Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

Precaution Reporter

Rachel's Precaution Reporter #127 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, January 30, 2008printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

SMALL U.S. TOWN TAKES UP ON SAFER COSMETICS CAMPAIGN
A grass-roots campaign in Belmont, Mass. is urging consumers to adopt the precautionary principle until cosmetics containing potentially dangerous chemicals are labeled as such on the packaging.
THE POISONING OF BEVERLY HILLS HIGH
"There are these toxic chemicals being spewed onto the campus of Beverly Hills High School; nobody can exactly prove those toxic chemicals are causing those kids to get sick, and therefore it gives them a free pass."
YUKON'S BIG 'NO' TO GENETICALLY ENGINEERED (GE) CROPS
The patenting of our food supply through biotechnology could be suggested as one of the greatest systems of control ever devised. There are, however, community-led alternatives: GE-Free Zones.
SPOTLIGHT: HOW SAFE IS CLONED MEAT?
If you found that the steak on your plate and that glass of milk are from a cloned animal, would you eat that juicy red steak and drink the milk? There is an ongoing debate between ethical and commercial interests when it comes to animal cloning.
SUSTAINABILITY CRITERIA DO NOT ADDRESS AGROFUEL TARGET PROBLEMS
Many "second-generation" biofuel technologies may prove highly controversial because they include techniques to genetically modify trees and algae, perhaps abandoning the precautionary principle as a basis for such research.
CELEBRATIONS AFTER MAST PLAN WITHDRAWN
"The main reason that we opposed this application is that no one is quite sure about the effects that mobile phone masts [towers] have on health."
AFRICAN SUPERBUGS TO THE RESCUE
When (or whether) to release a genetically modified mosquito into the environment of Africa, in hopes of ending the scourge of malaria, is a complicated question. This author takes it as an opportunity to bash precautionary thinking, offering the argument of modern "conservatives," which boils down to, "Just do it."

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: CosmeticsDesign.com
[Printer-friendly version]

SMALL U.S. TOWN TAKES UP ON SAFER COSMETICS CAMPAIGN

By Simon Pitman

By Simon Pitman

As debate over regulation and the safety of cosmetics in the United States continues to heat up, campaigns by consumer advocacy groups are starting to trigger action at a grass roots level.

With a population of just over 25,000 the town of Belmont in Massachusetts would not be considered to be the first place to launch an awareness program over the potential dangers of certain chemicals contained in personal care products.

Nevertheless, Sustainable Belmont, a sub-group of Belmont Vision 21 Implementation Committee, has picked up on the word being spread by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has been pressurizing U.S. cosmetic manufacturers to eliminate potentially harmful ingredients from products.

Campaign puts pressure on FDA

Likewise the campaign has also put pressure on the FDA to tighten up regulation surrounding chemicals used in personal care formulations, advising that potentially dangerous ingredients should carry consumer warning on product labels.

As well as these points, the Sustainable Belmont campaign is also picking up on the fact that the FDA has tested only a handful of the more than 10,000 ingredients that are currently used in personal care products.

It also points out that this is in stark contrast to regulation enforced by the European Union for personal care products, which has in fact banned more than 1,000 substances that potentially cause a range of medical conditions including cancer and reproductive problems.

Campaign highlights consumer choice

The campaign, launched by Belmont group today, also highlights the fact that consumers need to make informed choices about the types of personal care products they purchase, but that current regulations mean that there is only limited knowledge about potential safety issues.

Bearing this in mind, the campaign is urging consumers to adopt what is termed a 'precautionary principle,' until the time that products containing potentially dangerous chemicals are labeled as such on the packaging.

Likewise the campaign is encouraging consumers to make it known to personal care manufacturers about their concerns regarding potentially dangerous chemicals in products, whilst simultaneously praising companies that are taking steps towards making their products safer.

Grass roots level

The fact that this type of campaign is now moving to a more grass roots level indicates both the efficacy of this type of campaign and the breadth of the audience in the US.

Although personal care firms contest that formulations are manufactured to strict standards that ensure consumer safety, many of the leading players have reported increased consumer pressure as a direct response to these types of campaign.

Indeed, to counteract misleading consumer advocacy group campaigns, industry association Personal Care Products Council has been battling a campaign against 'misinformation' from such groups.

