Featured stories in this issue...
EU Officials Propose Ban on Genetically Modified Corn Seeds
"The EU is within its rights to make decisions based on the
'precautionary principle' even when scientists have found no
definitive evidence proving products can cause harm. The commission
has the authority to be a risk manager when it comes to the safety and
science of genetically modified crops."
Sprouting EU Food Wars
French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently suspended cultivation of
genetically modified crops until their safety is evaluated, saying he
didn't want to contradict EU law but made the choice in line with the
"precautionary principle." One environmental advocate called the pro-
business president's shift "seismic."
In Australia, GM Food Approval Causes Widespread Anger
"The lift of this moratorium completely disregards the
'precautionary principle' and the Department of Primary Industries has
their heads in the sand if they think there won't be consequences of
this decision, to both local farmers and to NSW's natural ecological
In British Columbia, the New Democratic Party Embraces Precaution
"The principles behind that vision go well beyond environmental
concerns. They encompass social-equity stands in favour of equal
opportunity for all, 'full cost accounting' to measure the real cost
of everything and full support for the precautionary principle: When
in doubt -- don't."
Are Your Products Safe? You Can't Tell.
"The problem with the precautionary principle is that you have a
moving target," said Tim Shestek, a chemistry council lobbyist. "You
need to prove that something is safe -- safe is never really defined
by anybody." Lacking testing or regulation by the U.S. government, it
falls to consumers to watch out for themselves.
Agricultural Antibiotics May Be the Cause of Super-bugs
"The European Union banned the use of antibiotics for growth
promotion based on the precautionary principle. In this case, it is
more scientific to simply ban the product that might be the cause of
the [antibiotic] resistance, than simply do nothing because there are
no precise means to measure the complex interaction between organisms
and transmission of resistance in bacteria."
Ban Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses
"Surely if the report says there is not sufficient evidence either
way, we should apply the precautionary principle and err on the side
From: International Herald Tribune, Nov. 21, 2007
EU OFFICIALS PROPOSE BAN ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN SEEDS
By James Kanter
PARIS: European Union environment officials have determined that two
kinds of genetically modified corn could harm butterflies, modify food
chains and disturb life in rivers and streams, and they have proposed
a ban on the sale of the seeds, which are made by DuPont Pioneer, Dow
Agrosciences and Syngenta.
The preliminary decisions, seen by the International Herald Tribune,
are circulating within the European Commission, the EU executive,
which has the final say. Some officials there are skeptical about a
ban that would upset the powerful biotechnology industry and could
exacerbate tensions with important EU trading partners like the United
In the decisions, the EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, says
that the genetically modified corn, or maize, seeds -- which are not
now available on the European market for cultivation -- could affect
certain butterfly species, specifically the monarch, and other
beneficial insects. For instance, research from 2007 indicates that
larvae of the monarch butterfly exposed to the genetically modified
corn "behave differently than other larvae."
In the decision concerning corn seeds produced by Dow and Pioneer,
Dimas calls "potential damage on the environment irreversible." In the
decision on Syngenta's corn, Dimas says that "the level of risk
generated by the cultivation of this product for the environment is
A decision by the EU to disallow cultivation of the genetically
modified crops would be the first of its kind in the trade bloc,
making the current battle over genetically modified corn ferocious.
Since 1998, the commission has not approved any applications for the
cultivation of genetically modified crops -- but neither has the
commission actively rejected any applications, as would be the case
with the genetically modified corn products.
Banning the applications for corn crops also would mark a bold new
step for EU environmental authorities, who already are aggressively
pursuing regulations on emissions from cars and aircraft that have set
it at odds with the United States and angered industries.
"These products have been grown in the U.S. and other countries for
years," said Stephen Norton, a spokesman for the United States Trade
Representative. "We are not aware of any other case when a product has
been rejected after having been reviewed and determined safe by"
European food safety authorities, Norton said.
In 2005, the European Food Safety Authority, a European agency based
in Parma, Italy, that operates independently of the EU, ruled that the
products -- 1507, produced by Dow and Pioneer, and Bt11, produced by
Syngenta -- were unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal
health or the environment. In the draft decision, Dimas said other
studies had since come to light on the potential effects of the seeds,
and that further investigation was needed.
Environmentalists are seizing on the issue, too.
On Wednesday they called on Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the
European Commission, to resist delaying the date for a meeting where
the bans could be decided on, and they told him that a ban would have
the support of many members of the European public.
"We believe that all commissioners should be given the right to
express their views on this matter, which is of great concern to
European citizens in all member states," Jorgo Riss, director of the
European unit of Greenpeace, wrote in a letter to Barroso co-signed by
Friends of the Earth and a number of other groups dedicated to farmers
and consumers. "The vast majority of European citizens and consumers
are opposed to genetically engineered plants in agriculture and for
food," Riss wrote.
Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for Dimas, declined to comment on
the specifics of the procedure because commissioners had not yet taken
a final decision. But she said that the EU was within its rights to
make decisions based on the "precautionary principle" even when
scientists have found no definitive evidence proving products can
"The commission has the authority to be a risk manager when it comes
to the safety and science of genetically modified crops," said
She said that the decisions by Dimas could go before the commission
within the next few weeks, but she, as well as a spokesman for
Barroso, said that no date had yet been set.
In the decisions, Dimas cited research from 2007 showing that
consumption of genetically modified "corn byproducts reduced growth
and increased mortality of non-target stream insects" and that these
insects "are important prey for aquatic and riparian predators" and
that this could have "unexpected ecosystem-scale consequences."
