Legal Perspectives on Regulatory Strategies
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Edited by Marjan Peeters and Rosa Uylenburg
Chapter 10: Regulating uncertain risks of new technologies: Nanomaterials as a challenge for the regulator
New technologies raise chances for authorities to promote research and industrial innovation, potentially bringing benefits to society. At the same time the technologies raise challenges, such as how to integrate health, safety and environmental aspects in the technological developments. In the early stages of a technology we might not know enough to choose the most appropriate controls, but by the time problems emerge, the technology is too entrenched, making changes problematic. This dilemma, how to govern the emergence of a new technology which by definition cannot be fully characterised with respect to its potential benefits and drawbacks, has been described as the 'technology control dilemma'. Given this dilemma, one of the governance challenges is whether, when and how to take regulatory action to control the technology process. In the field of biotechnology the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the past decades illustrated the complex issues and the tension that can pervade the governance of a new technology. The regulatory framework for the authorisation of GMOs proved inadequate in the late 1990s. Measures of EU Member States caused a 'de facto moratorium' on the authorisation of GMOs which subsequently lasted until 2004. In the meantime a new regulatory system for authorisation and labelling was put in place. However, the labelling system for GMOs has been questioned for not being in step with scientific biotechnological developments.
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