Copyright 2003/2008 -- Decision News Media SAS

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: Jewish Journal
[Printer-friendly version]

THE POISONING OF BEVERLY HILLS HIGH

By Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Joy Horowitz's "Parts Per Million: The Poisoning of Beverly Hills High School" (Viking) is a dense 350-page book detailing a four-year fight between 1,000 litigants who claimed oil wells at the school caused diseases, such as cancer, and defendants -- including the oil companies, the city of Beverly Hills and school officials -- who said there had been no harmful effects from the (profitable) derricks.

Could it be true that leakage from the derricks and power plant caused incidences of cancer up to three times more than normal, as some experts claim?

Or were people like Erin Brockovich, the celebrity environmental paralegal who took on the case, "ambulance chasers" and "fear- mongerers" relying on junk science, as defendants like Beverly Hills city officials and school administrators said?

As the case is being appealed -- with a partial settlement offer of $10 million from one oil company -- Horowitz, who will receive the Environmental Hero of 2008 award from the Environmental Relief Center on Jan. 31, believes the wells continue to endanger.

The author of "Tessie and Pearlie: A Granddaughter's Story," and the recipient, with her siblings, of the settlement of a case against tobacco companies fought on behalf of her late father, Horowitz spoke to The Jewish Journal about the complicated nuances of the lawsuit, why she thinks her message in "Parts Per Million" has been silenced, how the Jewish community sits at the center of the case and to what lengths people will go to protect their lifestyle.

Jewish Journal: How did you become involved in this story?

Joy Horowitz: I graduated in 1971 and went to my 30th reunion -- it was a year late, in the summer of 2002. A lot of my classmates, whom I was looking forward to seeing, had died. They'd had cancer -- some of them had multiple cancers. When you're a person in your 40s, that's too young. Then the following February of 2003, that's when Erin Brockovich descended on Beverly Hills and started making these allegations between cancer and young graduates. I was very skeptical, but the more I looked into it, the more I found that what was being said publicly was not the reality of what was going on.

JJ: What was going on?

JH: You've got these two industrial sites [the oil derricks and the Sempra power plant], operating at a high school in Beverly Hills. Over time, there was a major litigation filed, and the number of people with cancer mushroomed. What started off as about 28 graduates with cancer mushroomed into 1,000 plaintiffs, some 400 with cancer. The community said these emissions are inconsequential to the children's health. There are epidemiological studies that suggest otherwise.

JJ: What kind of evidence was there linking disease to the oil wells and power plants?

JH: It depends who you talk to. As far as Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) goes, there were three epidemiological studies:

1) The Los Angeles cancer registry found threefold excess of thyroid cancer among young men living adjacent to Beverly Hills High School. But the author of that study said that her findings lacked statistical significance, so it wasn't really an issue. (Her husband was working as a consultant for one of the defendants.)

2) Richard Clapp's study, out of Boston University's School for Public Health Research, found excess rates of cancer among graduates of BHHS from 1990-2000 -- threefold for Hodgkin's disease, twice the expected amount of thyroid cancer and elevated rates of testicular cancer -- but he was working for the plaintiff's law firm, so his study was ruled inadmissible by the judge, because it hadn't been peer-reviewed and published.

3) There was a study that was never made public by Philip Cole, a retired epidemiologist who did a lot of work for industry at the University of Alabama. The school district cited Dr. Cole's study as evidence that there wasn't a higher rate of cancer among students at Beverly Hills High School, but the study was never made public, so I don't know what the study is.

JJ: In November 2006, the judge summarily dismissed the first 12 plaintiff's cases. In October 2007, Frontier Oil offered a $10 million settlement to plaintiffs. Why do you think that happened?

JH: For a couple of reasons. In order to get to trial relatively quickly -- it still took three years -- they had both the defense and plaintiffs agree to select six cancers. The strongest cases never got to court.

The other thing is the defendants, which included Sempra and Chevron, Frontier Oil and Venoco, continued to be willing to spend an unbelievable amount of money to defend these cases.

JJ: What do you think should be done now?

JH: Nobody has ever done a cohort study comparing the population at [this] high school to another high school. That would be a really good first step.

JJ: Why didn't they do that?

JH: They didn't want to invest in that. Had they invested in that, as opposed to all this money they spent on the lawsuit, that might have been an interesting step, but instead, they took great pains to keep information from getting public.

