Rachel's Precaution Reporter #17
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, December 21, 2005.........Printer-friendly version
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Table of Contents... Precautionary Principle: Reasonable, Rational, and Responsible Using examples from modern life (chemicals in breast milk, toxic lead in paint, fetal alcohol syndrome, and toxic flame retardants), toxicologist Steve Gilbert presents five common elements to a precautionary approach. We successfully apply precaution in the pharmaceutical industry, so why can't we apply it to industrial chemicals that cause cancer, brain damage, a myriad of other health effects, and environmental damage? Biotech Crops: Sound Science vs. the Precautionary Principle Some U.S. farmers argue that "sound science" should convince Japanese and European consumers to buy genetically modified foods from the U.S. Here Daryll E. Ray, professor of agricultural policy, University of Tennessee, suggests that the precautionary approach may be more scientific than the "sound science" approach. Philippino Farmers Call for Ban On Genetically Modified Crops Farmers in Mindanao, Philippines recently called for an end to industrialized agriculture, a ban on genetically engineered crops, and a return to organic growing techniques. Let Them Eat Precaution In this anonymous book review, the American Enterprise Institute claims that the third world is being deprived of the benefits of genetically modified crops because of the precautionary principle. We have added links to offer alternative viewpoints on some of the issues raised here. The real food problem in the third world is that millions of people are too poor to pay for food that is already available. Genetically engineered crops won't solve that problem. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #17, Dec. 21, 2005 [Printer-friendly version] PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: REASONABLE, RATIONAL, AND RESPONSIBLE An Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary, Approach to Decision-making By Steven G. Gilbert Introduction The precautionary principle is a reasonable, rational, and responsible approach to decision-making. It provides a framework for policy making that promotes human health, a sustainable environment, and ensures that future generations of all species have an opportunity to thrive. But first, when you got in your car this morning did you think about the relative benefits of driving your car to work, the store, or errands as compared to the cost to the environment or risks to your health should you get in an accident? Did you take the precautionary action of wearing a seat belt to reduce the risk to your health and safety? Did you think about walking or taking the bus, instead of driving, to reduce air pollution? Some readers may take prescription drugs, confident that the benefits outweigh the risks of harm because you trust that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has carefully reviewed the research and approved the sale of those medications. The FDA takes a precautionary approach when it approves drugs. It requires pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of their products before they are put on the market. We expect that the companies that benefit from the sale of their drugs should take on the responsibility for demonstrating that the product meets certain standards of safety. From tragic experience, we have learned that when this precautionary process breaks down consumers suffer. In contrast, we often do not take a precautionary approach to chemical exposures to children. For example, while a nursing baby receives the tremendous benefits of breast milk, they are often exposed to a number of industrial chemicals that are present in the breast milk. Often there is little information about potential for harmful development effects of the industrial chemicals found in breast milk. This raises a question: What is the equivalent seat belt for our children's health -- is there a way to take precautionary measures to protect our children's health and intellectual potential from the adverse affects of industrial chemicals? We often take a precautionary approach in our daily lives and we legislated a mandatory precautionary approach for the sale of prescription and over the counter drugs. The next evolution in the use of a precautionary approach is in the management of the use of industrial chemicals. One of the most critical questions is: what policy approach should we use as a guideline in protecting future generations -- our children's children? I believe it is reasonable, rational, and responsible to use the precautionary principle, to learn from our past experience and years of scientific developments, and initiate a comprehensive and sustainable decision-making process. Flavors of Precaution The precautionary principle was defined at the Wingspread Conference in 1998 as: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be take even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." While the definitions of the precautionary principle come in a number of flavors, all flavors have the same common elements. It is the same with cars, some arrive at their destination more quickly, some are more environmentally friendly, some might need more repair, but all cars have basic identifiable elements, including seatbelts. There are five elements that form the foundation of all versions of the precautionary principle. The first common element is to have established goals and objectives. Often objectives are broad, such as ensuring