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#101 -- Call For Oversight of Nanotech, 1-Aug-2007

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #101

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, August 1, 2007............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Table of Contents...

Urgent Call for Strong Oversight of Nanotechnology
An international coalition of non-governmental organizations has
just published a set of principles to guide the development of
nanotechnology in a precautionary fashion. Other sign-ons are
welcome.
Pesticide-Free Parks Lead To Splendor in the Grass
Across the country, people are realizing that they can take
precautionary action to reduce their children's exposure to chemical
pesticides. It means persuading your parks department to adopt new
habits and it's happening widely now. Here's one example.
The Goal: An Ecocide-free Economy
Ecocide is unfolding all around us. The tragedy is that none of
this ecocidal activity is really necessary. We already know how to
create an ecologically sound economy based on products and processes
in harmony with natural law.
Precautionary Principle Left Out by Codex
Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and other giant food,
chemical, and biotechnology corporations, aided by the U.S. Treasury,
State Department, and Department of Agriculture have won a major
victory, keeping the precautionary principle out of international food
standards.
European Union Rejects Genetically Modified Potato
The European Union (EU) has rejected a proposal to allow a new
genetically modified potato to be grown in Europe. The recent
decision to exclude precaution from Codex Alimentarius may make it
more difficult for the EU to sustain its precautionary stance toward
genetically modified organisms -- which of course was the point of
excluding precaution from Codex.
Only a Reckless Mind Could Believe in Safety First
You'll enjoy this attack on the precautionary principle because
it's more carefully crafted than most, though ultimately it's as
baseless and silly as all the other attacks on precaution that we have
published.

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From: International Center for Technology Assessment, Jul. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

URGENT CALL FOR STRONG OVERSIGHT OF NANOTECHNOLOGY

Over Forty Groups Release Fundamental Principles for Nanotech
Oversight, Citing Risks to the Public, Workers, and the Environment


Organizations can still endorse these principles by emailing
gkimbrell@icta.org


Washington, DC -- With the joint release today of Principles for the
Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials
, a broad
international coalition of consumer, public health, environmental,
labor, and civil society organizations spanning six continents called
for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new technology and its
products.

The manufacture of products using nanotechnology -- a powerful
platform for manipulating matter at the level of atoms and molecules
in order to alter properties -- has exploded in recent years. Hundreds
of consumer products incorporating nanomaterials are now on the
market, including cosmetics, sunscreens, sporting goods, clothing,
electronics, baby and infant products, and food and food packaging.
But evidence indicates that current nanomaterials may pose significant
health, safety, and environmental hazards. In addition, the profound
social, economic, and ethical challenges posed by nano-scale
technologies have yet to be addressed.

As Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network explained, "Materials
engineered at the nano-scale can exhibit fundamentally different
properties -- including toxicity -- with unknown effects. Current
research raises red flags that demand precautionary action and further
study." She added, "As there are now hundreds of products containing
nanomaterials in commerce, the public, workers, and the environment
are being exposed to these unlabeled, and in most cases, untested
materials."

George Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Assessment
continued, "Since there is currently no government oversight and no
labeling requirements for nano-products anywhere in the world, no one
knows when they are exposed to potential nanotech risks and no one is
monitoring for potential health or environmental harm. That's why we
believe oversight action based on our principles is urgent."

This industrial boom is creating a growing nano-workforce which is
predicted to reach two million globally by 2015. "Even though
potential health hazards stemming from exposure have been clearly
identified, there are no mandatory workplace measures that require
exposures to be assessed, workers to be trained, or control measures
to be implemented," explained Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO. "This
technology should not be rushed to market until these failings are
corrected and workers assured of their safety."

"Nanomaterials are entering the environment during manufacture, use,
and disposal of hundreds of products, even though we have no way to
track the effects of this potent new form of pollution," agreed Ian
Illuminato of Friends of the Earth. "By the time monitoring catches up
to commerce, the damage will already have been done."

Ron Oswald, General Secretary of international trade union IUF,
highlighted the importance of defending against the massive intrusion
of nano-products into the global food chain, pointing out that
"hundreds of commercially available products--from pesticides to
additives to packaging materials incorporating nanotech--are already
on the market or just a step away. Workers, consumers, and the
environment must be adequately protected against the multiple risks
this development poses to the global food system and the women and men
who produce the food we all depend on."

"The makers of these materials are winning patents based on novelty
and uniqueness, but industry then turns around and says their nano-
products do not need to be regulated differently because they are the
same as bulk materials," pointed out Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group, an
international civil society organization based in Ottawa, Canada.
"This contradiction benefits industry, but it cannot stand.
Mandatory, nano-specific regulatory oversight measures are required."

"Although governments worldwide spent over $6 billion on nanotech R&D
last year, research spending on risks and social effects comprises
only a 'nano' portion of that," noted Rick Worthington of the Loka
Institute an organization that promotes public participation in all
matters related to science and technology. "We've seen the outcome of
unregulated 'miracle technologies' such as synthetic chemicals before
in the toxic pollution of entire communities. A portion of the nano
research on social and environmental issues should involve active
participation by communities, whose insights can help us avoid the
catastrophic problems experienced in the past."

The coalition's declaration outlines eight fundamental principles
necessary for adequate and effective oversight and assessment of the
emerging field of nanotechnology.

I. A Precautionary Foundation: Product manufacturers and
distributors must bear the burden of proof to demonstrate the safety
of their products: if no independent health and safety data review,
then no market approval.

II. Mandatory Nano-specific Regulations: Nanomaterials should be
classified as new substances and subject to nano-specific oversight.
Voluntary initiatives are not sufficient.

III. Health and Safety of the Public and Workers: The prevention
of exposure to nanomaterials that have not been proven safe must be
undertaken to protect the public and workers.

IV. Environmental Protection: A full lifecycle analysis of
environmental impacts must be completed prior to commercialization.

V. Transparency: All nano-products must be labeled and safety
data made publicly available.

VI. Public Participation: There must be open, meaningful, and
full public participation at every level.

VII. Inclusion of Broader Impacts: Nanotechnologys wide-ranging
effects, including ethical and social impacts, must be considered.

