After getting an advance copy of the new report from the UK’s House of Lords Science, Technology and Industry Committee (mentioned in my post of Jan.5.10), I spent a good chunk of the day reading it. These are fast impressions:
- it seemed quite thorough relative to the scope of the investigation and from the perspective of a Canadian who hasn’t seen her own government investigate and make public information about the state of any nanotechnology research, I found this to be quite refreshing
- there was something strange about the benefits and that strangeness was the focus on obesity and waste…much else is mentioned but obesity and waste (i.e. reducing both) are strongly emphasized as possible areas where benefits could be experienced.
- secrecy on the part of the food industry’s nanotechnology research was noted and discussed at length with an analysis that was both sympathetic to the industry’s concerns (i.e. that there would be a replay of the GM and food irradiation controversies and/or competition would be inhibited) and adamant that adopting secrecy as a strategy is wrong-minded.
- nanotechnology research in the UK is coordinated through a single agency (I believe that’s true in the US as well but it’s definitely not the case in Canada).
- they were quite critical of the current toxicology research efforts, irrespective of nanotechnology, there aren’t enough toxicology researchers in the UK as well there’s a specific problem with the nanotoxicology, i.e. knowledge gaps (from the report [and they are quoting from a previous report], pp. 34-5 ),
EMERGNANO report states that “this review of ongoing studies has failed to demonstrate that there is any comprehensive attempt to gain the toxicokinetic … data required to reach the aims of hazard identification” and there have been “no systematic studies on the potential of different kinds of nanoparticles to get into the blood, the lymph or the brain”. We find this conclusion worrying.
We are disappointed and concerned that the Research Councils have not adopted a more pro-active approach to encourage and stimulate research bids in areas where existing mechanisms have so far proved ineffective. Dr Mulkeen told us that the MRC would take “more active steps if needed” to develop research into the safety of nanotechnologies (Q 420). We feel that a more pro-active stance is essential given the lack of progress in several key areas to date.
- some of the difficulty re: nanotoxicology research seems to be attributable to the funding structure (from the report p. 35),
The 2007 review by the CST concluded that the primary reason for the Government’s slow progress on health and safety research was due “to an over-reliance by Government on responsive mode funding, rather than on directed programmes by Government departments to deliver the necessary research”.44 A number of witnesses supported this view. Professor Donaldson, for example, told us: “If we look at the Royal Academy/Royal Society report, there was a really important paragraph that there should be a central core-funded chunk of research and expertise brought together to design a programme that would look systematically at nanoparticle toxicology, and that was ignored. We had response mode funding where people just put forward what they wanted to do, so what you get is piecemeal” (Q 267).
Professor Jones also alluded to the relative strength of research investigating nanoparticle toxicology in the lung compared to a lack of research into the
gut as a result of response-mode funding (Q 494).
- there is a huge difference between the funds for nanotechnology research (one agency spent 220 million pounds on nanotech research over a 5 year period) and funds for nanotoxicology research (less than 600,000 pounds per annum or less than 3 million pounds in a five year period) which I imagine is much the same elsewhere.
- they do mention Canada as a country that has announced a mandatory register of nanomaterials which will include information on safety data (this register has been referred to in other reports but no one ever cites a source and I’ve never been able to confirm that this register is actually being developed).
- in their recommendations for regulatory enforcement they seemed to be reinforcing the status quo or bringing the UK into line with current European Union practices.
- in the last bit they discuss communication, i.e. there should be yet another survey of public attitudes although this will be about nanotechnologies and food, they acknowledge the government’s decision to create a new website on the subject, they’d like it if the government would work with the industry folks to become more open about their research, there won’t be blanket labelling of nanotechnology on food products, and they think public engagement should be undertaken.
The last two bits, regulation and communication, are the least developed sections of the report. I found that overall there was a good balance between sympathy for industry interests and concern for health issues. Some of the strongest language in the report was used in the sections on nanotoxicology and its lack of research.