Although still preliminary, Dimas's decisions could dramatically tilt
the EU policy against future approvals of genetically modified crops,
said Nathalie Moll, a spokeswoman for Europabio, an industry group
with 80 members including Syngenta, Pioneer and Dow.
The decisions "would be setting a precedent for EU officials to reject
products based on nonverified scientific data," said Moll.
Europabio says that the crops grown using the genetically modified
corn already are imported into several EU countries, including France
and Germany, where they are used to feed animals like cows and
Rob Gianfranceschi, spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the EU in
Brussels, said it was too early to comment on a decision that had not
yet been formalized. But he made clear that the United States remained
frustrated with EU policies on genetically modified crops.
"The United States has consistently stated that the EU continues to
lack a predictable, workable process for approving these products in a
way that reflects scientific rather than political factors,"
Last year, in a victory for the United States, Canada and Argentina,
the World Trade Organization ruled that the EU was wrongly delaying
approvals of genetically modified products and that some countries,
like Austria and Hungary, were wrongly banning the import and
cultivation of crops.
Moll said the industry still was waiting to see whether the United
States and Canada to decide whether to retaliate against the EU for
its policies on genetically modified crops.
Only one genetically modified crop is currently grown in Europe, a
form of corn produced by Monsanto and nine other companies. Spain
began growing that crop 10 years ago, followed by France, the Czech
Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Portugal and Germany. But in a
major blow to the biotechnology industry in France, President Nicolas
Sarkozy last month vowed to suspend the cultivation of genetically
Austria, Hungary and Poland also have banned the Monsanto corn,
according to Greenpeace.
Moll of Europabio said the two genetically modified corn varieties
Dimas proposed to ban are engineered to produce a toxin, commonly
called Bt, that is poisonous to certain insect pests that lodge inside
cobs and stalks and eat the plant from the inside. Protecting plants
from these insects was important, she said, because the damage left
the plants open to attack by fungi that produce a different toxin,
fumonisin, which can enter the food chain and make products like milk
"Farmers in Europe must see a benefit in Bt corn because it protects
against attacks by one of the major maize pests in Europe," said Moll,
adding that 77 percent increase in cultivation over the past year.
Even so, corn represents only 14 percent of European agriculture, with
the genetically modified product representing just 1 percent of that
Across the rest of the world, said Moll, more than 200 genetically
modified crops are being grown in countries from the United States to
Copyright 2007 The International Herald Tribune www.iht.com
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From: Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 20, 2007
SPROUTING EU FOOD WARS
By Toni Johnson
This fall the European Union allowed imports of four new genetically
modified crops (Reuters) -- three types of corn and one sugar beet.
The approval came through a default legal process that kicks in when
EU environmental ministers cannot agree. Since 2004, a number of
modified foods have been allowed into the EU market this way. But
individual countries, including Austria, Hungary, and Italy have
established national bans in defiance of EU rulings, and at least thus
far EU ministers have not stopped them. Now a bigger battle is
looming, including possible WTO sanctions if EU countries continue to
Just days after the EU's latest crop approval, its environment
officials failed -- for the third time -- to agree to end Austria's
import ban (EUObserver) on genetically modified corn. The ban dates
to the 1990s, and was deemed a trade violation in 2006 by the World
Trade Organization. The European Commission, which already twice found
the corn to be safe, had until November 21 to bring Austria in line,
or risks facing WTO sanctions, but has been given an extension (AP)
until January 11, 2008. A Wall Street Journal editorial noted that
both the WTO and the EU allow countries to ban unsafe foods, but
added that in Austria's case "the facts don't line up with their
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are designed to improve
crop yields, withstand herbicide treatment, resist insects, and even
in some cases deliver vaccines (Scientific American) or extra
vitamins (BBC). But some environmental and consumer activists believe
genetically modified crops -- sometimes dubbed "frankenfoods" by
critics -- could harm biodiversity and potentially be toxic
(Deutsche- Welle). The European Commission's eight-year "de facto
moratorium" (Euractiv.com) on GM foods ended with the establishment
of a tough labeling law, but did not resolve a trade fight with the
United States. Nor did it placate European fears over genetically
Earlier this year, EU regulators failed to reach agreement on
Hungary's two-year-old ban on GM corn. Meanwhile, Italy's state-run
science agency finds itself besieged by accusations that it
suppressed findings (Foodnavigator.com) from a field trial on corn
produced by Monsanto, the world's leading producer of GM seeds. Three
million Italians have signed a petition for an "unlimited moratorium"
(AFP) on modified produce. Germany is moving on a plan to approve GM
crops, but only if they are accompanied by strict environmental
monitoring. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently suspended
cultivation of modified crops until their safety is evaluated, saying
he didn't want to contradict EU law but made the choice in line with
the "precautionary principle" (Reuters). One environmental advocate
called the pro-business president's shift "seismic."
This resistance to GM crops could be a setback for an industry
struggling to get off the ground in Europe. European GM growers
reported 77 percent growth (CORDIS) last year, in terms of total
area planted. Yet even with these gains, only about one percent of the
world's genetically modified corn is grown in Europe, and sixty
varieties of crops remain backlogged for approval. EuropaBio, a
European biotech lobby group, called for automatic approval of GM
foods that pass their risk assessments. The United States, Argentina,
Canada, and Brazil pick up the slack, accounting for 94 percent
(PDF) of global GMO plantings, according to a 2006 paper published by
Harvard's Belfer Center. The paper notes that the environmental
effects from GM crops planted in these countries have been "strongly
positive to date."
Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations
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From: Scopical (North Ryde, NSW, Australia), Nov. 28, 2007
GM FOOD APPROVAL CAUSES WIDESPREAD ANGER
The NSW [New South Wales] Primary Industries Minister Ian McDonald has
announced that he will lift the moratorium on genetically engineered
crops in NSW and this spells disaster for the state's farmers and
environment, Total Environment Centre (TEC) said today.
Previously, federally approved crops were blocked at the state level
but a new law to be introduced into State Parliament allows
genetically modified (GM) crops to be cultivated in NSW.
"The lift of this moratorium completely disregards the "precautionary
principle" and the Department of Primary Industries has their heads in
the sand if they think there won't be consequences of this decision,
to both local farmers and to NSW's natural ecological systems," TEC
Director, Jeff Angel said.
There has been previous evidence of trial GM canola crops
contaminating non-GM crops in NSW in 2005. Despite the federal Office
of the Gene Technology Regulator approving and regulating field trials
and commercial releases of GM crops, it has conducted no independent
testing, and relies on information from private biotechnology
"The fact of the matter is that the key problems of contamination have
still not been properly addressed and this poses a major threat," said
Detailed studies conducted overseas have pointed to the introduction
of GM crops leading to lower yields, continued dependency on chemical
sprays, loss of exports and, more importantly, reduced profits for
farmers the TEC says.
"With a society that is increasingly demanding healthy, organic, GM-
free produce, this amendment threatens local and overseas markets
which don't want GM products. Once crops become contaminated, everyone
will be eating the same genetically tampered food and they won't have
a choice," stated Mr. Angel.
Copyright 2007 Scopical Pty Ltd
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From: Times Colonist (Victoria, B.C.), Nov. 24, 2007
NDP MASTER PLAN FAILS THE SNIFF TEST
Sustainability doctrine doesn't give New Democrats any advantage
By Les Leyne, Times Colonist
New Democrats are putting a lot of faith in the political impact of
a new sustainability doctrine they adopted on the weekend.
"Sustainable B.C." is an 11-page outline of how an New Democrat
government would operate. The vision is fine and the principles are
motherhood. But the "action agenda" is overconfidently based on the
idea it's going to win them the next election. The party seems wildly
optimistic they'll rocket to the top of the polls now that
"Sustainable B.C." is the official lens through which they will view
anything and everything.
"It is an inspiring 'brand' by which the NDP can win politically and
govern with integrity, based on clearly articulated principles," says
the conclusion. "Sustainable B.C. can become a powerful and persuasive
central theme of the 2009 campaign."
If they were running against a party that was ignoring climate change,
maybe. But the B.C. Liberals have enough on the go that there's just
not a big enough difference between the two parties on that front. The
Liberals introduced legislation backing up the greenhouse-gas emission
reduction targets two days after the NDP adopted Sustainable B.C. And
the government has a whole suite of measures in the works leading up
to a green budget next February. The sustainability vision may keep
the NDP in the race, but it doesn't put them out in front enough to
That hasn't stopped them from investing a lot of hope in the document,
which was adopted as a new creed at their weekend convention.
The idea is that B.C. would be governed as a place where a diversified
economy operates "within the environmental carrying capacity." Where
there's equity "in sharing the wealth of the province fairly among all
The principles behind that vision go well beyond environmental
concerns. They encompass social-equity stands in favour of equal
opportunity for all, "full cost accounting" to measure the real cost
of everything and full support for the precautionary principle: When
in doubt -- don't.
There are few specifics in the document, and the few there are need
fleshing out. One is the promise of a sustainability law in which the
province would make a formal and enduring commitment to
sustainability. Another is the appointment of a Commissioner for
Sustainability. They also promise "genuine" progress indicators, as
opposed to the presumably bogus ones the Liberals use. There's also an
environmental bill of rights under which anyone anywhere would have
the right to object to any perceived degradation of the environment.
Those are outstanding political-science theories of the sort that blow
up in your face when you apply them to day-to-day decisions in
government. They point in the direction of paralysis on some major
issues. They hint at a bureaucratic buildup of the kind the Opposition
is starting to sniff about in the Liberal government. And they ignore
the fact the Liberals have a reasonably independent Progress Board
that has been holding them to consistently rigorous standards on
various social fronts.
New Democrats are quick to acknowledge many of them need further study
and a greater level of detail. That's exactly the stand Liberals have
been taking for months on the implications of their climate change
package, and it's the one the New Democrats have been criticizing.
If both sides are still groping to understand the staggering
implications of the kind of change they are both committed to, they
can't very well criticize each other for not having a finished product
on the policy shelf.
Liberals and New Democrats are slowly building two big policy
frameworks behind their virtually identical stands in favour of
decisive action on climate change.
Liberals have been building a big new secretariat to tackle climate
change. They are the first Canadian government with legislated
emission targets. They've enrolled B.C. in some ambitious
international initiatives. They have a distinguished new team of
experts to come up with all the badly needed bright ideas.
The Opposition, on the other hand, is promising a new law that would
hold any government to running every single decision of government
through a sustainability checklist.
They also promise a commissioner to check on progress toward that
goal, and a new bill of rights that "empowers citizens" to go to court
over any decision with a perceived impact on the environment.