VIII. Manufacturer Liability: Nano-industries must be accountable
for liabilities incurred from their products.

"We're calling upon all governmental bodies, policymakers, industries,
organizations, and all other relevant actors to endorse and take
actions to incorporate these principles," said Beth Burrows of the
Edmonds Institute, a public interest organization dedicated to
education about environment, technology, and intellectual property
rights. "As new technologies emerge we need to ensure new materials
and their applications are benign and contribute to a healthy and
socially just world. Given our past mistakes with 'wonder
technologies' like pesticides, asbestos, and ozone depleting
chemicals, the rapid commercialization of nanomaterials without full
testing or oversight is shocking. It is no surprise that the public
of the 21st century is demanding more accountability."

The complete document is available at numerous endorsing organizations
websites, including www.icta.org.

The initial endorsing organizations are:

Accion Ecologica (Ecuador)

African Centre for Biosafety

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
(U.S.)

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International
Union

Beyond Pesticides (U.S.)

Biological Farmers of Australia

Canadian Environmental Law Association

Center for Biological Diversity (U.S.)

Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (U.S.)

Center for Food Safety (U.S.)

Center for Environmental Health (U.S.)

Center for Genetics and Society (U.S.)

Center for the Study of Responsive Law (U.S.)

Clean Production Action (Canada)

Ecological Club Eremurus (Russia)

EcoNexus (United Kingdom)

Edmonds Institute (U.S.)

Environmental Research Foundation (U.S.)

Essential Action (U.S.)

ETC Group (Canada)

Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (India)

Friends of the Earth Australia

Friends of the Earth Europe

Friends of the Earth United States

GeneEthics (Australia)

Greenpeace (U.S.)

Health and Environment Alliance (Belgium)

India Institute for Critical Action-Centre in Movement

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (U.S.)

Institute for Sustainable Development (Ethiopia)

International Center for Technology Assessment (U.S.)

International Society of Doctors for the Environment (Austria)

International Trade Union Confederation

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant,
Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations

Loka Institute (U.S.)

National Toxics Network (Australia)

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (U.S.)

Science and Environmental Health Network (U.S.)

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (U.S.)

Tebtebba Foundation -- Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for
Policy Research and Education (Philippines)

The Soils Association (United Kingdom)

Third World Network (China)

United Steelworkers (U.S.)

Vivagora (France)

Visit our sister organization, The Center for Food Safety.

Copyright 2007 International Center for Technology Assessment.
Privacy Policy
Site Map

Press Contacts:

George Kimbrell, ICTA (202) 547-9359, gkimbrell@icta.org; Bill Kojola,
AFL-CIO, (202)-637-5003, bkojola@aflcio.org; Peter Rossman, IUF, +41
22 793 2233, peter.rossman@iuf.org; Ian Illuminato, Friends of the
Earth U.S., (202)- 222-0735, IIlluminato@foe.org; Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC
Group, (613) 241-2267 etc@etcgroup.org; Chee Yoke Ling, Third World
Network, +6012 3768858, yokeling@myjaring.net; Rick Worthington, Loka
Institute, (909) 607-3529, RKW14747@pomona.edu

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From: Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) (pg. B1), Dec. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

PESTICIDE-FREE PARKS LEAD TO SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

By Alison Herget, Keyport Bureau

Parents bringing their children to township park playground areas now
may feel a bit safer knowing those grounds are pesticide-free.

An integrated pest management policy recently adopted by the Township
Committee allows for playground areas in the township's nine parks to
be managed without chemical pesticides.

Hazlet is joining an increasing number of municipalities in the state
that have such a policy, including Wall and Brick, according to Jane
Nogaki, pesticide program coordinator for the Belmar-based New Jersey
Environmental Federation.

Nogaki said the federation started a campaign in March to get as many
towns as possible to designate pesticide-free zones in parks. Some
counties have even opted to join in. Burlington county has designated
pesticide-free zones in its parks, she said.

Hazlet mom Rhonda Soviero, 38, who brings her two sons -- ages 3 and 7
-- to Veterans Memorial Park weekly said she likes the new policy in
her municipality.

Now that the playground property is pesti-cide-free, she feels more
comfortable letting her sons play. She also said managing areas
without pesticides is a good idea not only for the children, but for
the wildlife.

Mayor Michael C. Sachs said the township adopted the plan for safety
reasons.

Nogaki said studies have measured low levels of pesticides in children
in their blood and urine.

"We don't really know what the consequences are," she said. "But
knowing that by nature pesticides are toxic substances designed to
kill living organisms it's not really the best thing to have in our
drinking water or in the bodies of our kids.' "

She said the chemicals easily get on skin, clothes and shoes, and can
be tracked indoors to contaminate furniture and carpets. There are
several benefits to using pesticide-free methods, she said.

"Using natural methods and avoiding pesticides preserves the
beneficial organisms that can maintain healthy grass and plants
naturally," she said.

Using a good-quality organic fertilizer, mowing grass at 2 to 3 inches
high to decrease weed growth and watering infrequently are natural
ways pests can be controlled without using chemicals, she said.

Not using chemical pesticides creates a healthier lawn and avoids the
issue of pesticide-runoff, which can lead to contaminated drinking
water, she said.

The environmental federation's goal is to get homeowners to follow
suit.

"We're hoping there's a take-home message with this," she said. "If
people see this being done in parks, hopefully they will want to go
pesticide-free at their homes."

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From: The Metaphor Project, Jul. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

THE GOAL: AN ECOCIDE-FREE ECONOMY

By Susan C. Strong, Ph.D.

Right now there's a lot of serious talk about being carbon-free (see
http://www.AlGore.com). The idea of shrinking our ecological
footprint down to something our planet can handle is also gaining
ground in government and business circles worldwide (see
http://www.globalfootprintnetwork.org
).

"Greening the economy" and "green tech" are being boosted too these
days. But there's a make or break big goal that includes and goes
beyond all these vital efforts -- getting to an ecocide-free global
economy. That would be an entire economy operating in harmony with
natural processes, providing only new kinds of goods and services that
are created, used, and recycled in ways that stay in step with what
our ecosystems and bodies (our personal ecosystems) can process in a
normal way. To get there, we need to name and embrace this big, all-
inclusive goal now.

I know -- getting our carbon emissions down to something that can hold
the line on the climate crisis, plus greatly reducing the quantities
of Earth resources we use and waste may already seem like huge, nearly
impossible goals for our scrappy species. So why do we have to take on
something that seems vastly more complicated and really, really out of
reach?

