Rachel's Precaution Reporter #18

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2005.........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Swiss Voters Approve a Ban On Genetically Modified Crops
  Swiss voters recently approved a 5-year ban on genetically-modified
  crops (GMOs). The Swiss want to know more before they make a final
  decision on the wisdom of releasing GMOs into the environment because
  once GMOs get loose, there's no way to retrieve them. Genetic
  pollution is permanent.
N.Y. Schools Will Start Using 'Green' Cleaning Products
  A new law in New York requires all public schools to begin using
  'green' cleaning products by next September. All state agencies and
  authorities must do the same.
Dell Computer Adopts Precaution for 'Substances of Concern'
  Dell Computer has just adopted a precautionary environmental
Critics of Foresight and Precaution Say Europe Is Anti-Science
  Here once again is our favorite critic of foresight and forecaring,
  Henry Miller of Stanford University. Europe is about to exercise free
  democratic choice and require corporations to provide information
  about the chemicals they make or use. Henry says this is "draconian"
  and "anti-science."


From: International Herald Tribune, Nov. 27, 2005
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By Tom Wright

GENEVA -- In a further sign of widespread distrust in Europe of
scientifically enhanced foods, Swiss voters on Sunday supported a
five-year ban on the farming of genetically modified crops, a vote
that underscores the problems facing the European Commission and
biotech companies like Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto as they try to
overcome consumer doubts about safety.

"The vote reflects the view across the EU, not just Switzerland," said
Adrian Bebb, an expert on the issue at Friends of the Earth, an
advocacy group. "The public doesn't want to eat genetically modified

While the United States has led the production and consumption of
genetically modified crops, Europeans consumers have been largely
hostile. The European Commission banned the import of genetically
modified organisms, or GMOs, from the United States between 1998 and

But under pressure from the United States and other nations, the
commission ended the ban in May last year. In 2003, the United States
took Europe to the World Trade Organization, claiming that its ban
amounted to unfair protection, and was not based on scientific
evidence that genetically modified organisms affected human health or
the environment.

Many European governments and consumers have fought the commission's
attempts to open the market. In June, European environment ministers
upheld a decision by some governments, including France, Austria and
Greece, to ban the use of eight genetically modified products
previously authorized by Brussels.

While some governments, including Spain, Britain and the Netherlands,
believe Europe has sufficient safeguards in place, many nations say
further tests are needed before allowing widespread farming of
genetically modified crops. Currently, only Spain has sizable areas
given over to farming of such crops. Farmers in Germany and France are
among those to have recently started small-scale operations.

In Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, farmers
are not involved in growing genetically modified crops, so the vote on
Sunday, in which 55.7 percent of voters approved the ban, will not
have much practical effect.

"This decision shows the majority of Swiss do not want genetically
modified food on their plates," Marlyse Dormond, a Socialist member of
Parliament who backed the ban, told Radio Suisse Romande.

The commission -- faced with a possible WTO ruling early next year on
the U.S. complaint, which is also supported by Canada and Argentina -
has pushed ahead with approving new GMOs despite safety doubts from
some European governments.

On Aug. 31, for instance, the commission approved the use of a
rapeseed produced by the American company Monsanto in animal feed
after member states were split over whether the product was a risk to
the environment.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for the EU agriculture commissioner, Mariann
Fischer Boel, said the Union rigorously tested GMOs before approving
them. The commission, he said, would not be making a statement on the
Swiss vote.

Testing, however, has not been enough to persuade many national and
local governments. A Web site run by Friends of the Earth lists 164
local governments in the European Union that have taken action to ban
the crops or have come out publicly against them.

Action against the use of GMOs has caused clashes between local
authorities and the commission. In October, the European Court of
Justice ruled in favor of the commission in a dispute with an Austrian
province that had tried to ban GMOs.

Many European regions, such as Tuscany, in Italy, fear that
introducing genetically modified crops will damage their image as
producers of high-quality foods, Bebb said.