By and large, public health officials hate doing cluster investigations, because they're almost impossible to determine, to establish a link between environmental factors and clusters. And statistically, it could just be by chance that there are all these extra cancers in this particular area. Historically, there have been very few proven. Most of the clusters that are proven are among occupational workers exposed to very high levels of carcinogens. The classic one is asbestos exposure, and mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lung), which my dad got from smoking Kents with a filter. My dad died in 1996.

JJ: Was that part of the motivation for your book?

JH: It's part of who I am. My mother and father taught me how important it is to insist that we make links between environmental factors and cancers. He spent the last part of his life doing exactly that: filing this lawsuit against Lorillard and winning. He was the first American to beat a tobacco company in court. I'm very proud of him for that. The ultimate settlement [of $2 million] happened after he and my mother died.

JJ: What changes have been made at Beverly Hills High School?

JH: There are methane monitors in the boys bathroom by the football field. The oil operator, Venoco, has supposedly spent $60,000 for fence line monitors to be able to determine when hydrocarbons and other toxic gases venture outside of Venoco property onto the school, but that's about it.

JJ: But you think it's not enough?

JH: At a minimum, I think that the community needs to take a really hard look at why it's so important that it continue to allow these industrial sites to operate where their kids are. Now that they're not part of the lawsuit anymore, it would behoove them to engage in real discussions about when oil production will stop.... You know, when I started this book, oil was valued at $30 a barrel, and now it's $100. I don't see them stopping anytime soon.

JJ: How much do the city and school make?

JH: It depends on how much production is going on at the time; the last time I checked, it was roughly a half a million for schools and half a million for the city -- now that the value of oil is as high as it is, they could be making a whole lot more. The residents get residuals -- I think quarterly payments. They're not that much, maybe a couple of thousand a year, but it's enough to make people not to be too interested in the possibility of change. People like their residual payments.

JJ: Is that why you think the city and residents were so opposed to the case?

JH: There's been no solid proof their kids have cancer as a result of oil production. So they can rely on scientific uncertainty and promote that.

It's also about property values. This is Beverly Hills. And even though [about] 60 percent of residents live in apartments there, I think that people are really blinded by the image of what Beverly Hills means. You would think that kids and health would be primary. You would hope that it would be. My book shows otherwise, and it's very sad that that's the case.

JJ: What has happened since the publication of the book? Has it spurred any activity?

JH: When the book came out in July, there was a deafening silence about it in Beverly Hills. I had hoped it might stir some conversation at the least. It didn't. For a while I thought, "Is it my paranoia? No one's responding to my book! What is it?" Then I found out there was this talking points memo, [from the city of Beverly Hills and the school] suggesting I had a specific point of view, and that I misstated the facts. Why do they need to do that? Why not just own up to the reality of the truth? It's like shooting the messenger, as opposed to dealing with the reality of the situation: There are these toxic chemicals being spewed onto the campus; nobody can exactly prove those toxic chemicals are causing those kids to get sick, and therefore it gives them a free pass.

JJ: How does the Jewish community play a part in this case?

JH: Part of the denial is cultural -- initially the issue was raised by members of the Persian community in Beverly Hills. There is this great and undiscussed antipathy in town between the long-standing citizens there and the newer arrivals from Iran. Because it was the Iranian American parents who were raising this as an issue, they were basically dismissed; their concerns were dismissed. Which was really upsetting to me.

For me, as a Jewish mother, family is everything. How is it possible that this community of Jews could allow their children to be put in harm's way?

Joy Horowitz will speak on "Making Decisions in the Face of Scientific Uncertainty: Beverly Hills High School and the Precautionary Principle" at the Beverly Hills Library on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. The Environmental Relief Center will present her with an award for Environmental Hero of 2008.

Copyright 2006-8 The Jewish Journal

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: TheTyee.ca
[Printer-friendly version]

YUKON'S BIG 'NO' TO GENETICALLY ENGINEERED (GE) CROPS

By Jon Steinman

Listen to this: Download or Stream

The patenting of our food supply through biotechnology could be suggested as one of the greatest systems of control ever devised. As the executive branches of North American governments alongside corporate interests push the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) forward, it should be noted that reference to "biotechnology" is littered throughout SPP literature.