Just what is ecocide? It's the destruction of an ecosystem (or the
biosphere) as the result of human activities. That includes pollution
of all kinds (or too much carbon or nitrogen), using up other natural
resources, wasting and dumping more than the biosphere can recycle,
much conventional industrial processing, plus preparing for and making
war, among a host of other sources.

Today, ecocide is unfolding all around us and inside us too. Human
"body burden" testing (via biomonitoring) shows we are increasingly
carrying around a stew of unnatural substances in our own bodies from
pollution of our water, air, soil, food, clothing, utensils, and even
soap. See: http://www.bodyburden.org/, Environmental Working Group:
http://www.ewg.org/, and Pesticide Action Network:
http://www.panna.org/
for more information.)

The tragedy is that none of this ecocidal activity is really
necessary. We already know how to create an ecologically sound
economy based on products and processes in harmony with natural law --
the work of Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry, shows the way, along
with the myriad other pioneering experts whose work can be tapped via
the Bioneers website: http://www.bioneers.org There's honest money
to be made and new kinds of jobs to be created too, and not a moment
to lose. Although economic change this big gets resisted hard by all
those benefiting from business as usual, we won't get where we need to
go without setting ourselves the biggest goal-an ecocide-free global
economy made up of many local, regional, and national ecocide-free
economies, all applying a "precautionary principle" to everything they
do See: http://www.earthethics.com/precautionary_principle.htm.

Of course, to get this "ecocide-free economy campaign" rolling it
would really be great to have an "Al Gore" type leader -- a
political/media star. But a good resource to start people talking
about the whole ecocide issue is a recent documentary called The
Beloved Community, about the impact of the petroleum industry on
citizen health in a town called Sarnia on the U.S.-Canadian border:
http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0196
Step 2 is starting a
big push for more human biomonitoring and body burden testing
everywhere. In the meantime, we can keep on voting with our dollars
and notifying firms that we are doing it because we want that ecocide-
free economy!

==============

Susan C. Strong, Ph.D. is the founder and executive director of The
Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org; the Project helps
progressive activists mainstream their messages about sustainability,
peace, and justice.

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From: Nutraingredients.com, Jul. 30, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE LEFT OUT BY CODEX

By Alex McNally

[Rachel's introduction: Codex Alimentarius, or Codex for short, is
an agency of the World Health Organization, set up in 1963 to develop
international food safety standards and to standardize (or
"harmonize") the food standards of various national governments. For
the past six months a ferocious debate has been going on within Codex
over adoption of the precautionary principle. Can a national
government protect its people by taking precautionary action to set a
food standard, or must it have internationally-agreed-upon scientific
proof of harm before action can be taken? The European Union favored
the precautionary approach. The U.S. government favored a requirement
for scientific proof. The U.S. won the debate. This is a major victory
for Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and other giant food,
chemical, and biotechnology corporations.]

Codex has agreed to exclude the controversial precautionary principle
in its risk analysis standards, marking the end of a long battle
between the EU and trade groups.

The final decision was made at the Codex Alimentarius Commission
meeting in Rome this month when the 'Working Principles for Risk
Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments' was finally
adopted, excluding the precautionary principle.

The controversial plan would have allowed governments to take certain
preventative measures for foods in cases where scientific evidence on
the safety of the food is uncertain, but were seen by many governments
and organisations as a tool to create unjustified trade barriers.

The principle, which has already been formally established by the
European Commission (EC/178/2002), granted food risk managers the
ability to take measures to protect health if they feared an
unacceptable level of health risk exists. These measures ranged from a
total ban on the substance, to food manufacturer's being ordered to
carry out further safety tests.

The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations
(IADSA) and the US Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA) both
feared the precautionary principle would create unfair trading
opportunities around the globe if it was adopted.

It was omitted from the set of principles for risk analysis adopted by
Codex in 2003. However, since then a number of countries have tried to
introduce it into Codex texts, to no avail.

David Pineda, IADSA's manager of regulatory affairs, said: "Despite
the numerous attempts to introduce this principle into the text, there
has again been sufficient resistance from both governmental and non-
governmental organisations to prevent it from happening."

Pineda added that consumers were not being put at risk by the
exclusion of the precautionary principle.

He told NutraIngredients.com this morning: "Scientific evaluations are
carried out when there are justified doubts about the safety of a food
product and therefore there are systems in place to protect the health
of the consumers. However, the use of the precautionary principle is
often abusive in cases where there is no scientific proof of the
unsafety of a food product.

"It is encouraging for the dietary/food supplement associations that
this principle is not adopted by Codex and therefore not being applied
worldwide."

There have been three unsuccessful attempts by the EU and other
countries to include the principle in key Codex documents.

In April, the full Codex Committee of General Principles (CCGP)
debated the new draft and, after rallying of both government and non-
governmental organisations -- notably the CRN [Council for
Responsible Nutrition] USA
-- agreed to omit the precautionary
principle.

Copyright 2000/2007 -- Decision News Media SAS

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From: Malta Star, Jul. 28, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EUROPE NOT HUNGRY FOR GM POTATOES

Friends of the Earth Malta [FoE Malta] welcomed EU [European Union]
member states' rejection of the latest application to grow GMOs
[genetically modified organisms] in Europe, as the EU Agriculture
Council has failed to approve the commercial growing of a genetically
modified potato.

There have now been no new GMOs grown in the EU for ten years. Today's
vote was on an application to grow the genetically modified potato for
use in industrial processes like making paper. The producer -- German
chemicals giant BASF -- has also applied for approval to use the same
potato in food and animal feed and acknowledges that contamination of
the food chain is possible.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the GM potato the green
light, but has been criticised for overlooking several important
health and environmental risks:

1. Antibiotic resistance marker gene: the potato contains a gene,
which can convey resistance to antibiotics. Under EU law, the end of
2004 should have phased out genes of this kind. EFSA acknowledges that
the cultivation of this potato could lead to antibiotic resistance,
yet argued that this did not pose a "relevant" risk to human health or
to the environment.

2. The risk assessment, required under EU law, fails to fulfil legal
requirements. Basic information on the health and environmental safety
of the GM potato is missing; in particular there is only an analysis
of effects of surrounding wildlife on the potato, rather than looking
at the impact of the GM potato on the environment.

