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European Nanotechnology receives a public 'Thumbs-Up'

The European Commission has published the result of its Public Online Consultation, Towards a Strategic Nanotechnology Action Plan (SNAP 2010-2015).

The report summarises the detailed contributions given by 716 respondents of various backgrounds to the online questionnaire that was largely limited to multiple-choice answers: The majority of the responses were provided by individuals (61%). Two thirds (62.5%) of all individual responses were given by researchers. The second biggest contributor group (22.8%) was made up of individual non-researchers including interested citizens, workers in companies dealing with nanotechnologies or nano-enabled products, and those working for authorities, trade unions or NGOs (22.8%). The industrial sectors (17.7%), including for example manufacturing and trading companies involved in nanotechnologies, also made a respectable contribution. NGOs (5.3%) and public authorities (4.5%), although smaller in absolute numbers, represented collective societal and governmental interests featured in one of ten responses.

Interesting discrepancies can be found between the responses provided by NGOs, including Consumer Organisations, and those responses given by individual non-researchers: while the latter thought that it should be one of the priority policies in the new EU Action Plan 2010-2015 to do more to ‘Remove Innovation Barriers’ and to provide ‘Incentives and Tools’, their representing consumer and environmental NGOs demanded that much less effort should be spent in the future on these two aspects.

NGOs, by contrast, considered the ‘Lack of Dialogue/Debate’ a major concern, while individual non-researchers ranked this issue well below the top-1/3 mark in their list of priority concerns.

In dialogue with the NIA, a representative of the consumer organisation ANEC explained that ‘the two groups associate different activities with the question of ‘Dialogue/Debate’: NGOs envisage a policy-making activity with learned organisations, while individual consumers and citizens think that they would be asked to participate.’

The report highlights the following main conclusions:

  • 'Both experts and the general public see many benefits in nanotechnologies, as well as potential risks
  • More than 80% of respondents have either high or reasonable expectations of nanotechnologies in general
  • Some areas are seen as more promising than others, with regard to their expected benefits and potential risks. There was a sharp difference of opinions between experts and the general public, as well as among different nanotechnology applications
  • ICT and energy are seen as the areas of application where the benefits far outweigh any potential risks
  • Applications in healthcare are universally seen as very promising, but there is a strong perception of potential risks
  • Applications in aerospace, construction, sustainable chemistry, security and environment are seen as areas that would bring high benefits
  • Applications in agriculture, food and household items are regarded with more scepticism, although potential benefits in these areas were also identified by many respondents
  • The major concerns regarding policy centre on the safety of nanomaterials and their regulation. Generally, more action is expected to ensure safety
  • Another major concern, primarily raised by industry, is the rate of innovation in Europe and the risk that Europe may fall behind in the exploitation of its scientific base in nanotechnology
  • There is overwhelming demand for an inventory of the types and uses of nanomaterials that would include safety aspects. Demand is also high for requirements to ensure that adequate information is provided on consumer products
  • There is a good or very good perception of EU governance related to nanotechnologies in terms of stakeholder consultation and setting research priorities. All other areas did poorly
  • EU documentation and activities related to research and research funding – and to a lesser extent the European Strategy and Action Plan (SAP) on nanosciences and nanotechnologies – seem to be well known and are often used. Conversely, the opinions of the European Group on Ethics (EGE) regarding nanomedicine are largely unknown
  • There is a perceived need to strengthen action in all areas of nanotechnology strategy pursued until now, from research and innovation to safety and outreach’

The report also provides copies of all responses received under the Public Online consultation; more information on the NIA’s response can found here.

 

Follow this link to download the full report on the SNAP-Consultation results.

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