While the NDP has taken on the legitimacy of the SPP as a major campaign, it became clear following last week's broadcast that the ability to politically challenge this system of food control in Ottawa is running into obstacles.

There are, however, community-led alternatives: GE-Free Zones. Last week's broadcast concluded with a sampling of audio clips from the first GE-Free Kootenays meeting taking place in Nelson, B.C., in November 2007.

Local residents and politicians gathered together to discuss the creation of such a zone. This broadcast continues in more depth by exploring the dialogue that took place during that meeting. The show seeks to create a better understanding of how all communities can begin taking such concerns into their own hands. We also spend time learning of similar efforts being forged in one of the last areas of North America still free of genetically engineered crops: The Yukon.

Guests

Tom Rudge -- GE-Free Yukon (Whitehorse, YK) -- Tom is a steering committee member of the Society for a GE Free BC. He is a drector of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), founding member of the Fireweed Community Market, the leader of the Whitehorse Slow Food Convivium. Tom has been around since the beginning of the organic food movement in the Yukon, and is part of Growers of Organic Food Yukon -- a chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers. He has a degree in agriculture, and operates a certified organic farm, Aurora Mountain Farm.

Jessica Stevenson -- researcher, Greenpeace Canada (Vancouver, BC) -- Greenpeace Canada has been running an ongoing campaign titled "Say No to Genetic Engineering." The organization has commissioned a number of polls, among them one that indicated British Columbians overwhelmingly demand labelling of foods that contain genetically- engineered ingredients. Greenpeace opposes the release of GE crops and animals into the environment based on the precautionary principle. They advocate interim measures including the labelling of GE foods and the segregation of GE crops and seeds from conventional and organic seeds. Greenpeace supports the 58 recommendations made in 2001 by the expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada. They also oppose all patents on plants, animals, humans and genes.

Voices

Angela Reid -- deputy leader, Green Party of British Columbia (Kelowna, BC) -- Angela has run as a Green Party candidate in four elections, two provincial and two federal, between 2001 and 2006. In the spring of 2006, Angela was appointed to the Federal Council of the Green Party of Canada (GPC), and soon after was elected as a councillor at large during the GPC's August Convention in Ottawa. Angela is also the CEO of the GPC's Kelowna Electoral District Association, and was recently appointed the Okanagan Regional Representative for the Green Party of British Columbia. She operates Tigress Ventures providing consulting services for environmental and socially-oriented businesses.

Gord McAdams -- councillor, City of Nelson (Nelson, BC) -- Gord has worked as an ecologist for B.C.'s Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection. In 2005, he was fired for bringing confidential government documents to the B.C. Supreme Court in support of a court action brought by the West Kootenay Ecosociety. The documents showed that the minister of Water, Land and Air Protection had made "an unauthorized exercise of his statutory power" when he favoured a developer by agreeing to move an access road in Grohman Narrows Provincial Park. The government documents clearly stated that the new road would bury nests and kill eggs of endangered painted turtles in the park. On Dec. 11, the Campaign for Open Government and the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association presented Gord with the Whistleblower Award for 2007.

Related issues:

The Evolution of Frankenfoods? The multibillion-dollar nanotech industry wants to change what you eat at the molecular level.

Jon Steinman is producer and host of Kootenay Co-op Radio's program Deconstructing Dinner. A new podcast with notes is posted here every Friday afternoon, and all Deconstructing Dinner podcasts can be found here.

thetyee.ca Copyright 2003 -- 2007

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: NSTonline (Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia)
[Printer-friendly version]

SPOTLIGHT: HOW SAFE IS CLONED MEAT?

By Nurris Ishak

Recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) -- the European Union's food safety agency -- published a draft opinion which gave the greenlight for consumption of cloned animal products.

Despite having limited data, the report declared that meat and milk obtained from healthy cattle and pig clones and their offsprings are within the normal range with respect to the composition and nutritional value of similar products obtained from conventionally- bred animals.

"In view of these findings, assuming that unhealthy clones are prevented from entering the food chain as is the case with conventionally-bred animals, it is very unlikely that any difference exists in terms of food safety, " it said.

The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has also approved meat and milk from clones for consumption despite protests from the public, and the Washington-based non-profit public interest organisation, Center for Food Safety.