3. Effects on health have not been sufficiently investigated. A number
of irregularities, including toxicological differences that could have
serious implications for food safety, have simply not been probed
either by BASF or by EFSA. BASF admits that food contamination is
likely: the potato has been genetically modified by the chemical giant
BASF to increase its amylopectin content, which is used to produce
starch. Although it is not intended to enter the food chain, BASF have
issued a separate application for use in human food and animal feed,
stating that "it cannot be excluded that amylopectin potato, may be
used as or may be present in food".

The risk of contaminating future crops is ignored. As they grow
underground, it is virtually impossible to harvest all potatoes from a
crop. Potatoes therefore grow back the following years and future
crops could be contaminated with the genetically modified variant.

The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes
in industrial processes is an environmentally friendly option, but
this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental
risks

There is also a strong evidence to indicate the danger of GMOs. Many
of the studies made so far have pointed out the risks of growing and
consuming GMO products. Yet, in most cases, companies would not be
liable for any environmental, consumer health or economic damage
resulting from GMOs.

FoE (Malta) is grateful to those who put the safety of European
citizens and their environment before the financial interests of
biotech giants. FoE (Malta) also commends the Maltese Government for
wisely applying the precautionary principle, and will hopefully
continue to do so, especially on such a sensitive issue.

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From: The Times Online (London, UK), Jul. 27, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

ONLY A RECKLESS MIND COULD BELIEVE IN SAFETY FIRST

By Jamie Whyte

[Rachel's introduction: This attack on the precautionary principle may
sound plausible to some people at first, but it is not. The argument
breaks down because the author concludes that, when the outcomes of a
decision are unknown, we cannot take precautionary action. Obviously
this is false -- precautionary action can be as simple as "Try to
learn more before deciding," or "Favor a decision that is reversible
in case it turns out that you're wrong." There is ALWAYS a way to take
sensible precautionary action if you have reasonable suspicion that
harm is occurring or is about to occur. On the web you can find some
intelligent responses (as well as some dumb ones) to this simple-
minded and wrongheaded attack on precaution. --RPR Editors]

Worrying was considered foolish when I was growing up in New Zealand.
Let your fretting show and you received the classic Kiwi response:
"She'll be right, mate." When in doubt, just press on and set your
mind at ease.

Times have changed. You never hear "she'll be right" these days,
except said ironically. And this new pessimism is not restricted to
New Zealand. Across the West, the "she'll be right" principle has been
replaced by the so-called precautionary principle. When in doubt, stop
and divert your efforts towards minimising the risks.

Indeed, precaution is now explicitly endorsed by the UN, the EU and
Tony Blair, who has claimed that "responsible science and responsible
policymaking operate on the precautionary principle". From the genetic
modification of crops to speed limits for trains to carbon dioxide
emissions, the right policy is claimed to be the careful one.

Yet the precautionary principle is not really a maxim of good policy.
In fact, it is meaningless. It can provide no guidance when making
difficult decisions. Those who invoke it in support of their favoured
policies do not display their prudence; they reveal groundless biases.

To understand the precautionary principle and its foolishness, we must
first distinguish between what economists call "risk" and what they
call "uncertainty". An outcome is risky when it is not guaranteed but
we know its probability. An outcome is uncertain when we do not even
know its probability. That a tossed coin will land heads is thus a
matter of risk, while the destruction of an ecosystem from the
introduction of GM crops is a matter of uncertainty.

Making decisions under risk presents no problem for which the
precautionary principle could provide a solution. Suppose that, in
return for an annual premium of £1, someone promises to pay you
£1
million if you are abducted by aliens (such insurance exists). You
should pay up if your chance of being abducted is greater than one in
a million because then the policy is worth more than $1. The right
decision can be determined from the numbers alone, with no help from
caution, recklessness or any other attitude.

But suppose that, for all you know, the chance of being abducted could
be well under one in a million or well over. What should you do? You
lack the information required to know if the insurance is a good deal.
It is in such situations of uncertainty that the precautionary
principle is supposed to apply.

What does the principle tell you to do? Those who advocate precaution
typically favour incurring costs now to reduce the chance of incurring
greater costs in the future. That is their reason for wanting to limit
carbon emissions, ban GM crops and slaughter livestock with some
unknown chance of contracting foot-and-mouth disease.

Applied to our insurance conundrum, this principle tells you to buy
the ticket. You should incur the £1 cost of the premium if there
is
any chance that it will save you from the greater cost of experiencing
an uncompensated alien abduction. Whenever the prize is greater than
the bet, and you do not know the odds, the principle says you should
gamble. Bookmakers must dream of the day when punters bring such
wisdom to the racetrack.

Better safe than sorry. This is the verity that the precautionary
principle is supposed to bring to policymaking. But the difficult
question is never whether it is better to be safe than sorry. Of
course it is. The serious question is always which options are safe
and which sorry.

The big lie behind the precautionary principle is the idea that we can
identify safe options even when we are profoundly ignorant of the
probable outcomes. It is nonsense to claim that betting or buying
insurance is the safe option whenever you do not know the odds. And it
is equally foolish to claim that slaughtering livestock is the safe
option when you do not know by how much this will reduce the chance of
an epidemic, or that banning GM crops is safe when you do not know its
likely ecological effect.

For, as with insurance, such measures are costly. Those currently
popular with the cautious lobby run into the billions and, in the case
of limiting carbon emissions, perhaps the trillions. It is a strange
kind of caution that recommends spending such sums when the chance of
success is unknown.

Or, if it is crass to set mere monetary costs against risks to the
environment or future generations, then consider the deaths such
measures will cause. Banning GM crops, for example, will increase
starvation in the third world. More generally, any serious economic
cost will cause death because, among other things, less wealth means
less nutrition and less healthcare. Economists have estimated that a
life is lost for every £10 million of cost imposed by
regulation.
Sacrificing thousands of lives for uncertain gains takes a very
particular notion of caution.

The precautionary principle is either uncalled for, because we know
the relevant probabilities, or useless, because we do not know them
and so cannot tell whether any policy is a safe or a sorry
proposition. So we should hear no more of it. Not only does it lend
bogus support to the policies it is fashionable, if arbitrary, to
label precautionary. It also promotes the pernicious idea that
ignorance is not a serious problem, that a wise policymaker can know
that an action is right even when he does not know its likely effects.

