Rachel's Precaution Reporter #57, September 27, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Right now in Budapest, Hungary, the International Forum on Chemical Safety is discussing and debating use of the precautionary principle in chemical safety.]

By Peter Montague

The International Forum on Chemical Safety is meeting now in Budapest to discuss "Applying the Precautionary Principle in the Context of Chemical Safety." In preparation for the meeting, many countries filled out a survey form explaining how they use the precautionary principle for chemical safety -- and they explain the difficulties they face. Their responses are available in a summary format, and in a brief discussion paper. Hats off to Joel Tickner of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Background

The International Forum on Chemical Safety was created by national governments at the the International Conference on Chemical Safety held in Stockholm in April 1994. IFCS is a intended to be a way for governments to promote chemical risk assessment and the environmentally sound management of chemicals. It is an informal place where government representatives meet with intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations trying to reach international agreement on ways to promote chemical safety. Intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations participate without the right to vote.

Ultimately the goal is to reach agreement on steps to carry out Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 -- to make and use chemicals sustainably.

In response to the increasing concern of countries and other IFCS partners over the growing body of scientific research that indicates a number of chemicals may interfere with the normal functioning of hormones, the Forum initiated a process to share information and coordinate research efforts and activities to the extent possible.

It was generally recognized that although the body of information is growing, considerable scientific uncertainty remains and more research is needed. This has now led the IFCS to consider the precautionary principle as a way to deal with the irreducible uncertainties and unknowns of a western lifestyle built on toxic technologies.

As you can see here, the U.S. is ably represented at the Budapest meeting by several well-known non-governmental organizations advocating for precaution, but also by powerful groups opposing precaution, like the chemical industry and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA's position can be summed up as, "We already practice precaution so we don't need any more of it."

You can find the agenda for the Precaution Plenary at the Budapest meeting, with links to many presentations here.