the health and well being of future generations. More specific goals also might be established, such as a list of health indicators or targets for health in local growth plans. For example: "by 2015 reduce the incidence of childhood asthma by 50%" or "by 2015 reduce the number children with learning disabilities by 10%" or "by 2015 reduce the rate of adult-onset diabetes by 10% through weight loss programs." The second common element is to take preventive action even in the face of uncertainty. In the 1920's the European League of Nations banned the use of lead paint based upon data indicating exposure to lead based paint could cause harmful health effects. The United States government was slow to acknowledge the harmful effects to children who were exposed to lead paint and delayed action until 1971. Had the U.S. government taken a more precautionary approach and banned lead paint earlier, countless children could have been spared the challenges of learning disabilities. A third element includes shifting the burden of responsibility for proving safety and efficacy to the proponents of an activity. This suggests that those who benefit from the action have a obligation of conducting the appropriate tests to ensure safety. For example, pharmaceutical companies benefit from the development of new drugs by making a profit when they sell a drug or medical device. Using a precautionary approach the FDA requires that a company submit data, paid for by the company, to demonstrate efficacy and safety of the proposed product prior to marketing approval. The needs and benefits of this precautionary approach are illustrated by the drug thalidomide. In the 1950's thalidomide was marketed, primarily in Europe and Australia, as a sedative and anti-nausea drug for pregnant women. Tragically, thalidomide caused a rare birth defect when consumed by women during a specific period in pregnancy. Fortunately, thalidomide was not marketed in the United States because a woman in the FDA questioned the safety data. The thalidomide experience prompted Congress to increase the regulatory authority of the FDA and require more testing of drugs prior to marketing approval. The pharmaceutical companies assume the burden of responsibility to demonstrate safety of their products in contrast to the limited requirements placed on industrial chemical producers to demonstrate the safety of their products. A fourth element encourages the exploration of a wide range of alternative actions when harmful outcomes are suspected. An initial question might be: is the activity/chemical/procedure really necessary? Or is a substitute as effective? A good example of exploring alternative actions is the use of integrated pest management instead of using pesticides. A number of schools systems are implementing integrated pest management policies to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides around schools. A final and fifth element common to definitions of the precautionary principle encourages public participation in decision making. It is essential that all stake holders have not only an opportunity to but the means to participate in discussions and the decision making process. The proponents of a product, process, or activity must provide complete and accurate information and work with all parties to ensure adequate understanding of its implications. While this may seem costly and time consuming in the beginning it almost inevitably saves time and money and always produces the best results. A reasonable approach The precautionary principle is reasonable: it provides a comprehensive and inclusive approach to decision-making that incorporates a vision of human and environmental health and quality of life. This vision of human and environmental health strives to "ensure that all living things have the best opportunity to reach and maintain their full genetic potential." One might also consider this vision of human and environmental health as supporting the achievement of our "God- given potential" for "genetic potential" depending on one's perspective. Part of being reasonable is encouraging a discussion and consideration of our values. This definition of human health is particularly relevant to our children, who need an environment free from exposure to compounds that rob them of their intellectual potential such as lead, mercury and PCBs. Furthermore, the salmon of the world need clean and open streams in which to express their future generations. The precautionary principle is reasonable because it encourages participation of a broad range of stakeholders including business, government, non-profit organizations, health-affected groups, and most importantly the general public. Providing a healthy environment for humans and other species is best accomplished by a broad community of stakeholders working together to seek solutions. This starts by sharing information and respecting each other's values. All stakeholders need access to technical information, and all need to be helped to understand the issues. The precautionary principle emphasizes prevention and consideration for future generations. It is just common sense to prevent disease and promote healthy conditions. Waiting to treat disease or cleaning up toxic spills is more expensive, time consuming, and is often disabling, and often does not even work. A rational approach The precautionary principle is rational and logical approach to decision-making. We have considerable scientific knowledge and experience that allow us to make good judgments even with uncertain or incomplete information. We have enough