Jamie Whyte is the author of Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking

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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

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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #101 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, August 1, 2007............Printer-friendly version www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Table of Contents...

Urgent Call for Strong Oversight of Nanotechnology
An international coalition of non-governmental organizations has
just published a set of principles to guide the development of
nanotechnology in a precautionary fashion. Other sign-ons are
welcome.
Pesticide-Free Parks Lead To Splendor in the Grass
Across the country, people are realizing that they can take
precautionary action to reduce their children's exposure to chemical
pesticides. It means persuading your parks department to adopt new
habits and it's happening widely now. Here's one example.
The Goal: An Ecocide-free Economy
Ecocide is unfolding all around us. The tragedy is that none of
this ecocidal activity is really necessary. We already know how to
create an ecologically sound economy based on products and processes
in harmony with natural law.
Precautionary Principle Left Out by Codex
Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and other giant food,
chemical, and biotechnology corporations, aided by the U.S. Treasury,
State Department, and Department of Agriculture have won a major
victory, keeping the precautionary principle out of international food
standards.
European Union Rejects Genetically Modified Potato
The European Union (EU) has rejected a proposal to allow a new
genetically modified potato to be grown in Europe. The recent
decision to exclude precaution from Codex Alimentarius may make it
more difficult for the EU to sustain its precautionary stance toward
genetically modified organisms -- which of course was the point of
excluding precaution from Codex.
Only a Reckless Mind Could Believe in Safety First
You'll enjoy this attack on the precautionary principle because
it's more carefully crafted than most, though ultimately it's as
baseless and silly as all the other attacks on precaution that we have
published.

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From: International Center for Technology Assessment, Jul. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

URGENT CALL FOR STRONG OVERSIGHT OF NANOTECHNOLOGY

Over Forty Groups Release Fundamental Principles for Nanotech
Oversight, Citing Risks to the Public, Workers, and the Environment


Organizations can still endorse these principles by emailing
gkimbrell@icta.org


Washington, DC -- With the joint release today of Principles for the
Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials
, a broad
international coalition of consumer, public health, environmental,
labor, and civil society organizations spanning six continents called
for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new technology and its
products.

The manufacture of products using nanotechnology -- a powerful
platform for manipulating matter at the level of atoms and molecules
in order to alter properties -- has exploded in recent years. Hundreds
of consumer products incorporating nanomaterials are now on the
market, including cosmetics, sunscreens, sporting goods, clothing,
electronics, baby and infant products, and food and food packaging.
But evidence indicates that current nanomaterials may pose significant
health, safety, and environmental hazards. In addition, the profound
social, economic, and ethical challenges posed by nano-scale
technologies have yet to be addressed.

As Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network explained, "Materials
engineered at the nano-scale can exhibit fundamentally different
properties -- including toxicity -- with unknown effects. Current
research raises red flags that demand precautionary action and further
study." She added, "As there are now hundreds of products containing
nanomaterials in commerce, the public, workers, and the environment
are being exposed to these unlabeled, and in most cases, untested
materials."

George Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Assessment
continued, "Since there is currently no government oversight and no
labeling requirements for nano-products anywhere in the world, no one
knows when they are exposed to potential nanotech risks and no one is
monitoring for potential health or environmental harm. That's why we
believe oversight action based on our principles is urgent."

This industrial boom is creating a growing nano-workforce which is
predicted to reach two million globally by 2015. "Even though
potential health hazards stemming from exposure have been clearly
identified, there are no mandatory workplace measures that require
exposures to be assessed, workers to be trained, or control measures
to be implemented," explained Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO. "This
technology should not be rushed to market until these failings are
corrected and workers assured of their safety."

"Nanomaterials are entering the environment during manufacture, use,
and disposal of hundreds of products, even though we have no way to
track the effects of this potent new form of pollution," agreed Ian
Illuminato of Friends of the Earth. "By the time monitoring catches up
to commerce, the damage will already have been done."

Ron Oswald, General Secretary of international trade union IUF,
highlighted the importance of defending against the massive intrusion
of nano-products into the global food chain, pointing out that
"hundreds of commercially available products--from pesticides to
additives to packaging materials incorporating nanotech--are already
on the market or just a step away. Workers, consumers, and the
environment must be adequately protected against the multiple risks
this development poses to the global food system and the women and men
who produce the food we all depend on."

"The makers of these materials are winning patents based on novelty
and uniqueness, but industry then turns around and says their nano-
products do not need to be regulated differently because they are the
same as bulk materials," pointed out Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group, an
international civil society organization based in Ottawa, Canada.
"This contradiction benefits industry, but it cannot stand.
Mandatory, nano-specific regulatory oversight measures are required."

"Although governments worldwide spent over $6 billion on nanotech R&D
last year, research spending on risks and social effects comprises
only a 'nano' portion of that," noted Rick Worthington of the Loka
Institute an organization that promotes public participation in all
matters related to science and technology. "We've seen the outcome of
unregulated 'miracle technologies' such as synthetic chemicals before
in the toxic pollution of entire communities. A portion of the nano
research on social and environmental issues should involve active
participation by communities, whose insights can help us avoid the
catastrophic problems experienced in the past."

The coalition's declaration outlines eight fundamental principles
necessary for adequate and effective oversight and assessment of the
emerging field of nanotechnology.

I. A Precautionary Foundation: Product manufacturers and
distributors must bear the burden of proof to demonstrate the safety
of their products: if no independent health and safety data review,
then no market approval.

II. Mandatory Nano-specific Regulations: Nanomaterials should be
classified as new substances and subject to nano-specific oversight.
Voluntary initiatives are not sufficient.

III. Health and Safety of the Public and Workers: The prevention
of exposure to nanomaterials that have not been proven safe must be
undertaken to protect the public and workers.

IV. Environmental Protection: A full lifecycle analysis of
environmental impacts must be completed prior to commercialization.

V. Transparency: All nano-products must be labeled and safety
data made publicly available.

VI. Public Participation: There must be open, meaningful, and
full public participation at every level.

VII. Inclusion of Broader Impacts: Nanotechnologys wide-ranging
effects, including ethical and social impacts, must be considered.

