Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Unknown: Cartagena to Berlin

The unknown.

It is baffling to Rummy and a frightening prospect to many. As such it is no surprise to learn that Food and Drug Administration is planning to take a closer look at nanotechnology at an upcoming meeting this October. This announcement falls on the heels of a recent recall in Germany where a bathroom cleaner using nanoparticles was recalled after being preliminarily linked to respiratory problems.

With regulators taking a closer look at nanotechnology, and some degree of concern that the long-term effects of pursuing nanotechnologies are largely unknown and potentially harmful, it's perhaps instructive to reflect on the Cartagena Protocol, created in 2000 to protect against the unknown dangers of genetically modified organisms. In a piece last week on SciDev.net, Arnoldo Ventura argues that while caution at the time was prudent, the Cartagena Protocol today serves primarily as a barrier to scientific development, and a drain on resources.

Am I arguing that the FDA is doing the wrong thing by taking a closer look at the emerging nanotechnology and nanomaterials industry? Not at all. But it's important to remember that "unknown" is not synonymous with "dangerous". Prudence is desirable, irrational fear of the unknown is not.

In the words of Horace Porter, "Be moderate in everything, including moderation."

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