The precautionary principle finds itself at the forefront of scientific and regulatory discussions about nanotechnology and nanomaterials. In this study, we investigated whether European experts on nanotechnology governance and the management of nanomaterials (NMs) believe that more should be done to implement the precautionary principle when it comes to NMs, including why it should/should not be used and why it has/has not been adopted so far. In total, 54 relevant experts were identified using a snowball sampling methodology, and eventually 33 were interviewed. In total, 70% of the stakeholders strongly believed that the precautionary principle should be applied to manage NMs, while fewer than 1% believed that it could be applied for certain NMs and 7% had no opinion in favour of or against it. For the majority of the experts, the precautionary principle was considered fundamental for dealing with uncertain, complex, ambiguous risks, and they felt a precaution-based management and decision-making approach should be in place for controlling NMs. Arguments for why the precautionary principle has not been adopted so far for NM management were expressed, including the systematic stigmatisation of the principle as being unscientific and anti-innovation, a fear of overregulating an otherwise beneficial technology or product and diverging interests, priorities, and decision-making criteria. Based on our findings, we conclude that there is strong support among experts to strengthen the implementation of the precautionary principle in Europe when it comes to nanomaterials.
- Precautionary principle
- Qualitative expert interviews
- Societal implications