Animal cloning received worldwide attention in July 1996 with the birth of a female sheep named Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Though experts predicted she would have a life expectancy of between 12 to 15 years, Dolly died at the age of six due to a common sheep disease.

Following the successful process, other mammals such as cows, horses, pigs and even a cat were cloned.

On Jan 17, the New York Times carried an article in which the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies warned that the negative effects were grave enough that cloned products should be kept off the shelves.

The EFSA had opened a consultation process with member states and industry before giving its final opinion in May.

In Malaysia, the ethical and religious issues of animal cloning itself remain a question mark. However, according to Perak Mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria, as long as the cloned animal is in accordance with Islamic principles and techniques, it can be eaten.

"If the animal is cloned from another animal which is halal for Muslim consumption such as cows or goats, it can be eaten, even though it was not conventionally bred,"he said

The most famous misconception on animal cloning is that it involves the modification of genes.

Clones are actually exact biological copies of normal animals, identical twins of sorts.

Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) executive director Mahaletchumy Arujanan confirms that cloning does not involve genetic modifications.

"Though in some cases, cloned animals could be subjected to modification of its genetic makeup to incorporate valuable traits,"she added.

Traits such as taste, tender, less fatty meat and disease-resistant animals are more consumer friendly, though it is unlikely that your steak will come from cloned cows anytime soon, thanks to the high cost of cloning itself.

Cloning a single cow can cost up to US$20,000 (RM65,560), so it is primarily used for breeding.

Chances are the products will come from their offspring.

Moreover, Malaysia has yet to lift the ban on meat imports from the EU because of the mad cow disease incident a few years ago.

The disease is still prevalent there, said a senior officer from the Health Ministry's Food Safety and Quality Division.

"However, the ban on imports from the US was lifted, provided the meat comes from abattoirs that had already been inspected and certified as halal." He did not exclude the possibility of cloned meat and dairy products entering the Malaysian market via the US due to the lifting of the ban.

Cloned meat could also slip in via countries from which Malaysia imports its meat.

"As far as I know, we have not conducted any study on the safety of cloned meat because it is not available locally. Therefore, we rely on the findings by the scientists and researchers in the US.

"Cloned meat can also be genetically modified, and any decision to import genetically modified products will only be made by the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC). Food that contains genetically manipulated materials is required to bear labels stating its contents,"said the officer.

This is to satisfy Malaysia's multiracial society's need for knowing what they are engaged with and in this case, not a conventional food source.

"We term this as 'informed choice'. So Muslims, Hindus and vegetarians would know the status whether there are animal components in their food, and for Muslims, whether it contains any porcine properties." Malaysian Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said any meat imports will require quarantine approval and certification.

Similarly, meat from cloned or GMO animal will also be subjected to quarantine approval and certification to be issued by the Veterinary Service Department.

"Since meat from cloned or GMO animal are food products which are to be regulated under the new National Biosafety Act 2007, food safety assessment will need to be conducted and regulatory approval be obtained before it is allowed into the Malaysian market," said Muhyiddin.

"Therefore, the decision by the EU will not have much effect on Malaysia." The reluctance to allow cloned products into the market is also enforced in Japan, according to a Reuters news agency report.

Though Japan is one of the countries with livestock clones, Japanese consumers "were almost certain to be slow in accepting cloned meat, given their conservative palates", according to the article.

Mahaletchumy said the main issues will be concerns on safety for humans, environmental impact, ethical, social and religious aspects.

"Activists will certainly oppose the commercialisation of these products. Besides, approval of new products and consumer acceptance are two different things. Should it happen, though, consumers can choose between the conventional and the cloned." "If the benefits of food derived from cloned animals outweigh other concerns, then the products should be allowed to be marketed and research in this area encouraged." In the absence of data to support safety claims, such products should not be allowed to enter the market, said Lim Li Ching of Third World Network, a non-profit organisation which promotes research on biosafety, among other things, through its website, Biosafety Information Centre.

"The precautionary principle should apply. There is very little scientific study done, and they have not addressed concerns on the safety aspects, moral and ethical issues," she wrote.

K. Nagulendran, a senior officer in the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, said even if the science is fine, there is an ongoing debate between ethical and commercial interests when it comes to animal cloning.

