Nanotechnology: a threat or an opportunity?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology European parliament European union

The European Parliament will host a summit on nanotechnology asking
whether it is a threat or an opportunity and how politicians should
react to the often contradictory scientific views.

The seminar, to be held on March 5, will discuss the future of nanotechnology, using the topic to explore in more general terms the question of who is really in charge of policy making in cutting edge technology. Nanoparticles already appear in many cosmetics and personal care products, as well as medicines and other consumer goods, however many believe we cannot yet be sure of the technology's safety. Threat or opportunity? ​ The seminar hosts MEPs Olle Schmidt and Anders Wijkman said: "Proponents envision revolutionised healthcare, consumer goods and construction industries. Opponents show nightmare scenarios of self replicating nano-scale robots and a new asbestos crisis."​ Politicians run the risk of committing to a viewpoint too early perhaps illustrating the European Parliament's need for a support system when dealing with issues such as nanotechnology, said Schmidt and Wijkman. For this reasons the concept of a European Transparency Arena will be explored at the meeting, using nanotechnology as an example. An arena such as this would support the parliament in its decision making process on issues with a high technological and scientific content, say the hosts. The seminar will commence with the director of the Nanotechnology Industries Association Steffi Friedrichs on the potential opportunities of nanotechnology. This will be followed by a presentation from Pat Mooney of the ETC Group Canada who is calling for a nanotech moratorium. Later in the seminar, topics will include the need for the transparency arena and its political implications. Voluntary code of conduct ​ The European Commission has recently published its code of conduct on nanotechnology that places the burden of responsibility for consumer safety on the industry. The voluntary code is an attempt to prevent the current gaps in nanotechnology research from endangering consumer safety by requiring researchers to proceed with a precautionary principle. "The code of conduct is a tool developed by the Commission that will make it very simple to address the legitimate concerns that can arise regarding nanotechnologies,"​ said EU science and research commissioner Janez Potocnik. Those who choose to adopt the code will have to abide by seven general principles including making the research comprehensible to the public and being accountable for the environmental, social and health effects of the research.

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