Genetically modified crops are mainly produced by large-scale farmers
in nations like the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and
China. Proponents say the technology, which involves using genetic
alterations to help plants combat insects and herbicides, could help
boost yields and reduce prices over the long term.

"The ban would deprive our farmers, companies and researchers of
finding out what these genetically modified foods can do," a Swiss
business group, economiesuisse, said during campaigning before the

"Because it is a very dynamic sector, five years is equivalent to an
eternity, and we won't be able to regain that lost time."

Although Switzerland's move does not ban research on genetically
modified organisms, the group said it feared it would deter companies
from making further investment.

Syngenta, one of the largest producers of GMOs, which is based in
Basel, Switzerland, and has large operations in the United States,
criticized the decision.

"We regret the negative impact for research," Alwin Kopse, a spokesman
for Syngenta, told Bloomberg News. "We regret that farmers don't have
the whole range of choice."

Copyright 2005 the International Herald Tribune

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From: Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.), Nov. 27, 2005
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Schools to begin using more environmentally safe cleaners

By George Basler

Lindy Thorn and Dianne Ross are on the front lines of a job that's

Every day, the two women battle dirt, dust and germs as head
custodians in the Whitney Point Central School District. They take a
lot of satisfaction in keeping the buildings clean.

Starting next September, however, they will face a new regulation in
doing their jobs. That's the date a new state law goes into effect
requiring schools to begin using environmentally sensitive, or
"green," cleaning and maintenance products.

Gov. George E. Pataki signed the bill in August, eight months after he
signed an executive order requiring all state agencies and authorities
to do the same.

Health and environmental issues drove passage of the new law, said
Stephen Boese, state director of the Healthy Schools Network, a non-
profit advocacy organization.

"Toxic chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to childhood
and adult health problems," Boese said. According to the Environmental
Protection Agency, allergic reactions to poor indoor air quality keep
10,000 American children out of school each day.

Even before the new state law, many New York schools have been moving
toward using more "green" products, said Fred Koebel, legislative
chairman of the New York State Association of Superintendents of
School Buildings and Grounds.

Whitney Point, for example, has focused on more environmentally
friendly cleaning methods and products for several years, said Edward
Maslin, director of buildings and grounds. One step is a dilution-
control system at the middle school that allows cleaning and
maintenance crews to minimize the amount of cleaning fluids required,
and reduce the number of empty plastic containers that go into the

"I don't think there's a choice. We have to do something to protect
the environment," Maslin said.

Some concerns

Both Thorn and Ross support the move to environmentally sensitive
cleaning products and the new state law. Improving the air quality in
schools is important, they said. But they also have some concerns.
Their main question is whether "green" products will be as effective
as conventional products in doing the tough job of cleaning buildings.

The concern is shared by some Southern Tier buildings and grounds
officials, who note testing is incomplete on the effectiveness of
"green" products.

"Before we start using something, we want to make sure it works," said
Dick Bierl, director of facilities services for the Newark Valley
Central School District.

The situation remains unclear because New York is still working on the
definition of environmentally sensitive products, and a lot of
different opinions abound on how you measure "green," Bierl said.

A main question is whether schools will be able to continue to use
disinfectants to clean areas such as bathrooms, desks and cafeteria
tables, officials said.

"There's no such thing as a 'green' disinfectant; it's considered a
pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency," Bierl said. "What
are they (state officials) going to allow me to do?"

Task force working

The state Office of General Services is working with the state
Education Department and the departments of Health, Labor and
Environmental Conservation to develop specifications, guidelines and
sample lists for environmentally sensitive products.

Schools would then be required to purchase these products either on
their own or through central state purchasing contracts administered
by OGS.

No specific definition exists for "green" cleaning products, a memo
put out by OGS says. But some of the attributes of these products
include being mercury-free, non-toxic or less toxic, and having
recyclable packaging, it says.

To develop the list of products, the OGS task force is doing research,
working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, looking at
what other states have done and talking to vendors, said Kurt Larson,
director of environmental services for OGS. A key consideration is the
health and safety of students and staff, but another consideration is
the effectiveness of the products.