Copyright 2007 NST Online

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: EUobserver.com
[Printer-friendly version]

SUSTAINABILITY CRITERIA DO NOT ADDRESS AGROFUEL TARGET PROBLEMS

By Oscar Reyes

BRUSSSELS -- With the publication of its draft Renewable Energy Directive this week, the European Commission confirmed that it plans to plough ahead with a 10 per cent target for the use of agrofuels (also referred to as biofuels) in transport by 2020.

The controversy surrounding this measure intensified in the past fortnight when the EU Joint Research Centre and the UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) both expressed strong doubts that the proposed target could be achieved sustainsbly.

In an attempt to diffuse this pressure, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso claimed on Wednesday that the target would be accompanied by "the most comprehensive and sustainable system anywhere in the world for the certification of biofuels." A closer look at the Directive shows that most of the key environmental and social concerns have not been addressed.

The most dire warnings concern the impact of agrofuels on food security. This is partly an issue about competition between food and fuel crops. Last October Jean Ziegler, the UN rapporteur on the right to food, warned that the diversion of arable land to fuel rather than crop production was "a crime against humanity." But it is the affect on food prices that could prove to be the more damaging aspect of agrofuel expansion. The world's poorest people spend 50 to 80 per cent of household income on food -- and it is poverty, not scarcity, that is the major cause of hunger.

In response, the Directive promises efforts to analyse the 'the impact of EU biofuel policy on the availability of foodstuffs in exporting countries', including effects on price. But simply acknowledging the potential problem falls far short of taking action to address it. Already, food riots in Mexico, Indonesia and India have been attributed to price rises blamed on agrofuel expansion. There is mounting evidence that "increased demand for biofuels is causing fundamental changes to agricultural markets that could drive up world prices for many farm products." as the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2007-2016 warned.

The environmental sustainability of the push for agrofuels has been questioned too. With one-fifth of annual carbon emissions coming from deforestation, fuels grown on recently cleared lands actually increase emissions rather than cut them. In addressing this, the Directive states that biofuels on land of 'high biodiversity value' will not be counted towards meeting the target. But in closing one door, another opens. The problem is not simply that new plantations are uprooting trees, but also that they displace other agricultural activities onto cleared and deforested land -- a structural change that no 'sustainability criteria' can track.

The Commission's sustainability proposals fall far short on other environmental issues too, with no firm measures to address the impact of fuel crops on soil degradation or water scarcity. Up to 4,000 litres of water go into the biomass needed for one litre of biofuel - a major drain for producing countries which already face severe stresses on their water supply.

Responding to such concerns, Barroso stressed that the EU is looking towards the 'rapid development of second generation biofuels'. Yet many of these technologies would prove highly controversial, since they include techniques to genetically modify trees and algae, endangering the precautionary principle as a basis for such research.

Social and labour issues, meanwhile, are simply left out of the EU's criteria altogether. Yet if the current agrofuel boom continues apace, Oxfam warned last November, millions of people face displacement from their land, while the sugarcane and oil palm plantations on which these crops will be grown have a record of horrific labour standards, including the exploitation of bonded labour. No proposals have been forthcoming from the Commission on these social implications, which ducks behind international trade rules whenever these issues are raised.

For these reasons, the suggestion that the dangers of agrofuels might be mitigated by the development of 'sustainability criteria' falls short. It would now be better, surely, to implement a moratorium on targets and incentives for agrofuel use.

The author is editor of Red Pepper magazine and Communications Officer at the Transnational Institute. He is currently completing a book on carbon trading.

Copyright 2008 EUobserver, All rights reserved

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: icSurreyOnline (Surrey, U.K.)
[Printer-friendly version]

CELEBRATIONS AFTER MAST PLAN WITHDRAWN

By Luke Bishop

By Luke Bishop

Unpopular plans to build an expanded mobile phone mast [tower] in a residential area of Dorking have been withdrawn by the applicant.

Mobile phone company O2 had applied to build nine antennas and three dishes and to erect a fake plant room, which is used to cover up the unsightly equipment, on the roof of Haybarn House, in South Street.

The application had originally been refused by Mole Valley District Council because it said the phone mast would be visually intrusive to the area, but an appeal was lodged in July.

