Nanotechnology in Food and Cosmetics

Appropriate risk governance strategies for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics – Project Overview

Qualitative surveys of consumer opinion provide evidence of concern towards nanotechnological application in foods and cosmetics. Public authorities in several countries have stressed the need for extended risk assessments and careful oversight.

There are a number of issues that require resolution, particularly the need to precisely define what comprises material at the nanoscale. It will be extremely difficult to develop a risk governance regime in the absence of a universally accepted definition or standard for the size at which material should be called nanoscale.

IRGC started work on its second nanotechnology project in 2007, focusing specifically on nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics. It had the following objectives:

  • Explore the different definitions and frames used in the debate on nanoscaled material in food and cosmetics
  • Identify current and future food and cosmetic products containing nanomaterials
  • Review the results of current risk assessment studies and investigations
  • Review existing risk management and regulatory activities in different countries and continents
  • Compare how different international actors are judging the tolerability and acceptability of the risks
  • Identify deficits and develop options for the global risk governance of nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics

Nanotechnology in Food and Cosmetics – Policy recommendations

In May 2009, IRGC completed and published a Policy Brief proposing recommendations for improving the risk governance of nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics, which reflect the five phases of IRGC’s risk governance framework and include:

  • For risk pre-assessment, using the Working Definition of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials proposed by the International Organization for Standardization’s Technical Committee 229
  • For risk assessment, that governments proactively take the initiative of undertaking risk assessments for an appropriate selection of nanomaterials
  • That, judgements of the acceptability or tolerability of the risks are informed by careful analysis of the concerns of key stakeholders and the public and complemented with transparent communication of the inclusion of nanomaterials in products to allow consumers to make their own informed value judgements
  • That, efforts be made by governments to ensure that regulatory processes are harmonised between countries. In the absence of specific regulation, IRGC recommends that industry develops enforceable, transparent and inclusive self-regulatory processes through the use of codes of conduct
  • Regarding risk communication, IRGC strongly recommends that industry engages in the public debate concerning nanotechnologies and their risks and that this should begin with a proactive dialogue with NGOs aimed at agreeing how to define and characterise nanomaterials

The project was ably led by Ortwin Renn, Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Sociology at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

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