VIII. Manufacturer Liability: Nano-industries must be accountable
for liabilities incurred from their products.

"We're calling upon all governmental bodies, policymakers, industries,
organizations, and all other relevant actors to endorse and take
actions to incorporate these principles," said Beth Burrows of the
Edmonds Institute, a public interest organization dedicated to
education about environment, technology, and intellectual property
rights. "As new technologies emerge we need to ensure new materials
and their applications are benign and contribute to a healthy and
socially just world. Given our past mistakes with 'wonder
technologies' like pesticides, asbestos, and ozone depleting
chemicals, the rapid commercialization of nanomaterials without full
testing or oversight is shocking. It is no surprise that the public
of the 21st century is demanding more accountability."

The complete document is available at numerous endorsing organizations
websites, including www.icta.org.

The initial endorsing organizations are:

Accion Ecologica (Ecuador)

African Centre for Biosafety

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
(U.S.)

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International
Union

Beyond Pesticides (U.S.)

Biological Farmers of Australia

Canadian Environmental Law Association

Center for Biological Diversity (U.S.)

Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (U.S.)

Center for Food Safety (U.S.)

Center for Environmental Health (U.S.)

Center for Genetics and Society (U.S.)

Center for the Study of Responsive Law (U.S.)

Clean Production Action (Canada)

Ecological Club Eremurus (Russia)

EcoNexus (United Kingdom)

Edmonds Institute (U.S.)

Environmental Research Foundation (U.S.)

Essential Action (U.S.)

ETC Group (Canada)

Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (India)

Friends of the Earth Australia

Friends of the Earth Europe

Friends of the Earth United States

GeneEthics (Australia)

Greenpeace (U.S.)

Health and Environment Alliance (Belgium)

India Institute for Critical Action-Centre in Movement

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (U.S.)

Institute for Sustainable Development (Ethiopia)

International Center for Technology Assessment (U.S.)

International Society of Doctors for the Environment (Austria)

International Trade Union Confederation

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant,
Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations

Loka Institute (U.S.)

National Toxics Network (Australia)

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (U.S.)

Science and Environmental Health Network (U.S.)

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (U.S.)

Tebtebba Foundation -- Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for
Policy Research and Education (Philippines)

The Soils Association (United Kingdom)

Third World Network (China)

United Steelworkers (U.S.)

Vivagora (France)

Visit our sister organization, The Center for Food Safety.

Copyright 2007 International Center for Technology Assessment.
Privacy Policy
Site Map

Press Contacts:

George Kimbrell, ICTA (202) 547-9359, gkimbrell@icta.org; Bill Kojola,
AFL-CIO, (202)-637-5003, bkojola@aflcio.org; Peter Rossman, IUF, +41
22 793 2233, peter.rossman@iuf.org; Ian Illuminato, Friends of the
Earth U.S., (202)- 222-0735, IIlluminato@foe.org; Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC
Group, (613) 241-2267 etc@etcgroup.org; Chee Yoke Ling, Third World
Network, +6012 3768858, yokeling@myjaring.net; Rick Worthington, Loka
Institute, (909) 607-3529, RKW14747@pomona.edu

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From: Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) (pg. B1), Dec. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

PESTICIDE-FREE PARKS LEAD TO SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

By Alison Herget, Keyport Bureau

Parents bringing their children to township park playground areas now
may feel a bit safer knowing those grounds are pesticide-free.

An integrated pest management policy recently adopted by the Township
Committee allows for playground areas in the township's nine parks to
be managed without chemical pesticides.

Hazlet is joining an increasing number of municipalities in the state
that have such a policy, including Wall and Brick, according to Jane
Nogaki, pesticide program coordinator for the Belmar-based New Jersey
Environmental Federation.

Nogaki said the federation started a campaign in March to get as many
towns as possible to designate pesticide-free zones in parks. Some
counties have even opted to join in. Burlington county has designated
pesticide-free zones in its parks, she said.

Hazlet mom Rhonda Soviero, 38, who brings her two sons -- ages 3 and 7
-- to Veterans Memorial Park weekly said she likes the new policy in
her municipality.

Now that the playground property is pesti-cide-free, she feels more
comfortable letting her sons play. She also said managing areas
without pesticides is a good idea not only for the children, but for
the wildlife.

Mayor Michael C. Sachs said the township adopted the plan for safety
reasons.

Nogaki said studies have measured low levels of pesticides in children
in their blood and urine.

"We don't really know what the consequences are," she said. "But
knowing that by nature pesticides are toxic substances designed to
kill living organisms it's not really the best thing to have in our
drinking water or in the bodies of our kids.' "

She said the chemicals easily get on skin, clothes and shoes, and can
be tracked indoors to contaminate furniture and carpets. There are
several benefits to using pesticide-free methods, she said.

"Using natural methods and avoiding pesticides preserves the
beneficial organisms that can maintain healthy grass and plants
naturally," she said.

Using a good-quality organic fertilizer, mowing grass at 2 to 3 inches
high to decrease weed growth and watering infrequently are natural
ways pests can be controlled without using chemicals, she said.

Not using chemical pesticides creates a healthier lawn and avoids the
issue of pesticide-runoff, which can lead to contaminated drinking
water, she said.

The environmental federation's goal is to get homeowners to follow
suit.

"We're hoping there's a take-home message with this," she said. "If
people see this being done in parks, hopefully they will want to go
pesticide-free at their homes."

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From: The Metaphor Project, Jul. 31, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

THE GOAL: AN ECOCIDE-FREE ECONOMY

By Susan C. Strong, Ph.D.

Right now there's a lot of serious talk about being carbon-free (see
http://www.AlGore.com). The idea of shrinking our ecological
footprint down to something our planet can handle is also gaining
ground in government and business circles worldwide (see
http://www.globalfootprintnetwork.org
).

"Greening the economy" and "green tech" are being boosted too these
days. But there's a make or break big goal that includes and goes
beyond all these vital efforts -- getting to an ecocide-free global
economy. That would be an entire economy operating in harmony with
natural processes, providing only new kinds of goods and services that
are created, used, and recycled in ways that stay in step with what
our ecosystems and bodies (our personal ecosystems) can process in a
normal way. To get there, we need to name and embrace this big, all-
inclusive goal now.

I know -- getting our carbon emissions down to something that can hold
the line on the climate crisis, plus greatly reducing the quantities
of Earth resources we use and waste may already seem like huge, nearly
impossible goals for our scrappy species. So why do we have to take on
something that seems vastly more complicated and really, really out of
reach?

