risk governance strategies for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics is based on rising public concerns:
"Qualitative surveys of consumer opinion provide evidence of a positive to indifferent attitude towards nanotechnologies and their application, with one exception : foods. Concerns about cosmetics are also rising and consumer advocacy groups and independent experts have recommended that more risk assessments should be conducted before cosmetics containing nanoscale materials are put on the market. Public authorities in several countries have stressed the need for extended risk assessments and careful oversight."
Consequently, the IRGC's nanotechnology project has the following objectives
to explore the different definitions and frames that are used in the debate on nanoscaled material in food and cosmetics
to identify the current and future food and cosmetic products containing nanomaterials
to review the current studies and investigations with respect to risk assessment
to review existing risk management activities and regulatory activities in different countries and continents (Europe, US, Japan, Korea, and others)
to compare how different international actors (different countries, international organizations) are making tolerability and acceptability judgments
to identify deficits and develop options for the global risk governance of nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics.
Examples for nanotechnology applications in food and agriculture (Source: Nanowerk)
After describing the use of nanomaterials in food and cosmetics, summarizing opinion research on public perception and reviewing the regulatory background and legal requirements for risk assessment, the report highlights risk assessment studies for three sample nanoscale materials: synthetic amorphous silica, titanium dioxide, and encapsulated vitamins.
The authors then review the currently available codes and frameworks that provide guidelines for risk assessment, management and communication:
Responsible Care®, an overall approach by the chemical industry to demonstrating corporate responsibility
"Although new regulations specific to nanotechnology, whether in food and cosmetics or in other sectors such as medicine, appear unlikely at the present time, industry would be well advised to establish an enforceable, transparent and inclusive process of self-regulation through a voluntary code. However, this step may not satisfy concerned NGOs: 'Voluntary initiatives are wholly inadequate to oversee nanotechnology... the public overwhelmingly prefers mandatory governmental oversight to voluntary initiatives'."