Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Dialogue on Nano

The English language publication of the findings from the Dialogforum on Nano organised by BASF was celebrated at a public event yesterday (24 June) in Brussels. This important communication examined how we can effectively communicate in a transparent way on nanomaterials from manufacturers to consumers. Its findings reflect other recent industry communications in the area of nanotech.

What do consumers want to know about nanotech-enabled products? And how should manufacturers and retailers communicate? Does a definition of nano help, what is the role of labelling and would a mandatory register help?

These questions and more were on the agenda of the Dialogforum Nano organised by BASF. This initiative brought together representatives of German environmental and consumer organisations, churches, industry, retailers, research organisations and trade unions to develop shared recommendations for increasing transparency and information on nano-materials along the value chain from manufacturer to the consumer.

To achieve this involved a process that included analysis of  consumer enquiries to companies and consumer organisations, expert hearings the availability of relevant scientific information and safety testing of nanomaterials.

You can access the final report of the Dialogforum here and see a summary of the 24 June event including contributions from panelists and the audience can be accessed here.

Seven questions
The essence of the recommendations of the Dialogforum is summarised in seven questions for the supply chain:
  1. Information on the nanomaterial used: How can the material be characterised?
  2. Does the EU definition recommendation for nanomaterials apply to the material in question?
  3. A/ How can the effect and the new functionality generated through the nanomaterial be explained? B/ How can the effect and the new functionality be explained if the material in question is not a nanomaterial?
  4. How can the added value of the nanomaterial be described compared to other products?
  5. How is the risk assessment of the used materials carried out? With what results?
  6. How is the material / product in question to be recycled / disposed of / handled at the end-of-pipe?
  7. Where can further information be found?
During the discussion on 24 June a key element for the success of the Dialogforum was the establishment of a common language / vocabulary to remove ambiguity and allow common understanding between the various stakeholder. It is hoped to develop the dialogue at a pan-European level.

Mindset change
Gernot Klotz, Executive Director for Research and Innovation at Cefic and SusChem board member addressed the recent EuroNanoForum in Dublin on June 18 with a similar message.

He called for a mindset change in Europe. In the face of the many pressing societal challenges—such as renewable energy and an ageing population —that we face it is essential that we develop key enabling technologies (KETs) such as nanotechnology.

However successful development of KETs requires that both public and political perceptions of the technologies are able to comprehend the relative and differentiated balance of risk and benefit for their wide range of applications.

He argued that “to achieve global leadership in nano and maximise its benefits to society, the benefits and risks research in new technology areas should be tackled together.  The innovation and safety community must work together to ensure that we master these technologies and push forward applications where the use of nano is regarded as safe.”

That means an integrated strategy on KETs is needed that will simultaneously:
  • Link technologies to their specific uses for solutions for priority European challenges
  • Open a structured dialogue between the innovation and safety stakeholder communities
  • Promote more research that integrates risks and benefits within its design to provide us robust data on the benefits from innovation that society wants and the related risks society is willing to take to get the benefits
  • Explore existing regulations and voluntary approaches for responsible risk management of KETs
  • Initiate broad and structured public dialogue about benefits and risks of KETs in specific application areas
“Innovation is about change. And change requires a mindset change in order for us to accept and adapt to change. The proposed approaches must be part of the discussion on societal challenges. We cannot achieve the EU 20-20-20 objectives and enjoy a better life quality if we do not invest in technology,” he concluded.

You can read the full text of Gernot Klotz’s speech here.

Safe and innovative
These themes were also reflected in a joint document published by a range of European industry associations, including the chemical industry, on 14 June. The document, Europe needs safe and innovative nanotechnologies, demonstrates these sectors backing for the European Commission's Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials and ‘its conclusion that the current European regulatory framework adequately covers nanomaterials, is science-based and proportionate’.

The paper also states that ‘[…] the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation provides the [most] appropriate framework to address nanomaterials […]’ and that openness and transparency are vital for the growth of the nanotechnology industries.

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