To label or not to label?

Kristin: In February last year on the NanoVic blog, Lisa Bailey talked about labelling of nanotechnology:

It’s a question that got a lot of attention at a Royal Institution event at Science Oxford on Thursday night. It was interesting to hear some of the responses to a talk by Alexis Vlandis, a nanotechnology researcher and member of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility.A number of people expressed their concerns over potential safety and toxicity issues raised by nanotechnology. As Alexis pointed out, at this stage we don’t even know if nanotechnologies pose a toxicity risk, as risk implies that properties of the material are understood, after all toxicity doesn’t stop industry safely using thousands of toxic chemical compounds. At this stage the largest worry is in the uncertainty, and the lack of research going into this area.

So how do we deal with this? A few people said that they would like products to be labelled to contain nanomaterials. This was contentious though, some people agreeing that labelling informs the consumer, allowing them to make a choice, whereas others debated that labelling would only lead to confusion and does not address safety issues. I would tend to agree with Alexis, who pointed out that you would like to assume that any product for sale is safe, it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to have to make a decision about that by looking at a label.

What do you think? How meaningful would a label such as ‘contains nanoparticles’ be to consumers? Does labelling imply risk? Why should we care if they are labelled or not if they are safe? For more on labelling check out here on the NanoVic site.

The use of nanoparticles in sunscreens  (see ABC Science article from Feb 2008 and 7:30 Report item from Dec 2008) is one issue that merits further exploration around labelling.  Friends of the Earth are asking for “all sunscreens that contain nanoparticles [to] pass new safety testing and face mandatory labelling”. Most of the nanotechnologists I’ve spoken with support the call for labelling that indicates the size of active particles in consumer products. Do you think the issue of labelling has moved in the past year, or is more debate required?

Originally published at Blog@NanoVic for Nanotechnology Victoria.

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