information, in many cases, to rationally consider alternatives, even when there may be some uncertainty or incomplete information. As many CEOs know, there is never enough information, but business doesn't stop. CEOs must and do make good and rational decisions even with incomplete information. There needs to be a shift in emphasis from increasing revenue and profits to consideration of human and environmental health. In the fields of biological and toxicological sciences we have seen rapid advances that provide much of the knowledge we need to prevent harm. A rational person or community takes action based on an assessment of the facts combined with knowledge and experience to support the greatest good for that community. True, we must constantly review new information and update our decisions, but we should not wait for perfect information. What we do know from toxicological sciences is that the developing organism is very sensitive to the effects of environmental contaminants and adverse effects are discovered at lower and lower levels of exposure. Here are a few examples documenting the lessons learned where the rational application of the precautionary principle would have benefited human health. Fetal alcohol syndrome is characterized by facial deformities and severe learning disabilities that result from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This condition and the sensitivity of the developing organism were well described by researchers in the early 1970s. It took almost 10 years after this scientific information was available for the U.S. Surgeon General to advise women to avoid consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Several more years passed before warning labels were required on alcohol beverages. Scientists continue to learn about the fetal affects of maternal alcohol consumption and recognize that even small amounts during pregnancy can result in milder forms of learning disabilities, or Fetal Alcohol Effect. But despite the new evidence, it was rational to act before this latest information was available. Prevention is a reasoned approach. Two thousand years ago it was known that "Lead makes the mind give way." Despite this knowledge lead was added to paint and, in the 1920s, to gasoline. As early as the 1920s the European League of Nations, despite some uncertainty about the health effects of lead exposure, chose to ban lead-based paint. Unfortunately the United States did not ban lead-based paint until 1971, resulting in the contamination of countless homes. Millions of children were exposed to harmful levels of lead because of this delay in action. In addition, the cost of demonstrating that low levels of lead exposure result in reduced IQ and learning deficits was borne by the taxpayers not by the industries that benefited from the sale of lead-based paint. Continued research on the health effects of lead has demonstrated that there are no safe levels of lead exposure for the developing infant. We have enough scientific information to make a rational and reasoned decision that lead exposure is harmful and must be eliminated. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has failed to act on this information and lower the acceptable blood lead level from 10 mcg/deciliter to 2 mcg/deciliter. A more recent example of a failure to have a rational approach to prevent unnecessary exposure of children to potentially harmful chemicals involves brominated flame retardants (PBDEs). These chemicals are widely used in consumer products to prevent or retard fire, clearly a desirable action. PBDEs are used in foam rubber cushions and mattress, so you are probably sleeping on several pounds of PBDEs. The problem is that these compounds do not stay in the product, but show up in household dust and ultimately the food supply. PBDEs have been found in women's breast milk and result in unintended exposures to their babies. The PBDE manufacturers and distributors have not demonstrated that these chemicals will not harm the environment or cause adverse health effects. In contrast to the precautionary measure taken when introducing new medicines, we take few precautionary measures when introducing and using industrial chemicals. These brief examples illustrate that knowledge is available to make rational decisions with regard to exposure to harmful chemicals. The challenge is to act on that information. Even when there is some uncertainty about the potential effects, we know from experience that even small amounts of chemicals can be harmful and that a precautionary approach is a rational approach. A responsible approach Our ethical responsibility to our children, the offspring of other species, and to future generations requires a precautionary approach. It is the strategy that will be most likely to help ensure an environment that will help them reach and maintain their full potential. Part of being responsible is encouraging consideration of our personal and national values. America's first bioethicist Aldo Leopold wrote in 1949: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Exposing our children to the harmful effects of industrial chemicals reduces their integrity, stability, and beauty as well as their potential to succeed and live healthy, fruitful lives. Leopold went on to say: "An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence". Leopold recognized that certain constrains on our freedom may be necessary to achieve a healthy outcome for the society. Laws requiring the use of seatbelts or limits on fishing restrict our freedoms but were enacted to promote a greater community