Here's the difference: Liberals are setting out to fight climate
change by concentrating on greenhouse-gas emissions. They'll mount a
massive but specific campaign on that one problem, while they govern
as usual on other fronts. The Opposition is taking a more holistic
approach that would be much more far-reaching and have many more
The big problem for the NDP is that, until they form government, they
feel they have to go along with much of the Liberal plan.
Which is why after hours of debate where they pointed out all the
shortcomings in the Liberal approach, they voted in favour of it this
That doesn't sound very sustainable in the one area they haven't
included in their checklist -- the politics of it all.
Copyright Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
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From: Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisc.), Nov. 25, 2007
ARE YOUR PRODUCTS SAFE? YOU CAN'T TELL.
Labels often fail to list compounds that can disrupt biological
By Susanne Rust, Meg Kissinger and Cary Spivak
Take a look at your shoes, your shampoo, your carpet.
Your baby's bottles, even the dental sealants in your mouth.
These products contain chemicals that disrupt the natural way hormones
work inside of you.
The chemicals known as endocrine disruptors are all over your house,
your clothing, your car.
The chemicals are even in you.
They promise to make skin softer, clothes smell fresher and food keep
The problem is, neither the companies that make these products nor
federal regulators are telling you that some of these substances may
be dangerous. Many have been found to cause life-threatening illnesses
in laboratory animals.
Chemical makers maintain that their products are safe. They point to
government assurances and the millions of dollars they have spent on
their own research as proof.
But a growing number of scientists are convinced the chemicals
interfere with the body's reproductive, developmental and behavioral
Hundreds of studies have shown that these compounds cause a host of
problems in lab animals. They include cancers of the breast, brain and
testicles; lowered sperm counts, early puberty, miscarriages and other
defects of the reproductive system; diabetes; attention deficit
disorder, asthma and autism -- all of which have spiked in people in
recent decades since many of these chemicals saturated the
A Journal Sentinel investigation found that the government has failed
to regulate these chemicals, despite repeated promises to do so. The
regulatory effort has been marked by wasted time, wasted money and
influence from chemical manufacturers.
The newspaper reviewed more than 250 scientific studies written over
the past 20 years; examined thousands of pages of regulatory documents
and industry correspondence; and interviewed more than 100 scientists,
physicians, and industry and government officials.
Among the findings:
** U.S. regulators promised a decade ago to screen more than 15,000
chemicals for their effects on the endocrine system. They've spent
tens of millions of dollars on the testing program. As yet, not a
single screen has been done.
** Dozens of chemicals the government wants to screen first have
already been tested over and over, even while thousands of untested
chemicals are waiting to be screened.
** By the time the government gets around to doing the testing,
chances are the results will be outdated and inconclusive. The
government's proposed tests lack new, more sensitive measures that
would identify dangerous chemicals that older screens could miss.
** As the U.S. testing process remains grounded, hundreds of products
have been banned in countries around the world. Children's products --
including some baby toys and teething rings -- outlawed as dangerous
by the European Union, Japan and Canada, are available here without
** Lacking any regulation in the U.S., it's impossible for consumers
to know which products are made with the dangerous compounds. Many
companies don't list chemicals known to disrupt the endocrine system
on product labels.
The government's efforts have been "an abject failure, a disaster,"
said Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and chairman of the department
of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
in New York.
Landrigan was at the White House ceremony in 1996 when President
Clinton signed laws requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
to screen chemicals for their effects on the endocrine system.
Because the effects of endocrine disruptors may take years to reveal
themselves, it is almost impossible to say that a particular chemical
caused a certain disease. There also is a lot of uncertainty about how
these chemicals work inside your body. So, scientists extrapolate.
They can't test their theories on humans. Instead, they have to rely
on animal studies and try to figure out the implications for people.
By mimicking or blocking the body's hormones, endocrine disruptors can
trigger faulty messages that disrupt development. That makes them
particularly dangerous to fetuses and young children, scientists say.
These chemicals can be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the
Michael E. Mitchell, chief of pediatric urology at Children's Hospital
of Wisconsin, has seen the consequences he attributes to these
He has witnessed a dramatic spike in the number of genital birth
defects in the last 30 years. And it breaks his heart, he said, to see
the damage done to so many children who must undergo painful surgery
to correct birth deformities.
Considering the number of chemicals that developing fetuses are
exposed to, "it's amazing that anyone turns out OK," he said.
Anxiety is rising over the growing number of cancer cases and other
diseases linked to these chemicals. But few answers are forthcoming.
"People should know what they're being exposed to and be given the
option to choose alternatives," said Shanna Swan, director of the
Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry. "And that is not happening very
EPA officials blame their lack of progress on the complexity of the
"Clearly, we would have liked to have been a lot further along," said
Elaine Francis, national program director of the EPA's endocrine
disruptors research program. "But science tends to move at its own
To find how pervasive these compounds are in everyday use, the Journal
Sentinel asked Frederick vom Saal, an internationally known expert in
endocrine disruption, to perform a chemical audit of the Greendale
home of Dean and Ellen Lang Roder and their four children, ages 3 to
As the University of Missouri biologist went through each room in the
house, vom Saal found hundreds of reasons for the Roder family to
worry -- from the bathtub rubber duck to the plastic pipes that bring
water into their home.
"Anything that goes in your child's mouth is a factor for you to be
concerned about," vom Saal told Ellen Roder as he held one of her
children's dolls. "Particularly, dolls made from a plastic called
polyvinyl chloride that 10 years from now just won't exist. It will be
looked at like cigarettes. It is that dangerous."
Industry scientists dispute that.
