In May 2014 the European Commission launched an impact assessment on the transparency of nanomaterials on the market. The Commission’s working thesis is that the current level of information on the presence of nanomaterials on the market and their uses is not sufficient to protect health, the environment and consumers.

In support of the impact assessment, the views of industry and other interested stakeholders are being sought as part of a public consultation on policy options. The consultation options range from doing nothing, to creating a structured “Nanomaterials Observatory”, and through to a full scale EU-wide registry imposing mandatory substance identity information or use declaration obligations on the whole supply chain.

Call for legislative intervention

A handful of Member States already have or are in the process of developing their own national nanomaterials registries, for instance France and Belgium. This has caused concerns about market fragmentation and a divergence of requirements for marketing of nanomaterials. After various trial initiatives, the Commission has concluded that relying on voluntary notification of information on nanomaterials will not work.

The Commission is seeking stakeholder views on whether regulation may be positive for instance (i) whether the creation of harmonised compulsory databases and standards would protect trade in the internal market from any effects of differential standards between Member States, (ii) would this identify and plug (if any) information gaps on nanomaterials, or (iii) would this enable adequate response to health and environment risks which might be associated with nanomaterials (for example the rapid traceability and removal of a product containing a hazardous nanomaterial).

Of course the consultation is also asking whether such an initiative would simply create additional regulatory and costs burdens and should be left to be decided at the Member State level.

Will greater transparency lead to enhanced consumer confidence or unjustified stigmatisation?

The Commission hopes that greater transparency and more complete, regularly updated and detailed information on the use of nanomaterials will allow full market traceability and thus enhance consumer trust. But there is a concern that it might backfire; if the public begins to perceive all nanomaterials as harmful, this could lead to public stigmatisation of consumer products which contain or may contain nanomaterials.

The nanomaterials market

The current global market for nanomaterials is estimated by the Commission to be worth around €20 billion, and growing, with estimates that products underpinned by nanomaterials will grow to €2 trillion by 2015.

The outcome of the consultation and how it informs the impact assessment has the potential to significantly affect manufacturers, importers, distributors and downstream users of nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials.

Further information

Responses to the consultation are invited from both industry and other interested stakeholders. Interim results of studies in support of the impact assessment are expected towards the end of June 2014 and the consultation will run until early August 2014.

Further details on the background to the impact assessment and consultation are available here. The link to the industry and non-industry stakeholder consultation response forms are available here.