INSIGHT: Industry needs to maintain LRI momentum

25 November 2009 17:33  [Source: ICIS news]

By John Baker

BRUSSELS (ICIS news)--Innovation in the chemical industry is regarded as a positive, indeed essential, mechanism for growth and sustainability. But it can and often does create uncertainty in society and with the public at large.

If this uncertainty is not addressed and assuaged, public distrust of the industry and its products is inevitable.

Mistakes - with long-term consequences - have already been made; for instance, in the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Europe. Companies and regulatory bodies alike are concerned not to see a repeat with the development, for instance, of nanotechnology. 

The chemical industry already has an effective tool for reducing this uncertainty - its Long-range Research Initiative (LRI). Launched by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) in 1999, this initiative is implemented regionally by the chemical associations in the US, Europe and Japan.

Since its launch, LRI has committed $200m to scientific research to understand better the potential impacts of chemicals in human and environmental health terms. It focused initially on filling the gaps in scientific understanding in areas such as risk assessment and toxicology, but has recently, especially in Europe, evolved to address wider themes.

As Hubert Mandery, the new director general of Cefic, pointed out at the association’s annual LRI meeting in Brussels last week, “LRI is now adding value in decision making [in companies] and is infusing science into public decision making”. It is also, added Gernot Klotz, director of research and innovation at Cefic, in a position to give early warnings on emerging issues in the health and environment area.

Cefic’s emphasis for LRI is now for it to reduce the uncertainty raised by innovation and to strengthen science-based decision making. In this respect, it should give companies better grounds on which to understand the issues around the introduction of new products and technologies and also provide an improved base for informed policymaking.

For the coming years LRI will focus on three key areas of public concern: development of intelligent (or integrated) testing, including alternatives to animal testing; understanding the effects of chemicals in complex environments – ie where mixtures of chemicals are of concern; and public acceptance of new technologies. It is launching six new projects for 2010, based around the risk of exposure to mixtures and nanomaterials. 

The good news is that Cefic has decided to maintain its LRI funding at €4m for the year. However, on a global basis, overall funding next year will be close to half the run rate over the past 10 years, at around $12m, with the US cutting its budget to $5m and Japan to $1m.

The decision to reduce overall spending on LRI, just as it is shifting and widening its remit, is not a positive move. Although LRI has brought success in working with and influencing policymakers and regulatory bodies, the industry is still a long way from allaying many of the concerns that beset it in the public arena.

The week of the conference saw yet another attack on phthalates, with the publication of research showing that boys exposed to high doses of phthalates in the womb were more feminine than normal and less likely to play with guns, trains and cars or engage in “rougher” play.

As Mandery pointed out, 10 years of environmental and health research has made LRI a trusted body. “Now it needs to go out and communicate to a wider audience to benefit the programme.”

Listen to Cefic’s Gernot Klotz and John Metselaar of Procter & Gamble and a member of the Cefic research and innovation programme council, discuss public acceptance of innovation and LRI with ICIS global editor John Baker

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: John Baker
+44 20 8652 3214

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