Global nanotech code up for consultation

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology

A global consultation is underway to create a code that would guide
companies developing, manufacturing and selling
nanotechnology-engineered products.

Nanotechnology is championed by a growing number of personal care manufacturers for use in both active ingredients and packaging. The code is being developed by the UK's Royal Society, the Nanotechnology Industries Association, Insight Investment, and the government-sponsored Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network. The code aims to protect researchers, plant workers and consumers from the potential detrimental health effects of nano-engineered products and packaging. The groups have launched an international consultation on the standards, an effort to create a consensus on what good practice looks like in the current absence of legislation. The standard would provide guidance on what organisations and businesses can do to demonstrate they are managing nanotechnologies responsibly. The groups intend that the code would be applicable the world over, by companies and organisations large and small that are working with nanotechnologies. The use of nanotechnology to develop more effective personal care products and smart packaging presents a huge commercial opportunity for for the industry. However, as an emerging science nanotechnology is beset by uncertainty over the potential environmental, health and safety risks of some nanoscale materials. Nanotechnologies are already being used in a vast array of products in many industry sectors. A draft code up for consultation is based on seven principles. The principles aim to ensure that a company's management takes responsibility for safe nanotechnology development . In particular each company would be required to identify and minimise sources of risk for workers handling products using nanotechnologies, at all stages in the production process or in industrial use, to ensure high standards of occupational health and safety ​They would also require their suppliers to follow the code. According to the Woodrow Wilson International Center only six percent of Americans say they have "heard a lot" about nanotechnology, while a massive 70 percent say they have only heard a little or nothing at all. The organization is part of the UK effort to develop a global code. "Even though the number of nanotechnology-enabled consumer products - from dietary supplements to skin products to electronic devices - has more than doubled to over 500 products since last year, the 'needle' on public awareness of nanotechology remains stuck at disappointingly low levels,"​ said David Rejeski, director of the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. The centre, whose members belong to the scientific community, believes that governments have been lagging behind in overseeing the development of nanotechnology. Opinion on nanotechnology is a hot debate in the food industry, which uses the science in a variety of applications, particularly for improving the quality of packaging materials. Last year sales of nanotechnology-related products in all segments reached almost $1bn (€744m), jumping from $150m (€112m) in 2002, according to consultant Helmut Kaiser. Three years ago less than 40 nanopackaging products were on the market, compared to over 400 available at present. The EU is also wary of how nanotechnology is used in the food industry. Earlier this year the Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) said that new risk assessment methods are needed because chemicals in their nanoparticle form have potentially very different properties than their larger physical forms. 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. Nanotechnology is a relatively new science involving the manipulation of materials at near atomic scales. Comments on the draft code can be submitted directly via a website,, until 12 November 2007.

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