Swiss retail group says its Nanotechnology Code of Conduct will have far-reaching effects

April 30, 2008 — The Swiss Retailer’s Organization (IG DHS), in collaboration with the Innovation Society, has introduced what the partners call “the world’s first code of conduct for consumer products containing applications of nanotechnology.”

The Innovation Society, a nanotechnology-consulting firm, last year worked with certification company TÜV SÜD to develop the “world’s first” nanotechnology safety certification, CENARIOS. The IG DHS represents some of Switzerland’s most important retailers, including Migros, Coop, Manor, Valora and Charles Vögele.

Available in four languages (German, English, French and Italian), the code
sets forth requirements that the authors say will have far-reaching consequences for both producers and suppliers. It requires those creating and selling nano-enabled products to pass “decision-relevant data” along the value chain. In announcing the code, the IG DHS said, “members commit to the highest possible transparency for consumers and to the application of the precautionary principle in the face of a lack of specific legal rulings.”

With this self-commitment, the signing members want to make sure that consumers will be informed openly about products containing nanotechnology, and that products claiming to be nano-based actually do contain nanotechnology, says IG DHS.

“The code of conduct will prove to be of special relevance for producers and suppliers located in upstream parts of the value chain,” the IG DHS said in a statement. “They are expected to perform a systematic and documented risk management and to disclose all decision-relevant product data. Due to the high market power of the signing retailers, it is likely that these requirements will actually be enforced.”

According to the Innovation Society, which was involved as a consultant in the elaboration of the code of conduct, companies using the CENARIOS risk-management system will fulfill all requirements of the code concerning safety, information and documentation. Last fall, Bühler PARTEC, developer of nanoparticle upgrading and processing technology, became the first nanotechnology company to receive CENARIOS certification.

A fact sheet summarizing the code states, “the present state of knowledge does not allow any definitive conclusions to be drawn on the effects of nanotechnology on health or the environment. Consumers are therefore increasingly calling for mandatory
declaration of products that contain nanoparticles. . . The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and the Federal Office for the Environment are examining the methodological framework in the context of an action plan, Risk assessment and risk management of synthetic nanomaterials up to 2009. Until a framework is in place, the Federal Government is relying on producers and retailers to behave responsibly.”

The fact sheet also notes, “Swiss consumers are characterized by their pronounced need for product information. . . On its own, however, the retail trade cannot guarantee credible consumer information. Support will have to come from the entire production chain, from research and production through to sale in the shops.”

According to IG DHS, the code of conduct was written by an IG DHS working group that includes “experts” from Coop, Manor, Migros and SQTS, and has been signed by top management at the former three, plus Charles Vögele and Denner.

“The code obliges retailers to take a responsible approach to nanotechnology products. Product safety comes first: only products that, according to the present state of knowledge and in the light of their probable use, are not associated with any health or environmental risks,” the fact sheet states. Signatories are expected to require producers and suppliers to provide all the information necessary for assessing the safety of a product. This includes, for instance, the technical specifications, data on any potential risk to human beings, animals or the environment, and information on the added value of a nanoproduct in comparison with its conventionally produced counterpart.

“The retail trade undertakes to provide consumers with full information on nanotechnology and to label as such only those products that really do have nanotechnology-based components or modes of action,” the fact sheet concludes. The IG DHS’s nanotechnology working group will continue to meet regularly and support implementation of the code.


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