The Commission is set to put forward a voluntary code of conduct for responsible nanotech research in late 2007, as lack of scientific knowledge about the risks of the emerging technology is impeding the development of specific legislation in the field.

The Commission launched on 19 July 2007 a consultation on a code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnology research. It seeks input for a specific Recommendation that the EU executive is planning to put forward before the end of the year.

As nanotech products are already being mass-produced in areas such as food, electronics and cosmetics, the political debate on regulating nanotechnologies is just beginning. A lack of scientific knowledge and the absence of evidence of the health and safety hazards of nanotech, however, make regulation impossible. 

Whereas - to date - no government in the world has developed a specific nanotech regulation, everybody agrees that more research on the health and environmental risks posed by nanoparticles is needed to ensure that asbestos-like scandals do not come back to haunt nanotech companies in the future. The EU is currently examining whether nanotechnologies are already covered by other Community legislation, in the process of defining the legislative framework.

The consultation on the code of conduct invites representatives from the scientific community, industry, civil society, policy-makers and media, as well as the general public, to express their views on the future governance of this emerging area of science, which is also raising issues and questions concerning ethics and the fundamental rights of individuals, such as the protection of personal data.

"The consultation process launched today shows the Commission's commitment to developing the potential of nanosciences with appropriate safeguards," said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. 

According to the Commission, the future code would invite member states, industry, universities, funding organisations, researchers and other stakeholders to follow its principles, which the Commission itself, within EU research programmes and policy, would follow as well.

Drafting a European code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnology research is part of the Commission's ambition "to promote a balanced diffusion of information on nanotechnology and to foster an open dialogue". The code was announced in the EU's nanosciences and nanotechnology action plan 2005-2009.

The consultation is open until 21 September 2007.