"The legislation doesn't say eliminate products that are not 'green."
It says reduce or minimize," he said. "So there is some leeway."

The task force is due to finish its work by early in 2006.

Meanwhile, Southern Tier school districts are testing "green" products
to see which ones work the best, officials said.

While "green" products were considered to be less effective, that's
changing as these products become better, Koebel said.

Maslin said he expects "green" products to continue to improve as the
market for these products increases.

"Green" products will cost more, officials said. But they don't expect
this extra cost to be excessive. At the same time, staff will have to
be trained to use the products effectively, they said.

Officials believe the use of "green" products could be more labor-

Custodians will have to learn to properly mix and use any new
products, said Mike McGowan, director of facilities for the Union-
Endicott Central School District. Union-Endicott is putting together a
six-member committee to plan for next September.

But the transition should not be that difficult, said Boese, with the
Healthy Schools Network. "We hope the law will be implemented in its
spirit, and schools will be given good guidance."

Copyright 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

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From: Dell Computer, Dec. 1, 2005
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Dell's Environment Policy
Dell's Chemical Use Policy

Dell's vision is to avoid the use of substances in its products that
could seriously harm the environment or human health and to ensure
that we act responsibly and with caution.

To act responsibly, Dell believes that if reasonable scientific
grounds indicate a substance (or group of substances) could pose
significant environmental or human health risks, even if the full
extent of harm has not yet been definitively established,
precautionary measures should be taken to avoid use of the
substance(s) in products unless there is convincing evidence that the
risks are small and are outweighed by the benefits. Dell considers
these to be "substances of concern."

Dell identifies substances of concern with consideration for legal
requirements, international treaties and conventions, specific market
demands, and by the following criteria:

* Substances with hazardous properties that are a known threat to
human health or the environment;

* Substances with hazardous properties that show strong indications of
significant risks to human health or the environment;

* Substances with hazardous properties that are known to biopersist
and bioaccumulate in humans or the environment.

To enforce the company's precautionary measures, Dell strives to
eliminate substances of concern in its products by:

* Maintaining a Banned and Restricted Substance Program,

* Choosing designs and materials that avoid the use of substances of

* Prohibiting supplier use of these substances contractually, and

* Substitution of viable alternate substances.

If alternatives are not yet viable, Dell works with its industry
partners to promote industry standards and the development of
reliable, environmentally sound, and economically scalable technical

To demonstrate our commitment , Dell is striving to eliminate all
remaining uses of brominated flame retardants by 2015, ahead of the
OSPAR (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of
the N.E. Atlantic) Commission's goal. PVC is on Dell's banned and
restricted materials list and we are in the process of phasing out PVC
chassis parts. We will review a phase out plan yearly or when required
and evaluate available technical, environmental and scalable
solutions. Dell is open to discuss these plans and is committed to
continuously improve the environmental quality of our products.

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From: National Review, Dec. 12, 2005
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Europe heads for bad regulation.

By Henry I. Miller

The European Union's Council of Ministers is expected to vote soon on
the proposed chemicals regulation called REACH, an acronym for
Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals. Before they
decide to burden faltering European economies with yet more unwise
regulation, they should digest the findings of Europe's Global REACH,
a study released recently by the Hayek Institute in Brussels. It
concludes that REACH will harm Europe and its trade partners
economically -- and there is no convincing evidence of health or
environmental benefits.

REACH would extend to all chemicals produced in or imported into
Europe the bogus "precautionary principle," which holds that if the
evidence about a product, technology, or activity is any way
incomplete, it should be prohibited or at least stringently regulated.

