Category: FDA

Sometimes the Government  just might work as it was intended.

In an earlier post, I reported on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental and consumer safety groups requesting declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act to force the FDA to respond to a 2006 petition seeking action by the agency to assure the safety of members of the public exposed to nanomaterials, particularly nanoparticles in sunscreens.  On May 14, 2012, the coalition voluntarily dismissed its action, International Center for Technology Assessment v. Hamburg, a case that had been brought in federal court for the Northern District of California (No. 11-6592).

In other posts on this blog, I have reported on the draft guidances recently issued by the FDA on the safety of nanomaterials in food, food packaging, and cosmetics, as well as the upcoming International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation (ICCR), to be hosted by the FDA.  The coalition has withdrawn its lawsuit because the FDA has in fact finally responded to the earlier petition by issuing the draft guidances.  Although attorneys for the coalition have emphasized that the FDA’s response does not propose all the relief the coalition sought in its lawsuit, at the present time the FDA is showing interest in the safety of engineered nanomaterials in products within the agency’s jurisdiction.  The lawsuit had sought, among other things, regulation of these nanomaterials.  But the FDA guidance documents made recommendations for voluntary measures by industry, not new regulation.  This, of course, leaves open the possibility of a future lawsuit challenging the steps taken – or not taken – by the FDA in furtherance of the safety initiatives.

Our high school civics classes teach us that the tripartite structure of the federal Government is intended to allow the various parts of the Government to act as a check on the actions or inactions of the other parts.  In recent years, the judicial system has been much maligned.  In the matter of nanomaterials and the FDA, the threat of judicial intervention – being told by the courts what it should do – was likely one (and only one) motivation for the FDA to pursue a safety agenda for nanomaterials.  Instead of needlessly consuming resources at this stage, the coalition withdrew its lawsuit when the FDA moved forward on this subject.  So let’s give a hand all around for the Government working as it was intended.

The withdrawal of the coalition’s lawsuit was reported by

Pat Rizzuto, Coalition Withdraws Lawsuit Against FDA Following Agency’s Release of Guidance, 100 Daily Env’t Rep. (BNA) A-15 (May 24, 2012) (by subscription)

Earlier I reported that the FDA had recently shown some intense interest, per its recent draft guidance document, in the safety of food and food packaging products containing nanomaterials.  In contrast, the FDA seemed to merely urged caution to the cosmetics industry about nanoparticles in their products.  Now, however, the FDA appears to be on the move toward giving nanomaterials in cosmetics their fair amount of attention.

In July, the FDA will host the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation (ICCR), which is expected to include cosmetics regulators fromCanada, the EU,Japan,Brazil,China,Australia, and other countries.  The conference is scheduled to include opportunities for participation by the industry and any other interested parties.  Nanomaterials represent only one item on the agenda (which includes alternatives to animal studies and regulation of trace elements of substances such as lead).

The conference’s interest in nanoparticles in cosmetics will be focused on methods to characterize nanoparticle ingredients with safety in mind.  The primary interest is in the use of nanoscale titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreen products.

T he upside to the attention FDA is giving to nanoparticles in cosmetics is that it begins a long process of deciding how to determine safety, whether to regulate, and whether new regulations for nanoparticles in sunscreens and other cosmetics will be necessary.  Recently, the FDA postponed the effective date of new labeling for sunscreens until after the current summer season.  Perhaps information learned about nanosubstances in sunscreens will make its way onto those new labels, or at least some version of the labels in the future.

Another upside is the use of an international forum including not just regulators, but industry attendees and others to identify the issues raised by nanoparticles in cosmetics.  A theme of this blog has been the need for a “same-page” approach in the international commercial arena.

The downside is the long slog of regulatory information gathering and activity – and sometimes inactivity.  And it is altogether possible that the various jurisdictions will go their own ways in approaching the subject.

After the ICCR meets in July, I will report on the proceedings.  For access to the official announcement of the conference, and for information from the FDA on previous ICCR conferences, reports, and other materials, see

The FDA is on the move.  OnApril 20, 2012, it issued two draft guidances pertaining to the effects of nanotechnology on food and cosmetics.  In the cosmetics document, the FDA cautions safety and does little more.  But in the food safety document, the FDA moves in the directing of setting forth steps to be taken by food manufacturers to prove the safety of any food and food packaging using nanotechnology.  This heightened scrutiny for food products containing nanoparticles is an affirmative move on the part of the FDA to regulate nanotechnology.

 In the April 20 food safety guidance document, the FDA states:

 “The manufacturing process of a food substance is considered for the purposes of safety assessment only insofar as it may affect the properties and safety of the finished product.”

 The FDA goes on to say that “[t]he particle size distribution of a food substance may affect its ability to be absorbed by the body or to migrate from food packaging into food.”  The FDA explicitly states that manufacturing processes involving nanotechnology are included within the scope of the guidance document.

 The FDA states that it does not intend to judge any substances containing nanoparticles as being harmful – or not – but that use of nanotechnology in food may warrant certain assessments in determining the safety of the food.  The FDA states:

 “The application of nanotechnology may result in product attributes that differ from those of conventionally-manufactured products, and thus may merit examination. . . . For example, so-called nano-engineered food substances can have significantly altered bioavailability and may, therefore, raise new safety issues that have not been seen in their traditionally manufactured counterparts.”

In other words, safety assessments in this area should be based on criteria for food substances in the nanometer range, and that could require new and different assessment methodologies.  However, the FDA has said that it will continue to regulate nanotechnology products under its existing statutory authorities, e.g. regulations on food color, additives, and packaging.

