Law & Ethics of Nanotechnology Safety & Health in Food at Nanotexnology Conference

THESSALONIKI – A major development for bridging the best thinking in science and law will take the form of Nanotexnology’s first interdisciplinary Workshop on Law and Ethics in Nanotechnology Safety and Health in Food at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece on July 6.

The workshop’s participants were invited by scientists on the international organizing committee for Nanotexnology, a major conference that hosts thousands of researchers and their students annually from nearly 100 nations. This year’s Nanotexnology conference runs July 1-8 in Thessaloniki.

Dedicating a science conference workshop for the first time to the non-science topic of Law and Ethics represents an important recognition by researchers of their need to learn about and participate as stakeholders in nanotechnology law and ethics programming, according to the Workshop Chair, Dr. Ilise Feitshans, JD, ScM, and DIR, currently an LLM student in global health law at Georgetown University Law Center (GULC). The workshop’s focus on safety and health represents a nod to the transversal implications of crosscutting law and ethics issues that have historically been undervalued by the scientific community. Discussing these aspects of nanostructures in food is the perfect vehicle for targeting the underlying value of law and ethical concerns, the Chairwoman noted, because everyone eats and every nation has laws about food. Thus, starting with nanostructures in food is a unifying denominator that overcomes barriers such as age, race, nationality, or gender preference, which too often appear as a threshold impediment to meaningful academic discourse. Food safety and global health are also important aspects of how nanotechnology touches everyone in daily life.

Speakers will include John Koehler, Esq., Executive Director of the Virginia Mountain Valley Lawyers Alliance USA that has grown to over 1500 members, helping people in underserved communities in rural Virginia. Koehler will address potential liability issues confronting innovators and entrepreneurs for their research while “keeping your business alive.”

Dr. Chrisa Vassaras, a Greek cardiologist pioneering in nanomedicine will discuss the practical bioethical issues of food safety and global health for patients, especially in light of food as nano-enabled nutrient and drug-delivery mechanisms. The first keynote will offer practical advice from the field for research scientists who wish to create policy.

Dr. Mark Hoover, senior research scientist Emeritus from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) will draw upon his extraordinary experience as a government research scientist who was assigned to international working groups that drafted standards and laws.

The final keynote will be delivered by Dr. Ilise L. Feitshans, published author, lawyer, and public health practitioner with UN diplomatic experience who wrote her doctorate in law of nanotechnology and has been lecturing annually at Nanotexnology since 2012. Her remarks will illustrate how the different disciplines synthesized in this workshop come together in daily legal practice by describing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules allowing use of nanoscale titanium dioxide in a myriad of foods, including whipped cream and toothpaste, even though the same substance is banned based on empirical findings that it is genotoxic according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in the European Union and national law in France.

This timely topic underscores the need to harmonize laws because international trade cannot sustain these polar extremes. Uncontrolled use compared to a ban poses a classic conflicts of law dilemma in her view, noting that bans rarely accomplish anything. Nonetheless, a ban is also presently in play at the California Assembly, turning the subject into a hot issue with new laws and potentially expensive litigation on the horizon. Solving this dilemma, she believes, requires that researchers have the legal lexicon needed to inform decision-makers, judges,, and legislators.

The workshop agenda, and the Chairwoman’s comments are well-honed deliverables from Feitshans’ graduate independent research (GIR) at GULC this year. The research paper she produced is also the basis for a forthcoming book from Jenny Stanford Publishing scheduled for 2024.

Future prospects for the next law and ethics workshops at Nanotexnology include: nanotechnology transforming disability into health; 3D printing for food, clothing, and shelter; and nanoenabled tools for gender equity that are effective for decreasing health disparities.

Feitshans has a lifelong passion for learning but admits she is confined by her role as student in this subject. “I should be asked teach this subject for use in administrative training, briefing policymakers and leaders and offering classes to people who consume these materials in food,” she said. “I can unpack these questions so that people are not vulnerable to disinformation about benefits and inevitable tradeoffs posed by nanoscale products in our daily food.”

She noted that “my subject may sound complicated but it is super important! The legal issues are heating up and I am ready to enable people to think carefully in order to find their own solutions.”

More information about the Nanotexnology conference is available online: https://www.nanotexnology.com.


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