Just what is ecocide? It's the destruction of an ecosystem (or the
biosphere) as the result of human activities. That includes pollution
of all kinds (or too much carbon or nitrogen), using up other natural
resources, wasting and dumping more than the biosphere can recycle,
much conventional industrial processing, plus preparing for and making
war, among a host of other sources.

Today, ecocide is unfolding all around us and inside us too. Human
"body burden" testing (via biomonitoring) shows we are increasingly
carrying around a stew of unnatural substances in our own bodies from
pollution of our water, air, soil, food, clothing, utensils, and even
soap. See: http://www.bodyburden.org/, Environmental Working Group:
http://www.ewg.org/, and Pesticide Action Network:
http://www.panna.org/
for more information.)

The tragedy is that none of this ecocidal activity is really
necessary. We already know how to create an ecologically sound
economy based on products and processes in harmony with natural law --
the work of Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry, shows the way, along
with the myriad other pioneering experts whose work can be tapped via
the Bioneers website: http://www.bioneers.org There's honest money
to be made and new kinds of jobs to be created too, and not a moment
to lose. Although economic change this big gets resisted hard by all
those benefiting from business as usual, we won't get where we need to
go without setting ourselves the biggest goal-an ecocide-free global
economy made up of many local, regional, and national ecocide-free
economies, all applying a "precautionary principle" to everything they
do See: http://www.earthethics.com/precautionary_principle.htm.

Of course, to get this "ecocide-free economy campaign" rolling it
would really be great to have an "Al Gore" type leader -- a
political/media star. But a good resource to start people talking
about the whole ecocide issue is a recent documentary called The
Beloved Community, about the impact of the petroleum industry on
citizen health in a town called Sarnia on the U.S.-Canadian border:
http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0196
Step 2 is starting a
big push for more human biomonitoring and body burden testing
everywhere. In the meantime, we can keep on voting with our dollars
and notifying firms that we are doing it because we want that ecocide-
free economy!

==============

Susan C. Strong, Ph.D. is the founder and executive director of The
Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org; the Project helps
progressive activists mainstream their messages about sustainability,
peace, and justice.

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From: Nutraingredients.com, Jul. 30, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE LEFT OUT BY CODEX

By Alex McNally

[Rachel's introduction: Codex Alimentarius, or Codex for short, is
an agency of the World Health Organization, set up in 1963 to develop
international food safety standards and to standardize (or
"harmonize") the food standards of various national governments. For
the past six months a ferocious debate has been going on within Codex
over adoption of the precautionary principle. Can a national
government protect its people by taking precautionary action to set a
food standard, or must it have internationally-agreed-upon scientific
proof of harm before action can be taken? The European Union favored
the precautionary approach. The U.S. government favored a requirement
for scientific proof. The U.S. won the debate. This is a major victory
for Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and other giant food,
chemical, and biotechnology corporations.]

Codex has agreed to exclude the controversial precautionary principle
in its risk analysis standards, marking the end of a long battle
between the EU and trade groups.

The final decision was made at the Codex Alimentarius Commission
meeting in Rome this month when the 'Working Principles for Risk
Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments' was finally
adopted, excluding the precautionary principle.

The controversial plan would have allowed governments to take certain
preventative measures for foods in cases where scientific evidence on
the safety of the food is uncertain, but were seen by many governments
and organisations as a tool to create unjustified trade barriers.

The principle, which has already been formally established by the
European Commission (EC/178/2002), granted food risk managers the
ability to take measures to protect health if they feared an
unacceptable level of health risk exists. These measures ranged from a
total ban on the substance, to food manufacturer's being ordered to
carry out further safety tests.

The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations
(IADSA) and the US Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA) both
feared the precautionary principle would create unfair trading
opportunities around the globe if it was adopted.

It was omitted from the set of principles for risk analysis adopted by
Codex in 2003. However, since then a number of countries have tried to
introduce it into Codex texts, to no avail.

David Pineda, IADSA's manager of regulatory affairs, said: "Despite
the numerous attempts to introduce this principle into the text, there
has again been sufficient resistance from both governmental and non-
governmental organisations to prevent it from happening."

Pineda added that consumers were not being put at risk by the
exclusion of the precautionary principle.

He told NutraIngredients.com this morning: "Scientific evaluations are
carried out when there are justified doubts about the safety of a food
product and therefore there are systems in place to protect the health
of the consumers. However, the use of the precautionary principle is
often abusive in cases where there is no scientific proof of the
unsafety of a food product.

"It is encouraging for the dietary/food supplement associations that
this principle is not adopted by Codex and therefore not being applied
worldwide."

There have been three unsuccessful attempts by the EU and other
countries to include the principle in key Codex documents.

In April, the full Codex Committee of General Principles (CCGP)
debated the new draft and, after rallying of both government and non-
governmental organisations -- notably the CRN [Council for
Responsible Nutrition] USA
-- agreed to omit the precautionary
principle.

Copyright 2000/2007 -- Decision News Media SAS

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From: Malta Star, Jul. 28, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

EUROPE NOT HUNGRY FOR GM POTATOES

Friends of the Earth Malta [FoE Malta] welcomed EU [European Union]
member states' rejection of the latest application to grow GMOs
[genetically modified organisms] in Europe, as the EU Agriculture
Council has failed to approve the commercial growing of a genetically
modified potato.

There have now been no new GMOs grown in the EU for ten years. Today's
vote was on an application to grow the genetically modified potato for
use in industrial processes like making paper. The producer -- German
chemicals giant BASF -- has also applied for approval to use the same
potato in food and animal feed and acknowledges that contamination of
the food chain is possible.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the GM potato the green
light, but has been criticised for overlooking several important
health and environmental risks:

1. Antibiotic resistance marker gene: the potato contains a gene,
which can convey resistance to antibiotics. Under EU law, the end of
2004 should have phased out genes of this kind. EFSA acknowledges that
the cultivation of this potato could lead to antibiotic resistance,
yet argued that this did not pose a "relevant" risk to human health or
to the environment.

2. The risk assessment, required under EU law, fails to fulfil legal
requirements. Basic information on the health and environmental safety
of the GM potato is missing; in particular there is only an analysis
of effects of surrounding wildlife on the potato, rather than looking
at the impact of the GM potato on the environment.