The plans were also opposed by residents of Vincent Road and Vincent Lane,roads which sit behind Haybarn House, because they were concerned about the potential health effects of having a mobile phone mast in a built-up area with two schools and a hospital nearby.

Although the Department of Health currently denies any long-term effects of mobile phone masts, there are examples such as the village of Wishaw, in Scotland, where residents successfully had a mobile phone mast removed after complaining of a variety of health problems, including nosebleeds, headaches and cancer.

Valerie Hollis,a resident of Vincent Road, said: "I think it was a very good decision by the company to withdraw this application.

"The main reason that we opposed this application is that no one is quite sure about the effects that mobile phone masts have on health."

And Bronwen Roscoe, also of Vincent Road, said: "I am delighted that 02 has withdrawn its application to site a mobile telephone mast on Haybarn House.

"Given the council's failure to apply the precautionary principle during the planning process,and 02's lamentable attempt at public consultation, I was not hopeful of a satisfactory out-come.

She added: "I am not opposed to the safe use of mobile phone technology so much as the complacency and inertia of the Government and operators in keeping us fully informed.

"I appreciate that, as a nation, we are wedded to our mobile phones,and masts are an integral part of that infrastructure, but there are other more appropriate locations than residential areas. Thankfully, on this occasion, and for whatever reason, sense has prevailed."

O2 says it decided to withdraw the application because of the strength of feeling against the mast from both the council and from residents.

Jim Stevenson, the community relations manager for O2, said: "We have decided to look again at the site where we were going to put the antenna.

"In light of everything coming into us from the council's planning officers and local residents, we decided to look again at the whole site and make some changes for the future.

"We do want to reapply to build a mast in Dorking but not at this site."

An application to turn the upper floor of Haybarn House into flats, which has also been bitterly opposed by residents,is still going through the appeal process.

Copyright 2008 East Surrey and Sussex News and Media

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From: Hawaii Reporter (Honolulu)
[Printer-friendly version]

AFRICAN SUPERBUGS TO THE RESCUE

By Katherine Mangu-Ward

The phone rang in my room at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the Serengeti. It was the early days of a group trip to Tanzania and Kenya, but one woman in my group had already discovered the joys of East African baggage handling in Nairobi, where her bags had been misplaced along with those of another member of the group.

"I'm collecting Malarone for the destitute," she said cheerfully. Like most of the people on the trip, she had gotten a prescription for protective anti-malaria medication from her doctor before starting out the trip. Hers had been in the lost bag, so she was looking to replenish her supply.

"No problem," I said, "My doctor prescribed me a couple of extras. I'll bring them down at breakfast."

This transaction -- handing off a few spare pills to reduce the threat of a terrible illness -- seems so simple. So why can't we manage it on a large scale? Why can't we figure out how to put pills in the hands of the hundreds of millions of people in Africa who fall ill after the bite of a malaria-carrying mosquito every year, or the one million people who die from the disease, nearly all of them children?

The drugs that my group carried were state of the art, with a price to reflect that, retailing at a little under $75 a week. Lariam, the generation of pills before Malarone, caused strange hallucinogenic dreams (actually, my doctor asked if I'd prefer the Lariam, since "some arty types like that sort of thing." I politely declined.) And the old, pennies-a-day quinine-based staples were no longer effective in parts of Tanzania. Too bad, because there's nothing like a truly medicinal gin and tonic (tonic contains quinine).

The pills require vigilance -- they must be taken every day and for 7 days after leaving the malarial area (not that most affected people have the luxury of ever "leaving the malarial area"). Likewise, other methods of prevention, like bed nets and interior insecticides require upkeep. Many of the current crop of nets must be resprayed with insecticide at regular intervals, and they must be kept free of holes and tucked tightly around the edge of the mattress. (The first night I used a bed net, I managed to trap a mosquito inside with me.)

But in the end, as simple as it seems like it ought to be, we can't stockpile enough pills, we can't get them in the right hands, there aren't enough bed nets, and they aren't being used with enough consistency, insecticide use is patchy, and use of the most effective insecticide, DDT, is controversial -- controversial enough to be banned in some of the worst off countries.

One might think, then, that a new, technological solution, one that required no upkeep and no individual responsibility, would be welcomed.

