Public-friendly report calls for nanotechnology research

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology

The European Commission has ordered a re-write of its report
calling for more risk assessment of Nanotechnology, aiming to make
the subject understandable for industry and the public.

The publication of the summary indicates that nanotechnology will have a big impact on the food industry, where it is used for packaging, so industry players, as well as consumers, need to understand the subject. The original report, issued by the EC's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) in 2006, concluded that more analysis on nanotechnology is needed, as its affect on human health is still largely unknown. At the EC's request, the report 'Themodified Opinion (after public consultation) on the appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies​', was summarised by Greenfacts, which specialises in making scientific reports comprehensible "in laymans terms." Patrick Von Hove, Greenfacts science editor, told that; "the original document was written for scientists. We have re-written it to bring the subject into a wider domain." ​The report stated that new risk assessment methods are needed because chemicals in their nanoparticle form have potentially very different properties than their larger physical forms. "Engineered particles of nanometre size can have unique properties and very different effects on health and the environment compared to the same material at larger sizes." ​While several scientific publications are currently examining the subject, knowledge about the potential risk to humans is still scant, the report added. According to the SCENIHR, nanoparticles may move inside the body, reaching the blood and organs such as the liver or the heart, and may also cross cell membranes​. These particles may then lead to lung inflammation​ and heart problems. Opinion on nanotechnology remains hotly divided in the food industry, which uses it in a variety of applications, particularly for improving the quality of packaging materials. In a report published last month, the consultanty Helmut Kaiser said that the nanotechnology food packaging industry could be worth as much as €22bn ($30bn), based on current market value estimates, while some estimates said the market could be worth €740bn ($1tn) by 2013. Only last month, the UK's University of Nottingham opened a €4.7 million nanotechnology research centre for what it termed "the technology for the future." ​However, not everyone is as seemingly enthusiastic, and several industry players have lobbied regulatory bodies for more research. At the beginning of this month an international coalition of consumer, environmental and labour groups issued what the member groups described as an urgent call for strong nanotechnology oversight, along with a 15-page document setting out proposed principles to guide regulators in their oversight of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials. According to the coalition, which operates under the umbrella group International Center for Technology Assessment, "evidence indicates that current nanomaterials may pose significant health, safety, and environmental hazards,""In addition, the profound social, economic, and ethical challenges posed by nano-scale technologies have yet to be addressed,"​ the group added.

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