Potential risks should be taken into consideration before proceeding
with any new activity or product, to be sure, whether it is the
placing of a power station or the introduction of a new flame
retardant. But what is missing from precautionary calculus is an
acknowledgment that even when technologies and products introduce new
risks, most confer net benefits -- that is, their use reduces other,
far more serious, hazards. Vaccines have occasional side effects, for
example, but they confer net benefits. The danger in the precautionary
principle is that it focuses exclusively on the risks, which are often
purely hypothetical, and diverts consumers and policymakers from
seeking possible solutions to known, significant threats to human
health. Its overall impacts may in fact be net-negative.

The costs of REACH's precautionary approach will be prodigious. The
European Commission's own estimates range up to 5.2 billion, but
according to a study produced by the Nordic Council, the price tag
could be as much as 28 billion euros. This higher estimate includes
both direct and indirect costs, and assumes that the latter may amount
to as much as 2.5 times the former.

REACH's supporters maintain that businesses can absorb this high price
tag easily, but the Hayek Institute analysis offers a very different
view. Its author, Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Angela
Logomasini, points out that cost estimates that are favorable to REACH
are incomplete, fail to consider a host of direct costs, and often
completely neglect the indirect costs.

Moreover, REACH's advocates ignore its disproportionately harsh impact
on small businesses and businesses in the newer EU nations. A study
conducted by consulting firm KPMG on behalf of the European Commission
concludes: "The heaviest burden will be on small and mid-sized
enterprises which cannot consistently fulfill the REACH requirements
and so it is predicted that most of them may face financial troubles,
may be taken over by bigger ones, or even shut down."

These prospects should raise serious concerns for Europeans. Small and
mid-sized firms represent more than 99 percent of EU businesses, and
account for two thirds of the jobs. The imposition of REACH will
increase unemployment and diminish competition -- which will lead to
less innovation and higher prices.

Are there offsetting advantages to this draconian regulation? In a
review of the benefits claimed for REACH, Logomasini shows that the
studies that purport to demonstrate benefits depend more on
unsupported assumptions and wishful thinking than on science or logic.
The Commission's only study of likely benefits from REACH, conducted
by Risk and Policy Analysis Limited (RPA) in 2003, addresses
occupational exposure to chemicals and attempts to estimate the extent
to which REACH would reduce health problems among workers. However, it
is based on sketchy, incomplete, and inconsistently collected data
assembled from a handful of member governments, all of which is is of
questionable relevance to REACH. [Actually, the EU commissioned more
than one study of the costs and benefits of REACH.--RPR editors]

The RPA report explicitly assumes that problems related to currently
known chemical causes will be addressed by existing laws, while REACH
will prevent currently unknown health problems from chemicals. But if
these cases are unknown, how can we know they are caused by chemicals
or are even work-related? Obvious errors and insufficient
documentation in the report only compound problems with the study,
which makes no mention of having been peer reviewed.

The deeply flawed RPA report does offer persuasive evidence of one
thing: The Burger King Principle -- "you get it your way" -- is alive
and well in Europe. Some consultants will serve up whatever conclusion
the Commission orders.

REACH's presumed benefits are based on the assumption that testing
chemicals, filing paperwork, and pursuing politically correct product
bans will somehow reduce cancer rates. But as the Hayek Institute
analysis makes clear, the vast majority of cancers are not related to
chemicals. According to the World Health Organization, the major
preventable causes are tobacco use, diet, and infections, which
account for 75 percent of cancer cases worldwide. WHO bases these
findings on a landmark study conducted by scientists Richard Doll and
Richard Peto, which concluded that all environmental pollution might
amount to only as much as 2 percent of cancers.

In the interest of free markets and economic growth, we need global
regulatory policies that make scientific sense and that encourage
innovative research and development. But by promoting the
precautionary principle, EU politicians are performing a disservice.
The only winners will be the European apparatchiks who will enjoy
additional power, and the anti-science activists who will have
succeeded in erecting yet more barriers to the use of superior
technologies and useful products.


Henry I. Miller, M.D., is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover
Institution and a former official at the FDA, 1979-1994. Barron's
selected his most recent book, The Frankenfood Myth, one of the 25
Best Books of 2004.

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
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  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

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  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
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