So does the guidance represent a step forward?  I think it does, if for no other reason than it explicitly recognizes that there may be discrete safety issues raised by the use of nanotechnology in food.  The guidance is not self-executing; it is currently available for public comment.  It represents a step in the right direction.  Its recommendations are preliminary, it seems to me.  Going forward, further consideration needs to be given to the issues it raises to determine if regulation specific to products using nanotechnology is warranted.  This should be only the beginning.


The draft guidance is Draft Guidance for Industry: Assessing the Effects of Significant Manufacturing Process Changes, Including Emerging Technologies, on the Safety and Regulatory Status of Food Ingredients and Food Contact Substances, Including Food Ingredients that are Color Additives, available at



prod liab imageIt had to happen sooner or later.  And it’s happening now.  A coalition of nonprofit consumer safety and environmental groups brought an action on December 21 in federal district court in California against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The action seeks an order for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act to require the FDA to respond to a petition filed with the FDA in 2006 which sought action by the agency to assure the safety of the public exposed to nanomaterials, particularly sunscreen products.  The requested relief is detailed on pages 3-4 of the petition.  The lawsuit is International Center for Technology Assessment v. Hamburg (N.D. Calif., CV 11-6592).

The coalition includes the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) as lead plaintiff for Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Environmental Health, the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, and several other groups.

Among other things, the petition detailed the status of research on and knowledge of the risks of nanomaterials, both relating to consumer products and the environment.  This information included studies that have indicated some of the ways that engineered nanoparticles may harm living cells through new channels of exposure.  Moreover, in 2007, the FDA’s own Nanotechnology Task Force issued a report recommending that the FDA issue guidance to manufacturers using nanomaterials and take steps to improve scientific knowledge of nanotechnology.

In the weeks to come, we will be anticipating the response from the FDA, which may very well insist that it has undertaken the efforts sought by the petitioners.  There are several other legal strategies that the FDA could employ, including claiming the lack of legal authority to put into place some or all of the relief sought in the petition or the need for interagency coordination.

The greatest significance of this lawsuit is that it puts nanotechnology into the courts.  This may be the first time, but it certainly won’t be the last time.

The 80-page petition is available at

The 2007 Nanotechnology Task Force report is available at

white-house-south-2007-djIn a June 9, 2011, memorandum to the heads of U.S. executive departments and agencies, entitled Policy Principles for the U.S. Decision-Making Concerning Regulation and Oversight of Applications of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials, the White House confirmed its commitment to a “science-based” approach to health and safety matters related to nanotechnology.  The memorandum issued from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The memorandum described its approach as

“generally applicable principles relevant to promoting a balanced, science-based approach to regulating nanomaterials and other applications of nanotechnology in a manner that protects human health, safety, and the environment without prejudging new technologies or creating unnecessary barriers to trade or hampering innovation.”

The memorandum went on to explain that the approach it establishes is inherent in the risk-based approach commonly used by federal agencies such as the FDA, but is grounded in best available, and evolving, science.

 This is a tall order.  It is important that the White House explicitly addressed nanotechnology and nanomaterials, rather than using the vague term “emerging technologies,” as it has done in the past.  But perhaps the most significant part of the memorandum is in its elevation of the science-based approach over other possible approaches (technology-based, economics-based, etc.) to the study and regulation of nanomaterials.

 Intending to provide guidance to existing federal agencies, the memorandum stated:  “Federal agencies should avoid making scientifically unfounded generalizations that categorically judge all applications of nanotechnology as intrinsically benign or harmful.”  Consumer trust, the memorandum went on to say, is important in encouraging technological innovation.

 On the one hand, the memorandum eased industry concerns that nanotechnology will be viewed as “bad” and all nanomaterials as “hazardous” because of the flurry of attention focused on the technologies and the concerns voiced by various groups.  But on the other hand, the message is clear that science will govern the study of nanomaterials and any decisions about whether or how to regulate.  And that is also a message to industry to come forward with the science that the agencies need.

 The memorandum also announced the creation of an interagency working group to coordinate this basic framework across agency lines, promote coordination of regulatory activities, and share information.

 How is this policy likely to play out in the relevant departments and agencies?  Here are a couple of recent steps that illustrate the initial approach:

 ●  On June 10, 2011, the FDA issued a Draft Guidance, Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology, to provide manufacturers, suppliers, importers, and other stakeholders with the FDA’s “current thinking” on the subject.  The Draft Guidance was issued in conjunction with the White House memorandum.  The document provided no definitions, nor did it provide any information on the regulatory status of any products.  Rather, the document stated that its purpose is “to help industry and others identify when they should consider potential implications for regulatory status, safety, effectiveness, or public health impact that may arise with the application of nano-technology in FDA-regulated products.”

 The FDA Draft Guidance is available at

 ●  A similar document was issued by EPA setting forth its proposed policy for obtaining data on nanoscale materials in pesticides, pursuant to its authority under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  Another important aspect of what EPA is considering is a case-by-case analysis of whether a nanoscale ingredient in a pesticide is considered “new” for the purpose of study and regulation.  This is a sharp departure from EPA’s earlier stance that it would consider all nanoscale ingredients as “new,” whether or not a non-nanoscale form of the ingredient was already registered under FIFRA.  The new approach is consistent with the urging of the White House memorandum that agencies avoid generalizations about nanomaterials and based all decision on the scientific evidence.

 The prepublication version of this notice is available at


The White House memo is available at