"Science supports our side," said Marty Durbin, federal affairs
managing director for the American Chemistry Council, the trade group
representing the plastics industry.
They say there is no reason to fear the toys, baby bottles and other
products containing the chemicals because none of their studies has
proved that the chemicals cause harm to people. Chemists for the
industry say you would have to consume 1,300 pounds of canned and
bottled foods each day to notice any effects from the chemicals those
"I'm very comfortable with my kids and grandkids using these products,
and that's really my bottom line," said James Lamb, an industry
consultant and former EPA regulator. "And it is because I believe the
industry has done the studies that need to be done and that they're
interpreting them properly."
Lack of screening
There are roughly 100,000 chemicals on the market today. Yet, lacking
a coordinated screening program, there is no way to know how many of
these chemicals interfere with the human endocrine system.
The chemicals at issue are used as additives in plastics, fragrances,
creams and as flame retardants.
Some of the more controversial compounds include bisphenol A and
Six billion pounds of bisphenol A, the raw material of polycarbonate
plastic and epoxy resins, are produced each year in the United States.
Phthalates (pronounced "THAL-ates") are the chemicals that make
plastic flexible and allow creams and personal-care products to hold
their smell. U.S. chemical companies produce more than 2 billion
pounds of these compounds a year. They are commonly found in nail
polishes and hair sprays, shower curtains and even Halloween costumes.
For more than a decade, government agencies have said that several of
these chemicals are safe at levels that people are exposed to every
Chemical makers have relied on these assurances as proof that their
products are safe. They bolster these conclusions with millions of
dollars of research and testing.
But the newspaper's review of 258 studies of bisphenol A, a common
ingredient in baby bottles, reusable water bottles, eyeglass lenses
and DVDs, shows otherwise.
More than 80% of studies analyzed by the Journal Sentinel show that
the chemical adversely affects animals, causing cancer and other
Developing embryos exposed to endocrine disruptors through their
mothers are most at risk, said Theo Colborn, a scientist trained at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose book on the explosion of
dangerous chemicals in the environment, titled "Our Stolen Future,"
stirred passionate calls for reform and regulation when it was
published in 1996.
"You need the right hormones in the right place at the right time
sending out the right signals," Colborn said. "If that's fouled up
prenatally, you're in trouble."
Colborn, like many of her colleagues, has changed the way she deals
with these compounds, refusing to store her food in plastic or use
certain creams and lotions that contain chemicals suspected of causing
Scientists first suspected that endocrine disruptors were wreaking
havoc decades ago when they began observing freakish abnormalities in
wild animals, particularly along the Great Lakes with its legacy of
They were seeing female gulls nesting together, birds with twisted
bills and frogs with severe deformities, including one with an eye
growing inside its mouth. Elsewhere across the country, scientists
reported finding male fish with sacks of eggs and alligators with
In 1991, Colborn, then a zoologist working for the World Wildlife
Fund, convened a conference of some of the country's leading wildlife
biologists, toxicologists and endocrinologists at Wingspread
Conference Center in Racine to discuss the emerging science.
It was there that the term "endocrine disruptor" was coined. The 21
scientists signed a consensus statement, expressing concern about the
dangers that these new chemicals posed and calling for them to be
Five years later, Colborn and two colleagues chronicled the bizarre
spectacles of nature and their theories about the causes.
The authors wondered that if the toxins in the environment could cause
these effects in animals, what were they doing to people? Just as with
lead and tobacco decades before, these chemicals are all around us,
ravaging nature's delicate design, the authors said.
Their book stirred controversy in the scientific community, and many
dismissed the claims as "junk science" because there was no direct
link between specific chemicals and illnesses in people.
Within days of the book's publication, the chemical industry's trade
group issued an alert to its members, warning them to expect a swarm
of calls about the book's claims. The memo predicted the fallout could
Later that year, Congress unanimously passed two laws ordering the EPA
to begin screening and testing chemicals and pesticides for endocrine
disrupting effects by 1999.
The EPA convened a committee of scientists from academia, the
government and the chemical industry to lay the groundwork for testing
these chemicals. They came up with a way to identify and test
chemicals for the risks and get the information to the public.
In the beginning, there was a groundswell of enthusiasm. Then-EPA
administrator Carol Browner said in 1998 that her agency would begin
fast-tracking efforts to screen these compounds by the end of that
"Some 15,000 chemicals used in thousands of common products, ranging
from pesticides to plastics," would be screened, Browner said.
Officials identified the program as a top priority. Browner appointed
the first panel of scientists to build a framework for how to screen
the chemicals. She left the agency after the presidential election in
More than $80 million later, the government program has yet to screen
its first chemical.
That has left Browner, and others, concerned about the lack of any
"It doesn't take nine years," she said with a sigh. "You adjust as you
go. You don't have to build a Cadillac when a Model T will do."
Frustrated at the lack of action, a consortium of environmental,
patient advocacy and labor groups filed a federal lawsuit, prompting
the EPA to promise that screening would begin by the end of 2003.
But the agency repeatedly has missed its self-imposed deadlines as
well as those set by law.
Agency administrators testified twice before Congress, first in August
2000 and again two years later, pledging that the screening would be
in place soon. Three separate committees of academic and industry
scientists, including the one Browner formed, have been appointed by
the EPA to take up the issue.
"A lot of bureaucratic foot-stomping and dust-raising," was the
observation of Peter DeFur, a researcher at the Center for
Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University who served
on all three of the committees.