good. Garrett Hardin in his 1968 paper, The Tragedy of the Commons, recognized that many problems of society have no technical solutions, but must be managed to achieve the desired outcome. There is no technical solution to fetal alcohol syndrome once the child is affected. The only solution is the elimination of alcohol during pregnancy -- or prevention. Technological advances have lead to over- fishing the oceans; the most responsible way to control over fishing is to restrict unlimited freedom to fish -- or prevention. The idea that there are "no technical" solutions does not mean that technology is not necessary but rather that we often know what to do but for a variety of reasons to not take action. For example, we know what to do about lead based paint but do not employ the resources. An important element of the precautionary principle is that the proponents of an activity must take responsibility to demonstrate that their chemical or product is safe and effective. Those who benefit from the activity must assume responsibility for the harm their product might cause. We have applied this concept successfully in drug development and we could easily apply this experience to industrial chemicals. Conclusion The precautionary principle is a reasonable, rational, and responsible approach to protecting the health and potential of our children. The most critical question is -- What policy approach do we adapt to protect future generations -- our children's children? The current system of evaluating the safety of industrial chemicals is clearly not working. The precautionary principle offers a more comprehensive approach to ensuring quality human and environmental health by employing a series of elements that engage all stakeholders. The precautionary principle is an evolutionary not a revolutionary approach to our decision-making processes. * * * REASONABLE (Able to discourse or discuss matters; ready of tongue or speech; sensible; common sense; sound judgment): ** Comprehensive and inclusive decision making approach ** Brings stakeholders together ** Emphasizes prevention rather than treatment ** Encourages sharing of information ** Considers future generations of humans and other species RATIONAL (Having the faculty of reasoning; endowed with reason; coherent; rational): ** Decisions based on scientific knowledge and experience ** We have the knowledge and experience to prevent harm to future generations ** Uncertainty is not a reason to delay action to ensure human and environmental health RESPONSIBLE (Morally accountable for one's actions; capable of rational conduct; answerable): ** Ethical responsibility and duty to prevent harm ** Responsibility to promote human and environmental health ** The proponents of an action are responsible for demonstrating safety Steven G. Gilbert, Ph.D., can be reached at the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders, 8232 14th Ave NE Seattle, WA 98115; Tel. 206-527-0926; Fax: 206-525-5102; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.asmalldoseof.org ("A Small Dose of Toxicology") ==============  This essay was originally presented in part at the Washington Health Legislative Conference, Seattle, WA, December 6, 2005.  Carolyn Raffensperger and Joel Tickner (Eds.), (1999), Protecting Public Health & the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle. Washington, DC: Island Press.  Steven G. Gilbert, Ethical, legal, and social issues: our children's future. Neurotoxicology, Vol. 26/4 pp 521-530, 2005. (doi 10.1016/j.neuro.2004.12.006).  Aldo Leopold, (1949), A Sand County Almanac.  Garrett Hardin, (1968), The tragedy of the commons. The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality. Science, 162(859), 1243-1248.  Oxford English Dictionary. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Western Farm Press, Dec. 21, 2005 [Printer-friendly version] PRODUCERS ARGUE FOR SOUND SCIENCE By Daryll E. Ray U.S. agricultural and trade negotiators had been pressuring the Japanese to reopen their market which had been closed to U.S. beef since BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad cow disease) was first detected in the U.S. herd at the end of 2003. The U.S. is also in a trade dispute with the EU (European Union) over the EU's restrictions on the importation of GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. In both cases the U.S. has argued that, on the basis of "sound science," both of these trade restrictions ought to be lifted. On the face of it, it would seem that the U.S. argument is very strong. After all how could and why would one argue against sound science? For their part the Europeans and the Japanese defend their actions on the basis of the "precautionary principle." The precautionary principle is what our mothers were talking about when they told us that it is better to be safe than sorry. As long-term readers of this column know, we have written about these issues before. Our analysis of these two trade disagreements has been based on two ideas. The first is couched in economic terms arguing that the "customer is always right." If the Japanese are willing to pay for the BSE testing of every head of beef, the idea that the customer is always right would suggest that we would agree to the testing. Likewise, if the Europeans want non-GMO grain, then U.S. farmers ought to be working to provide them with non-GMO grain. Our second idea has been to identify why customers might assess the risk of GMO grains differently than the producers. After all, growing GMO crops makes it easier for producers to control weeds and insects. While