June 16, 2009
Oh dear. As if the debate on nanotechnology were not complex enough, it now seems companies are quietly burying references to nanomaterials contained in consumer produts. Until recently, branding something as containing ‘nanotechnology’ was seen as a plus – a marketing boost. Now though, a new pattern is emerging.
Consumer groups in Norway, the UK and elsewhere have highlighted an apparent reluctance amongst leading consmetics companies to engage on how they are using nanotechnology, even though many sunscreens have now been enhanced using nanoparticles. A search of one company’s website in 2007 found 29 references to “nanotechnology”. The same search performed today, turns up zero. Either the company has suddenly stopped using nanotech or it has become less inclined to shout about it.
Even the reputable Woodrow Wilson Center – a Washington-based think tank – has suggested nanotechnology appears to be “going underground“.
Sure, there are still plenty of charlatans claiming to offer ‘nano-enabled’ sports drinks and toothpaste, but the big boys have clearly decided that nano is now a negative. Multinationals rarely do things on a whim, so one might presume that their focus groups have indicated nano could become a drag on sales and is no longer worth the hassle.
It’s worth noting that if nanotech is goinng underground it’s not because of some new finding showing that the kinds of particles used in sunscreen are dangerous – it’s a matter of perception. This, according to European Commission officials is partly because civic society has ramped up the fear factor while jostling for ownership of the issue.
There are two dangers to reduced transparency on nanotechnology:
- Any reduction in information sharing by those putting products on the market holds potential hazards for consumers
- If we unleash unfocused fear of novel technologies, we risk turning our backs on a plethora of technologies which have the potential to advance the fields of drug delivery, water purification, fuel catalysis and countless others.
The ‘nano’ brand needs to be rescued before it goes they way of ‘genetically modified’.Gary Finnegan