"To delay is to win on the part of the industrial community," DeFur
Industry, he said, tried mightily to slow the effort. He was
particularly critical of one test pushed by chemical makers that
involved studying mature male rats to see the chemicals' effects on
the development of the reproductive system.
"What does the old white rat have to do with development?" DeFur said.
"By the time he gets to be mature, or even nearly mature, all the
organs are developed."
Industry and other groups have flooded the EPA and the committees with
research, said L. Earl Gray Jr., an EPA research biologist.
The industry's lobbying efforts are led by the American Chemistry
Council. The group has a $75 million budget and includes some of the
biggest names in commerce -- Dow Chemical Corp., Procter & Gamble Co.
Chemical makers have "in some sense learned that if you play on the
uncertainty of danger, you're going to be able to stop regulatory
action especially in an anti-regulatory era," said David Rosner,
professor of history and public health at Columbia University. That's
particularly true "in a time when so many of our regulatory agencies
have been neutered politically and socially," he added.
Durbin, of the trade group, denied any stall tactics.
"If it was our interest to delay things around here, we'd just sit on
our hands and see whether or not EPA gets any funding," said Durbin,
noting that the trade group frequently lobbies for increases in the
Annual federal funding for the endocrine disruptor screening program
peaked at $12.6 million in 2000 and has dropped by about one-third.
Critics have charged that the White House has cut back on efforts to
regulate a wide array of industries. DeFur, among others, felt that
frustration while serving on the endocrine disruptor committees.
Clifford Gabriel, director of the EPA's Office of Science Coordination
and Policy, countered that budgetary constraints have not hurt the
Stephen L. Johnson, Browner's successor as head of the EPA, declined
requests to be interviewed.
Whatever the reason, the committees met less frequently as time went
By April 2006, 10 years after the congressional order to begin the
screening, progress stalled altogether.
Gerald LeBlanc, chairman of the committee charged with developing the
screens, got a call from an EPA administrator, assuming that the two
would be setting the committee's next meeting. Instead, LeBlanc was
told the committee was being terminated.
"They were not going to allow me to take this job to completion," said
LeBlanc, toxicology professor at North Carolina State University.
Edward Orlando, a biology professor at Florida Atlantic University and
a member of the last committee, said its abrupt dissolution came as a
disappointment -- not to mention a waste of public money.
"How long will this take? Another five years? Another 10?" Orlando
The EPA's Francis said that LeBlanc's committee had a set term, and
the agency felt it was more efficient to turn the work over to an
advisory panel, where it remains today. But committee members say the
effort was doomed for the past several years.
"Frankly, there was not enough political oomph behind it," said Gina
Solomon, a member of the first EPA committee and senior scientist for
the National Resources Defense Council.
Those with ties to industry say they, too, wish the process moved
"Everyone is disappointed that you can't make quicker progress, but it
does take time," said Thomas Osimitz, an industry consultant who sat
on two of the three EPA committees. "It's frustrating, but, on the
other hand, I don't know what could be quicker."
By the time the government gets around to the tests, they likely will
be of little value. Under the current model, government tests do not
screen for the chemicals' effects at low doses.
Instead, government researchers follow standard toxicology testing
practices, feeding animals such as rats huge doses of the chemical.
Then they record the damage to the animal, most often cancer,
behavioral or reproductive failures. The researchers then test the
rats at lower and lower doses until they no longer find those
But bisphenol A and phthalates don't work that way, many scientists
say. They can elicit different effects in animals at extremely low
Two groups of scientists, one from the National Academy of Science and
the other from the National Toxicology Program, have called for a
radical reform in the way that government screens these chemicals.
But, so far, the government hasn't budged from its original formula.
"The EPA is lumbering along trying to clumsily incorporate the science
of a couple of decades ago," Solomon said.
The list of chemicals scheduled to be screened is also being
The EPA will first screen 73 chemicals -- all pesticides, none of the
chemicals found in household products. The tests aren't set to happen
until sometime next year.
EPA officials declined to say exactly when the screening would occur,
explaining that the agency must finish its study of the tests before
shipping them to another panel for review. But most of the pesticides
have already been tested, and many have been established as endocrine
Francis, of the EPA, says her agency chose to screen that relatively
small batch of chemicals as a way to test the reliability of the
process. But even scientists hired by the chemical industry question
the value of screening chemicals that have been studied thoroughly.
"Most of those on the list have already been tested, so why are we
doing this?" asked Lamb, the toxicologist who works as a consultant to
the chemistry council.
The EPA hopes to conclude the first round of tests by 2010, said
Enesta Jones, an agency spokeswoman. Only then will the agency have an
idea when the next group of chemicals will be screened.
For as slow as the process of screening chemicals has been in the
U.S., concern about the safety of endocrine disruptors has caught on
in Europe, Japan, South America, the Middle East, Mexico and even
Reports of declining sperm counts, birth defects and fertility
problems have sparked widespread concern there. The European Union has
banned 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics that are thought to cause cancer
or reproductive harm.
"When we go to Europe, I breathe a sigh of relief because of all of
the things I'm not exposed to over there," said Rochester's Swan, an
epidemiologist and biostatistician.
Earlier this year, the European Union passed a law that requires
chemical companies to prove their products are safe before they are
put on the market.
The U.S. has no such protocol, known as the precautionary principle,
and the chemical industry has argued against it.
"The problem with the precautionary principle is that you have a
moving target," said Tim Shestek, a chemistry council lobbyist. "You
need to prove that something is safe -- safe is never really defined
Lacking testing or regulation by the U.S. government, it falls to
consumers to watch out for themselves.
