Sometimes it's hard to figure out who is more mixed up in the EHS/nanotechnology debate. On the one hand you have government underestimating the problem and then on the other you have NGOs hyping the issue beyond all recognition.
Both sides seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The latest example we have in this back and forth is Dr. Annette McCarthy of the FDA proclaiming last week to an assembly of food industry delegates at the IFT International Food Nanoscience Conference in Anaheim, CA that: “We believe that the regulatory authority is sufficient to address nanotechnology but there are further questions we need to address.”
I helped to organize a conference three years ago on the impact of nanotechnologies in the food industry and there was an FDA spokesperson at that event as well. Their line of argument was almost identical to Dr. McCarthy's and even three years ago this attitude inspired frustrated sighs.
It's not clear what Dr. McCarthy was referring to specifically when she mentioned "further questions we need to address." But it's not clear how the current regulatory authority is sufficient but at the same time there are further questions that need to be addressed.
Have we entirely lost the capability of the diplomatic hedge? Just say, we're looking at the issue or some other vague and non-committal bit to keep at bay those who are just waiting to pounce on this kind bureaucratic arrogance as evidence of the need for a complete moratorium on nanotechnology.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.