Complexities of labelling of nanoproducts on the consumer markets

Harald Throne-Holst, Arie Rip

Abstract


Various actors, including the European Parliament, press for labelling of products with a nanotechnology component. A few regulatory agencies or advisers are prepared to move in this direction. In deliberative exercises on nanotechnology, people in their roles as citizens and consumers turn out to want such products to be labelled. However, this should not be taken to imply that labelling regulation should be supported without question. There are complexities surrounding labelling: lack of common, international definition of nanomaterials; how labelling is transferring the responsibility to consumers; and low level of knowledge about nanotechnology with the general public. In two Norwegian focus group studies we explored why citizen/consumers are interested in labelling schemes, and use these findings to outline requirements for alternatives.

In 2006 and 2008 we carried out focus group studies with Norwegian consumers. The recruitment base was men and women between 25 and 65 years. The studies concerned consumers, nanotechnology and precaution. Labelling was a recurring theme in all the groups, but participants also had reservations. While one cannot argue against more information, participants realized that large groups of consumers will not benefit from labelling. Accountability, transparency and the need for someone to take responsibility were important considerations in their discussions. We take these concerns as entrance points to discuss other divisions of responsibility than consumers’ choices: GRAS lists for which regulators are responsible, and implied warranty which stimulates producers to be responsible. Alternatives could usefully start from the idea of a shared responsibility.

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