Buyers must know the names of specific chemicals -- such as dibutyl
phthalate and diethyl phthalate -- if they want to find out if a
bottle of nail polish or a jar of hand lotion contains endocrine
Even then, if the chemical is not considered a key ingredient, the
company is not required to include it on the label.
There is nothing listed on a bottle of Chanel Precision Energising
Radiance Lotion, for example, to let you know that it contains at
least six chemicals that have been linked in laboratory studies to
cancer in animals. Nor can you know by looking at the label for Avon's
Anew Ultimate Skin Transforming Cream that it contains chemicals
linked to cancer and endocrine disruption, according to a review by
the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
A spokeswoman for Chanel declined comment, and officials from Avon
Products Inc. referred questions to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and
Fragrance Association, which dismissed the claims as unfounded.
Consumer interest groups are trying to answer some of the questions
that the government is not. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a
coalition of groups concerned with women's health, labor, consumer
rights and the environment, offers a Web site run by the Environmental
Working Group that enables shoppers to check the safety of cosmetics
and personal-care products. The site identifies more than 450 products
that are banned as dangerous in other countries but are widely
As consumers learn more about these chemicals, more firms are taking
steps to remove them from product lines.
Cosmetics giant Revlon Inc., for example, stopped using phthalates 15
years ago. A company spokeswoman said its products, including those
sold in the U.S., comply with the stricter rules of the European
Other companies following similar policies include the L'Oreal Group,
Hasbro Inc. and McDonald's Corp. In 1998, the fast-food giant stopped
using phthalates in its Happy Meal toys designed for children age 3
Retailers, including Target Corp. and Whole Foods Market Inc., have
removed items and are looking at ways to eliminate products that
contain some endocrine disruptors.
"We are committed to reducing PVC in our products and packaging," said
Susan Kahn, a vice president at Target, referring to polyvinyl
chloride, the plastic that contains phthalates and is found in shower
curtains, children's toys and packaging materials.
Some companies, such as Born Free LLC, a Florida-based baby bottle-
maker, are promoting goods that do not contain bisphenol A. Ron
Vigdor, Born Free president, said his small company is experiencing
rapid sales growth.
Most consumers remain unaware of the potential dangers they are
bringing into their homes, said Jane Adams, a neurotoxicologist at the
University of Massachusetts.
"Most of the population would not be well-informed and necessarily
know what steps to take," Adams said.
Roder, the Greendale mother who volunteered to have her house checked
for endocrine disruptors, is grateful for the information she got.
Since the audit, Roder filled a garbage bin full of items that she'll
no longer use -- waxed paper, plastic wrap, old plastic cups, toys and
She says her husband teases her for whacking bugs with shoes now,
refusing to use bug spray. Instead of giving in to anxiety, Roder says
her newfound awareness has brought peace of mind.
"It made me feel safe," she said.
But few people have the luxury of knowing what in their house is safe
because few products contain any labeling of these compounds. Even the
government scientists charged with alerting the public to the
chemicals' dangers say information is sorely lacking.
"The real problem is that we don't know where all the different
phthalates are coming from in our environment," said Gray, the EPA
biologist whose lab has examined effects of endocrine disruptors for
two decades. "I can't tell them what products to specifically avoid.
The information isn't there."
Return to Table of Contents
From: NewsTarget (Taiwan), Nov. 22, 2007
AGRICULTURAL ANTIBIOTICS MAY BE THE CAUSE OF SUPER-BUGS
By Celina Cook
Have you been to the grocery store recently and chosen that chicken
cut that is not treated with antibiotics? Or did you choose one that
was treated with antibiotic, thinking all bacteria in it would be
According to recent research, farms may be more effective sources of
transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the community than
hospitals. Fresh poultry from animals not treated with antibiotics
will probably pose a smaller risk to your health. If you catch any
disease from it, antibiotics will really work for you if you need
Any bacteria harmful to humans that are left in the antibiotic-treated
meat after the antibiotic kills the others will certainly be a
significant hazard, if not to you, to the population as a whole. The
super-bugs caught from these meats will be hard to kill; for, once
they have been exposed to antibiotics, they become resistant to them
after some time.
Fighting an infection caused by these bacteria will be much more
difficult than fighting bacteria that are not resistant. Like in the
recent cases of MRSA, many people either do not get rid of them
easily, or continue having the infection for some time in spite of the
Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in the air and soil
around farms, in surface and ground water, among wild animal
populations, as well as on retail meat and poultry. They end up in
your kitchen, and contaminate other foods by unsafe handling
practices; and if they are able to override the gastric barriers your
body has against them, they settle in your gut.
They might live there for a long time without any signs of infection,
but ready to be transmitted to other carriers. One or two cases of
this kind are enough if the transmission rate is high; that is, if the
bacteria are highly contagious. Without appropriate control measures,
the harm done by these resistant bacteria starts to spread throughout
the community, and affect people that are more susceptible than the
Some variants of antibiotic-resistant bacteria transmitted in this way
might evolve then that never were found among humans. If these new
variants are harmful to humans and highly and rapidly transmissible
within the human population, the agricultural antibiotic impact must
be carefully assessed.