Researchers have recently conscripted a gene for a toxin from a sea cucumber, of all things, in the fight against malaria. Inserting this gene into mosquitoes creates a toxic environment for the malaria- causing parasite that usually lives happily in a mosquito's gut. These tweaks make it impossible for malaria to be passed from human to human via mosquito.

In order for this scheme to work, the modified mosquitoes have to outbreed normal mosquitoes in the wild. This has been the main challenge for scientists thus far. But the current generation proves to be surprisingly robust in a caged trial, dominating the mosquito population at 70 percent in the ninth generation when feeding on malarial blood. In fact, killing the malaria-causing parasite may actually give the genetically modified mosquitoes an edge by allowing them to live longer and lay more eggs, according to the scientists at the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

"This fitness advantage has important implications for devising malaria control strategies," they write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The lab-made mosquitoes aren't quite good enough yet -- they don't outbreed regular mosquitoes on a diet of regular blood. But the concept has undeniable appeal, right? Let a few genetically freakish mosquitoes into the population and then sit back and watch as they outbreed their treacherous, malaria-carrying brothers and sisters.

So far, the criticism has been fairly muted, and the researchers themselves are being cautious and circumspect, saying that it could be as long as ten years from now before release into the wild is a possibility.

"What we did was a laboratory, proof-of-principle experiment; we're not anywhere close to releasing them into the wild right now," said study co-author Dr. Jason Rasgon from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

"There is quite a lot of research that needs to be done, both in terms of genetics and the ecology of the mosquitoes; and also research to address all the social, ethical and legal issues associated with releasing transgenic organisms into the environment," he said.

But even with that cautious note in the air, many are already seeing visions of the worst possible outcome. "Once new species get out of their ecosystem and they are not kept in check by other processes that's when they start to cause mayhem," Deborah Long of Plantlife Scotland told the Guardian.

Respected groups like the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology are standing by previous statements about the possible problems caused by GM insects. "The mobility and range of insects pose international regulatory challenges never faced with GM crops," they wrote in 2004.

In response to initial announcements about the modified mosquitos, the Guardian's James Randerson wrote "it will probably be the perception of risk rather than the actual risks that are important. GM-crops were scuppered in Europe by the what-if fears: in the end, the scientific assessment did not matter." Sadly, he's right.

Lots of study and lots of caution are appropriate, of course, but this is the beginning of storyline that is already too familiar. The logic of bans on DDT, pest-resistant GM crops, and other technological solutions to human problems will be applied here too, and Africa will suffer for our timidity.

When it came right down to it, no one on my trip probably needed the Malarone pills anyway. We had high concentration DEET insect spray in our bags and bed nets in our rooms. Yes, there were malaria warnings for both Tanzania and Kenya, but a downloadable detailed report from the CDC showed risk areas in more detail, and we weren't going to be in them, for the most part.

We were taking the pills as a luxury, our excess of caution born out of our excess of wealth, relatively speaking. I was bitten a few times on the trip, and the knowledge that I was drugged up stilled the alarm I might otherwise have felt. But all around me, I watched citizens of Tanzania and Kenya casually brush away mosquitoes that could have brought them low with a single bite. Even if I'd given away every pill in my stock, it wouldn't have made a dent.

Generosity amongst friends is not so easy to duplicate on the necessary scale, even with the riches of Bill Gates, and the charitable spirit of Mother Teresa. Other solutions are needed.

And while we worry about what might happen to the ecosystem if we release a mosquito with a small change in its genes, millions of people roll in their beds (or on mats on the floor), fevered and ill. We shouldn't release modified mosquitoes before they are ready. But when they are ready and the inevitable invocation of the precautionary principle comes, we should try to weigh the caution we are used to being able to afford against the real suffering of real people whose lives are so different from our own that it is difficult to comprehend.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor of Reason Magazine.

HawaiiReporter.com reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to mailto:Malia@HawaiiReporter.com

Copyright 2008 Hawaii Reporter, Inc.

Return to Table of Contents Read or make comments

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

  Editors:
  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org

  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org
  

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


  To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution
  Reporter send any Email to one of these addresses:

  Full HTML edition: rpr-subscribe@pplist.net
  Table of Contents (TOC) edition: rpr-toc-subscribe@pplist.net

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

  To unsubscribe, send any email to rpr-unsubscribe@pplist.net
  or to rpr-toc-unsubscribe@pplist.net, as appropriate.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::