3. Effects on health have not been sufficiently investigated. A number
of irregularities, including toxicological differences that could have
serious implications for food safety, have simply not been probed
either by BASF or by EFSA. BASF admits that food contamination is
likely: the potato has been genetically modified by the chemical giant
BASF to increase its amylopectin content, which is used to produce
starch. Although it is not intended to enter the food chain, BASF have
issued a separate application for use in human food and animal feed,
stating that "it cannot be excluded that amylopectin potato, may be
used as or may be present in food".

The risk of contaminating future crops is ignored. As they grow
underground, it is virtually impossible to harvest all potatoes from a
crop. Potatoes therefore grow back the following years and future
crops could be contaminated with the genetically modified variant.

The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes
in industrial processes is an environmentally friendly option, but
this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental
risks

There is also a strong evidence to indicate the danger of GMOs. Many
of the studies made so far have pointed out the risks of growing and
consuming GMO products. Yet, in most cases, companies would not be
liable for any environmental, consumer health or economic damage
resulting from GMOs.

FoE (Malta) is grateful to those who put the safety of European
citizens and their environment before the financial interests of
biotech giants. FoE (Malta) also commends the Maltese Government for
wisely applying the precautionary principle, and will hopefully
continue to do so, especially on such a sensitive issue.

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From: The Times Online (London, UK), Jul. 27, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]

ONLY A RECKLESS MIND COULD BELIEVE IN SAFETY FIRST

By Jamie Whyte

[Rachel's introduction: This attack on the precautionary principle may
sound plausible to some people at first, but it is not. The argument
breaks down because the author concludes that, when the outcomes of a
decision are unknown, we cannot take precautionary action. Obviously
this is false -- precautionary action can be as simple as "Try to
learn more before deciding," or "Favor a decision that is reversible
in case it turns out that you're wrong." There is ALWAYS a way to take
sensible precautionary action if you have reasonable suspicion that
harm is occurring or is about to occur. On the web you can find some
intelligent responses (as well as some dumb ones) to this simple-
minded and wrongheaded attack on precaution. --RPR Editors]

Worrying was considered foolish when I was growing up in New Zealand.
Let your fretting show and you received the classic Kiwi response:
"She'll be right, mate." When in doubt, just press on and set your
mind at ease.

Times have changed. You never hear "she'll be right" these days,
except said ironically. And this new pessimism is not restricted to
New Zealand. Across the West, the "she'll be right" principle has been
replaced by the so-called precautionary principle. When in doubt, stop
and divert your efforts towards minimising the risks.

Indeed, precaution is now explicitly endorsed by the UN, the EU and
Tony Blair, who has claimed that "responsible science and responsible
policymaking operate on the precautionary principle". From the genetic
modification of crops to speed limits for trains to carbon dioxide
emissions, the right policy is claimed to be the careful one.

Yet the precautionary principle is not really a maxim of good policy.
In fact, it is meaningless. It can provide no guidance when making
difficult decisions. Those who invoke it in support of their favoured
policies do not display their prudence; they reveal groundless biases.

To understand the precautionary principle and its foolishness, we must
first distinguish between what economists call "risk" and what they
call "uncertainty". An outcome is risky when it is not guaranteed but
we know its probability. An outcome is uncertain when we do not even
know its probability. That a tossed coin will land heads is thus a
matter of risk, while the destruction of an ecosystem from the
introduction of GM crops is a matter of uncertainty.

Making decisions under risk presents no problem for which the
precautionary principle could provide a solution. Suppose that, in
return for an annual premium of £1, someone promises to pay you
£1
million if you are abducted by aliens (such insurance exists). You
should pay up if your chance of being abducted is greater than one in
a million because then the policy is worth more than $1. The right
decision can be determined from the numbers alone, with no help from
caution, recklessness or any other attitude.

But suppose that, for all you know, the chance of being abducted could
be well under one in a million or well over. What should you do? You
lack the information required to know if the insurance is a good deal.
It is in such situations of uncertainty that the precautionary
principle is supposed to apply.

What does the principle tell you to do? Those who advocate precaution
typically favour incurring costs now to reduce the chance of incurring
greater costs in the future. That is their reason for wanting to limit
carbon emissions, ban GM crops and slaughter livestock with some
unknown chance of contracting foot-and-mouth disease.

Applied to our insurance conundrum, this principle tells you to buy
the ticket. You should incur the £1 cost of the premium if there
is
any chance that it will save you from the greater cost of experiencing
an uncompensated alien abduction. Whenever the prize is greater than
the bet, and you do not know the odds, the principle says you should
gamble. Bookmakers must dream of the day when punters bring such
wisdom to the racetrack.

Better safe than sorry. This is the verity that the precautionary
principle is supposed to bring to policymaking. But the difficult
question is never whether it is better to be safe than sorry. Of
course it is. The serious question is always which options are safe
and which sorry.

The big lie behind the precautionary principle is the idea that we can
identify safe options even when we are profoundly ignorant of the
probable outcomes. It is nonsense to claim that betting or buying
insurance is the safe option whenever you do not know the odds. And it
is equally foolish to claim that slaughtering livestock is the safe
option when you do not know by how much this will reduce the chance of
an epidemic, or that banning GM crops is safe when you do not know its
likely ecological effect.

For, as with insurance, such measures are costly. Those currently
popular with the cautious lobby run into the billions and, in the case
of limiting carbon emissions, perhaps the trillions. It is a strange
kind of caution that recommends spending such sums when the chance of
success is unknown.

Or, if it is crass to set mere monetary costs against risks to the
environment or future generations, then consider the deaths such
measures will cause. Banning GM crops, for example, will increase
starvation in the third world. More generally, any serious economic
cost will cause death because, among other things, less wealth means
less nutrition and less healthcare. Economists have estimated that a
life is lost for every £10 million of cost imposed by
regulation.
Sacrificing thousands of lives for uncertain gains takes a very
particular notion of caution.

The precautionary principle is either uncalled for, because we know
the relevant probabilities, or useless, because we do not know them
and so cannot tell whether any policy is a safe or a sorry
proposition. So we should hear no more of it. Not only does it lend
bogus support to the policies it is fashionable, if arbitrary, to
label precautionary. It also promotes the pernicious idea that
ignorance is not a serious problem, that a wise policymaker can know
that an action is right even when he does not know its likely effects.

Jamie Whyte is the author of Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking

Return to Table of Contents

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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

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