The number of people that carry antibiotic resistant bacteria due to
contaminated meals is approximately the same as the one generated by a
hospital. This happens because, although we have much less chance of
getting antibiotic resistant bacteria in each individual meal than in
a hospital, a large number of people are exposed to a small risk in
contrast with the small number exposed to a high risk (when we go to
the hospital). People eat at least three times every day, so we have
more than a thousand chances a year to be exposed to a small risk of
infection carried by contaminated food. But the average healthy person
spends just some days in a year at the hospital, where the risk of
getting resistant bacteria is higher.
A large-scale natural experiment conducted in the US and several
European countries showed that resistant bacteria evolved more
frequently in the European Union before the use of antibiotics in
agriculture was banned.
Many European countries approved avoparcin for animal growth promotion
in the 1970s, but the US did not. In the early 1980s, vancomycin
started to be used in the U.S. hospitals due to an increase in
resistance of Staphylococcus aureus (the famous MRSA, which is
attacking our school kids nowadays) to other antibiotics. Vancomycin
is still being used in hospitals to fight MRSA.
Some strains of vancomycin-resistant enterococci appeared in the late
1980s and early 1990s, spreading through U.S. health-care systems. In
Europe, vancomycin was less used, for most enterococci were sensitive
to other antibiotics. The resistant bacteria appeared there too, but
in a less severe way than in the U.S. That was the phase in which the
antibiotic in the poultry and meats was still effective against the
During the late 1990s, though, the resistant enterococci were more
frequent in the community, including in people who had not been
previously in a hospital. That showed that the bacteria in the food
were starting to get resistant to the agricultural antibiotics.
The result was that the European community pool of resistant bacteria,
generated by the use of antibiotics in hospitals and agriculture, was
apparently much larger than in the U.S., where the resistance was
generated only by use of vancomycin in hospitals. After EU banned
avoparcin, the resistance to bacteria in the community was reduced.
That is, the impact of the agricultural antibiotics in European
hospitals was larger than the impact of US hospitals on one another.
The European Union banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion
based on the precautionary principle. In this case, it is more
scientific to simply ban the product that might be the cause of the
resistance, than simply do nothing because there are no precise means
to measure the complex interaction between organisms and transmission
of resistance in bacteria.
Therefore, since bacteria like the MSRA spread more rapidly in the
population when they are found in contaminated food, precautionary
measures such as banning agricultural antibiotics are highly effective
in controlling the impact of these bacteria in the population.
1) Based on a study by David L. Smith, Jonathan Dushoff and J. Glenn
Morris, Published July 5, 2005 PLOS Medicine
Return to Table of Contents
From: Guardian Unlimited Blogs, Nov. 22, 2007
BAN WILD ANIMALS IN TRAVELLING CIRCUSES
By Will Travers
In 2005 during deliberations over the new Animal Welfare Act, the
government set up the Circus Working Group (CWG), including a select
academic panel, to consider the highly charged issue of wild animals
in circuses. The panel's job was to review whether or not the welfare
of wild animals was compromised in a travelling circus and they were
instructed to base their findings solely on available scientific
evidence. It was, however, acknowledged very early on by everyone that
little peer-reviewed research exists that directly involved animals in
The Born Free Foundation's participation in the CWG, along with
others, was subject to some bizarre constraints. We were instructed to
ignore the training and performance element of circus life, to exclude
anecdotal evidence, and to disregard the wider social context of this
Notwithstanding these unjustifiable restrictions, the concerns we put
The fact that while licensed zoos operate under both legal and
industry minimum welfare standards, it is clear that circuses cannot
deliver the same minimum standards afforded to zoo animals. It is
illogical to propose creating a situation whereby the same species,
the same animal, can be kept under two captive regimes but cannot be
guaranteed the same bare minimum welfare provisions.
Transport is an acknowledged stressor for animals. Research shows
transport stress affects the physiology of some wild animals, and it
is entirely possible that repeated transportation may have long-term
negative consequences, as has been proven with domesticated animals
habituated to transport.
The substantial deliberations, undertaken since early 2006, resulted
in submissions to the chair of the Circus Working Group, Professor
Mike Radford, in mid-summer 2007. The chair's report, published
November 20, concludes that he is unable to determine whether wild
animals in circuses suffer or not, or whether the circus lifestyle
(even excluding performance and training) is appropriate or
inappropriate for the species currently involved. Ultimately, he says,
the decision will be purely political.
What is clear is that the situation cannot be left unresolved. The
government must decide about whether wild animals can continue to be
used in circuses or not.
And surely they must listen to the people.
Overwhelming public opinion is in favour of a ban. A poll by MORI in
2005 found that 80% thought that the use of wild animals was not
acceptable. This consistent position was given form by the reaction of
the British public to the sight of an elderly circus elephant with
arthritis being kept without others of her kind in a tent, and big
cats being housed in beastwagons and transported repeatedly from venue
Two other key factors must be taken into account. The Animal Welfare
Act -- the first to comprehensively address animal welfare laws in
nearly 100 years -- has raised considerable expectation that animal
welfare will be substantially improved because it seeks to prevent
cruelty before it happens, as opposed to acting after the event.
Surely if the report says there is not sufficient evidence either way,
we should apply the precautionary principle and err on the side of
There are just 47 wild animals in circuses in the UK. Ending this
practice is possible, practical, relatively painless (compared with
the thousands of wild animals used in Continental circuses), and is a
proportionate measure to deal with this issue.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, has already
acknowledged that there is a strong body of opinion, in favour of a
It is time to bring the curtain down on the use of wild animal in
circuses. It is time for the British government to listen to the
British people. It is a matter of leadership. Nothing less than a ban
Will Travers, CEO, Born Free Foundation
Return to Table of Contents
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