Labeling the Little Things

34 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2010

See all articles by Jonathan H. Adler

Jonathan H. Adler

Case Western Reserve University School of Law; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: August 2, 2010


Nanotechnology processes and nanoscale particles are widely used in consumer products. Yet relatively few products containing nanomaterials reveal this fact on the product label. Is this a problem? The use of nanotechnology in consumer products has many potential benefits, but it may also pose unforeseen risks. There is as yet no definitive evidence that nanoscale materials used in consumer products pose a threat to human health, but such risks may still exist. Do such risks justify mandatory labeling requirements? Mandatory labels would not reduce the threat posed by the use or disposal of nanotech products, but could increase consumer awareness and empower concerned consumers to limit their exposure. Properly designed product labels can help consumers manage their exposure to risky or unproven products without unduly inhibiting consumer preferences generally. On the other hand, poorly developed labeling requirements could frustrate market responses to changes in scientific understanding or consumer preferences, impose unnecessary costs on manufacturers, and fail to address marketplace inefficiencies. In the United States, mandatory labeling requirements also raise potential First Amendment concerns. Before adopting a mandatory labeling requirement, policymakers should consider whether mandatory labels are necessary, or whether voluntary labeling regimes may be superior, with or without government assistance.

Keywords: Nanotechnology, Labels, First Amendment, Compelled Commercial Speech, Mandatory Labeling, Health Law, Environmental Law, Consumer Protection

JEL Classification: K23, K32

Suggested Citation

Adler, Jonathan H., Labeling the Little Things (August 2, 2010). Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-25, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan H. Adler (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

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