producers receive the benefits, customers take the risks if at a later time it were to be shown that GMO crops posed some health risk. It makes no difference how low the probability of that event is, the probability is nonzero and therefore important in minds of some customers. Different view This past summer we read a paper presented by Priya Om Verma and William R. Freudenburg at the 2005 Rural Sociological Society Annual Meeting that took a different look at the conflict between those advocating for the use of sound science and those advocating for the use of the precautionary principle in decision making. Verma and Freudenburg of the University of California, Santa Barbara argue that "the precautionary principle may be the more scientific of the two approaches." The core of their analysis reduces the two arguments to their essentials. Those using the sound science as the justification for their policies -- pressuring Europeans to buy GMOs or Japanese to purchase U.S. beef -- are arguing that something is safe unless it is proven to be hazardous. Thus, declaring something is safe runs the statistical risk that it is not. Those supporting the precautionary principle are arguing that when there is a potential risk to life and safety, the prudent course of action is to err on the side of caution, risking the chance that one may reject an action or product as unsafe when in fact it may be safe. Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans provide us with a chance to apply these concepts to a situation most of us are familiar with. Those officials who supported cutting back on levee repairs were arguing that the likelihood of a Category 3 hurricane that would cause a breach in the levees was very small and that the money would be better spent elsewhere. This is the sound science argument which takes the risk assuming the levees will hold when in fact they won't. Those who were arguing for the levee expenditures and protecting the wetlands surrounding New Orleans were basing their argument on the precautionary principle. As we have seen the sound science argument favors short-term economic gain over the potential of catastrophic long-term costs. In this case we can see that an ounce of prevention would have been worth more than a pound of cure. Applying argument Applying this back to the case of GMO sales to the Europeans, the U.S. is arguing in favor of immediate economic gains from increased trade over and against long-term health and/or safety problems that may arise if it were to turn out that GMOs pose a risk that does not show up for 10, 20, or 30 years. Similarly, in the case of the sale of beef to the Japanese, the U.S. is arguing that the extra cost of testing each head of beef sold to the Japanese is unnecessary, given the low chance that any one animal would have BSE. The Japanese are arguing that given the long-term risks -- if one imports enough untested beef, sooner or later a BSE positive animal will slip through -- the cost of testing is a small price to pay for increased long-term safety. As Verma and Freudenburg note, statistics teaches us that these two risks are closely related. As one reduces the chance of making a short-term error -- rejecting a product as unsafe when it is in fact safe -- one increases the chance of making a long-term error. There is a tradeoff between these two types of errors. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. Their argument that the "precautionary principle may be the more scientific of the two approaches is based on their contention that "the precautionary principle recognizes the reality of scientific unknowns and acknowledges... scientific uncertainty." They go on to say, "Under conditions of scientific uncertainty, judging what is an acceptable level of risk for society is an inherently political responsibility... These are value-laden processes that reflect differing perspectives regarding what ought to be 'society's' preferences for short-term economic risks versus longer-term risks to health and the environment." Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; email@example.com; http://www.agpolicy.org. Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance of Harwood D. Schaffer, research associate with APAC. Copyright 2005, PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Minda News (Mindanao,Philippines), Dec. 14, 2005 [Printer-friendly version] MINDANAO FORUM: PHASE OUT SYNTHETIC AGRI INPUTS IN RP BY 2015 By Walter I. Balane DAVAO CITY -- Around 200 Mindanawons from different sectors sought a total phaseout of synthetic commercial inputs in any farming systems in the country by 2015 and also a ban on field releases of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture. They signed this on a covenant Tuesday at the end of the "Go Organic Mindanao" forum on safe food and food security. "Thus, we encourage men and women farmers to produce natural inputs (and their creativity be respected) leading to the total phaseout in 10 years." The group also included in their action agenda that "even logging, monocrop plantation expansion, mining and other resource-extractive activities should be done away with such that in its stead will flourish sustainable organic agriculture initiatives that contribute to farmer health and economic well-being." The forum, a sequel to an earlier conference in Manila on December 9-10, gathered Mindanao's farmers, religious, civil society groups, members of the academe, students, government officials and personnel, and private individuals from different provinces of Mindanao. The Coalition for GMO-free Mindanao, a