The European Commission's hesitance to define nanotechnology underscores diverging opinions among stakeholders and is causing uncertainty in the sector, it emerged this week.
Participants in a Brussels-based international conference, the Safety for Success Dialogue, discussed the Commission's ongoing search to revise a draft definition of nano that went out to public consultation last year, but made clear that no answer has yet been found.
Henrik Laursen, coordinator of the nano team in the Commission's environment department, said the EU executive had received around 200 replies to the consultation. He said: "It is clear that at a certain level many stakeholders are saying different things, and there is no absolute scientific definition."
He said the Commission would not be rushed into making a decision because, once made, it would not be a working model but would immediately have a significant binding effect.
But Chiara Giovanini, a spokeswoman for ANEC, the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation, noted that the "lack of an agreed definition is creating legal uncertainties for regulatory purposes, and hindering the development of adequate safety test and measurement methods".
She called on the Commission to adopt the draft definition of nanomaterials contained in the consultation at the end of last year "without further delay".
Laursen said that although the Commission would consider the public consultation and the advice of key scientific bodies such as the EU's scientific committee on emerging and newly identified health risks (SCENIHR), ultimately the definition would be "a policy decision".
The Commission is believed to be attempting to frame a definition before the end of the summer. However, the finer detail of how to define nanomaterials is the subject of fervent disagreement between stakeholders behind the scenes.
Wim de Jong, vice-chair of the SCENIHR, told EURACTIV that his organisation had recommended to the Commission that the number of particles, rather than the weight of the particles, be used as a guide for determining the definition.
"This is important because the potential hazards of using these particles relates to the number of them within a particular product," he said.
But other stakeholders are opposed to using numbers as a guide to defining nanomaterials. For example, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) has recommended to the Commission that weight be used instead.
Cefic's reply to the Commission consultation reads: "Weight is generally used in all chemical legislation and test procedures and should therefore be used instead of particle number concentration."