broad coalition of NGOs around Mindanao, including Food Sovereignty Watch, convened the forum in cooperation with the Malaysia-based Third World Network. The discussions were focused on promoting sustainable organic agriculture as an emerging and viable alternative to genetically engineered farm inputs and chemical-based farming. They also expressed support to the mandatory labeling of products of genetic engineering technologies in respect to the rights of consumers to information and choice. At the moment, synthetic products like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not labeled as such in the open market. They expressed preference for sustainable organic agriculture using natural inputs as well as for the diversification in farming system. "We believe in the inherent capacity of men and women farmers to develop, conserve and utilize plant and animal genetic resources that sustain and enhance biodiversity and food security," they said. The group also called for the implementation of the precautionary principle in dealing with synthetic technology. Also, the immediate ratification by the Senate of the Cartagena Protocol, a protective instrument against the damaging effects of genetic engineering (GE) and GMOs, already signed by 120 countries in 2003. The group aimed to make bio-safety regulations strict, stringent, transparent and linked to sustainable agriculture and other considerations. Around 11 "principles of unity" were adopted in the covenant. The other principles expressed the group's preferences for holistic health and the belief in the security of tenure of men and women farmers to their land as crucial in local livelihoods and food security. The participants affirmed that sustainable organic agriculture is critical in promoting farmers' empowerment. They said that farmers "must have political voice and capacity to stand up against corporate agriculture, whose operations are becoming a regular part of day-to- day reality in Mindanao." Sustainable organic agriculture, they said, is the only viable emerging alternative to the unrelenting advance of commercial plantations in key provinces in Mindanao. They added that the main impact of which is to further push the farmers and their families to more deprivation and poverty. The group demanded for transparency and farmers' participation as the government decides on its agricultural programs. According to them, such are focused on a package of technologies like hybrids and GM crops, and high-value commercial crops "often at the expense of the environment and long-term benefits of farmers and farming communities all over the country." But as the group believes that there must be a balance between development and environmental protection, they expressed that there are bigger socio-political economic forces that will affect the balance. Responding to international expert Dr. Mae Wan Ho, who spoke about "the need to re-structure Mindanao's food system" earlier at the forum, the participants expressed in the covenant that "local production should be prioritized for local consumption." Mindanao has become a haven for high value commercial commodity export crops with the spread of banana, pineapple and other mono-crop plantations. After the government approved the release of GMOs in the country in 2003, the anti-GMO movement has "changed strategy." Engr. Roberto Verzola, sustainable agriculture campaigner from the Philippine Greens, told participants on Monday that promoting sustainable organic agriculture is the new strategy in campaigning against GMOs. "The promotion of sustainable organic agriculture is a positive step towards attaining environmental sustainability," the covenant states. According to the organizers, the forum was organized to revitalize debates on GE (genetic engineering) and at the same time strengthen and promote organic agriculture as an alternative to GE. In February 2006, the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will ratify a recommendation from a technical group on whether to lift a ban on "Terminator technology" or GURTS (genetic use restriction technology), which will render hybrid seeds sterile after harvest. Such technology was considered by farmers in the forum as unfair, selfish and serves only the interests of hybrid seed companies. Copyright 2005 MindaNews Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: American Enterprise Institute, Dec. 19, 2005 [Printer-friendly version] LET THEM EAT PRECAUTION Book review of: Jon Entine, Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 2006). $25 More than one million of the world's poorest children die each year from a lack of Vitamin A. Another 100 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, which increases the risk of blindness, infections, and diseases such as measles and malaria. Yet a revolutionary solution to this malignant crisis--a vitamin-enhanced rice--remains unutilized, the victim of anti-science advocacy groups. The sad fate of Golden Rice, the genetically modified version of the world's most popular staple, is one of many revelations in Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (AEI Press, January 2006). Bioengineering has created new kinds of soybeans, wheat, and cotton that generate natural insecticides (making them more resistant to pests and drought and increasing yields); nutrition-added fruits, vegetables, and grains; and futuristic "farmaceuticals"--life-saving medicines made by melding agricultural methods with advanced biotechnology. Countless scientific studies have found that biotech farming can dramatically reduce reliance on costly and environmentally harmful chemicals, and the products that result are safe and healthy. Editor Jon Entine, along with ten experts from the United States and Great Britain, explain why cultural politics and trade disputes, not science, pose the biggest hurdles in developing these products. Instead of meeting the desperate needs of the world's poor with new medicines and vitamin-fortified crops, anti-biotech campaigners offer liberal doses of the "precautionary principle"--the controversial notion that innovation should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided. Well-funded environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth; organic advocates; religious groups such as Christian Aid; and "socially responsible" investors exploit anxiety about science, caricaturing genetic technology as inherently unpredictable and a "genetic Godzilla" that could usher in an age of "Frankenfoods." Among the other findings in Let Them Eat Precaution: ** Some 40,000 people--half of them children--die every day from hunger or malnutrition-related causes that genetically modified products could alleviate. ** International advocacy groups have intimidated the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments into rejecting donations of bioengineered grain that would have helped feed the 10.1 million undernourished people in those two countries. ** Biopharmaceuticals such as potatoes transformed into edible vaccines against diarrhea--a leading cause of death in the developing world-- and tobacco modified to fight dental cavities, the common cold, and diabetes are caught in a regulatory jungle. ** Anti-biotechnology groups funded by tax-exempt foundations, the social investment community, and the organic and natural products industry masterfully exploit the Internet to spread their message. ** The misinformation campaign has turned one of the founders of Greenpeace into a determined spokesperson for the promise of biotech farming and farmaceuticals. The anti-biotech industry's admonition of "Don't tamper with nature" may be superficially seductive, but a blanket rule that nature's course is always preferable to scientific innovation is a prescription for paralysis. The authors of Let Them Eat Precaution believe that proponents of biotechnology must reorient their strategy to address the political, social, moral, and economic arguments raised by biotech opponents, rather than relying simply on the scientific evidence. While not a universal panacea, genetically modified technology offers a unique opportunity to address international health and nutrition needs, especially in countries with increasing populations, widespread poverty, and limited funds for expensive and environmentally harmful chemical pesticides. Let Them Eat Precaution includes: ** "Beyond Precaution" by Jon Entine, scholar in residence at Miami University of Ohio, and adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ** "Global Views on Agricultural Biotechnology" by Thomas Jefferson Hoban, director of the Center for Biotechnology in a Global Society and professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology, and food science at North Carolina State University. Mr. Hoban is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). ** "Agricultural Biotechnology Caught in a War of Giants" by C.S. Prakash, professor of plant biotechnology at Tuskegee University and president of AgBio World Foundation; and by Gregory Conko, senior fellow and director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. ** "Trade War or Culture War? The GM Debate in Britain and the European Union" by Tony Gilland, science and society director at the British Institute of Ideas. ** "Hunger, Famine, and the Promise of Biotechnology" by Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). ** "Let Them Eat Precaution: Why GM Crops Are Being Over-Regulated in the Developing World" by Robert L. Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College; associate of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University; and consultant for the International Food Policy Research Institute, USAID, USDA, and U.S. State Department. ** "Can Public Support for the Use of Biotechnology in Food Be Salvaged?" by Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America and former assistant secretary for food and consumer services at the USDA. ** "Deconstructing the Agricultural Biotechnology Protest Industry" by Jay Byrne, president of v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations (dealing with issues management, including biotechnology). ** "'Functional Foods' and Biopharmaceuticals: The Next Generation of the GM Revolution" by Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program at the University of California-Davis; co-director of the NIH Training Program in Biomolecular Technology; member of the Genomics Panel on Technology of the WTO; and member of the Technology Discussion Panel on Sustainable Agriculture at the UN. ** "Challenging the Misinformation Campaign of Antibiotechnology Environmentalists" by Patrick Moore, founding member of Greenpeace and former director of Greenpeace International. Mr. Moore now heads the environmental group Greenspirit in Vancouver, Canada. Media Inquiries: Veronique Rodman American Enterprise Institute 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20036 Phone: 202-862-4871 Fax: 202-862-7171 E-mail: VRodman@aei.org Copyright 2005 American Enterprise Institute Return to Table of Contents ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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