Rachel's Precaution Reporter #34
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

From: U.S. Chamber of Commerce ............................[This story printer-friendly]
March 30, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In case you had any doubt about the relationship of risk assessment to the precautionary principle, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position should make it clear. The Chamber says its objective is to "Ensure that regulatory decisions are based on scientifically sound and technically rigorous risk assessments, and oppose the adoption of the precautionary principle as the basis for regulation."]


Ensure that regulatory decisions are based on scientifically sound and technically rigorous risk assessments, and oppose the adoption of the precautionary principle as the basis for regulation.

Summary of the Issue

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports a science-based approach to risk management where risk is assessed based on scientifically sound and technically rigorous analysis. Under this approach, regulatory actions are justified where there are legitimate, scientifically ascertainable risks to human health, safety, or the environment. That is, the greater the risk, the greater the degree of regulatory scrutiny. This standard has served the nation well, and has led to astounding breakthroughs in the fields of science, health care, medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, and many other fields. There is, however, a relatively new theory known as the precautionary principle that is gaining popularity among environmentalists and other groups. The precautionary principle says that when the risks of a particular activity are unclear or unknown, assume the worst and avoid the activity. It is essentially a policy of risk avoidance.

The regulatory implications of the precautionary principle are substantial. For instance, the precautionary principle holds that since the existence and extent of global warming and climate change are not known, one should assume the worst, and immediately restrict the use of carbon-based fuels. However the nature and extent of key environmental, health, and safety concerns require careful scientific and technical analysis. That is why the U.S. Chamber has long supported the use of sound science, cost-benefit analysis, and risk assessment when assessing a particular regulatory issue.

The precautionary principle has been explicitly incorporated into various laws and regulations in the European Union and various international bodies. In the United States, radical environmentalists are pushing for its adoption as a basis for regulating biotechnology, food and drug safety, environmental protection, and pesticide use.

U.S. Chamber Strategy

Support a science-based approach to risk management, where risk is assessed based on scientifically sound and technically rigorous standards.

Oppose the domestic and international adoption of the precautionary principle as a basis for regulatory decision making.

Educate consumers, businesses, and federal policymakers about the implications of the precautionary principle.

Copyright 2006 U.S. Chamber of Commerce 1615 H St NW Washington DC 20062-2000


From: Baltimore Sun ......................................[This story printer-friendly]
April 17, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "What appears at first blush to be good government reform is in fact a backdoor attempt to undermine existing environmental laws. If this is successful, the uncertainty manufactured by polluters will be written into federal risk assessments, providing the justification to weaken public health protection."]

By David Michaels**

WASHINGTON -- Thank You for Smoking, which has opened in movie theaters across the nation, reminds us of the tobacco industry's diabolical realization that it could delay public health protection by manufacturing uncertainty about the risks of smoking. For 50 years, tobacco companies employed a stable of scientists to challenge the evidence that cigarettes caused lung cancer.

Scientists paid to create doubt dissected every study and highlighted flaws and inconsistencies in order to convince public health officials not that cigarettes were safe, but that there was not yet sufficient evidence of their danger to justify limiting places where tobacco could be smoked.

Not surprisingly, other industries recognized the brilliance of tobacco's approach and bankrolled campaigns to discredit studies documenting the adverse health effects of exposure to lead, mercury, chromium, beryllium, benzene, plastics and a long list of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Manufacturing uncertainty is now so commonplace that it is unusual for the science behind an environmental regulation not to be challenged.

These days, the most well-known and probably best-funded of these campaigns is the one launched by the fossil fuel industry to create doubt about environmental and public health impacts of global warming. When confronted by overwhelming worldwide scientific agreement, the industry and its political allies have followed the tobacco road.

ABC News recently reported on a 1998 memo by the American Petroleum Institute that reads, "Victory will be achieved when... average citizens recognize uncertainties in climate science."

In 2002, Republican political consultant Frank Luntz sent his clients a strategy memo that asserted: "The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming in the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly."

Except when political appointees override the judgment of career federal scientists (as when a White House staffer rewrote an Environmental Protection Agency report on global warming to highlight scientific uncertainty), the nonpolitical staff at regulatory agencies can generally see through these crude efforts to create doubt. And Congress has refused to pass the Bush administration's attempts, such as the initiative with the Orwellian name "Clear Skies," to weaken environmental laws.

Clearly frustrated, the White House is making a run around Congress to change the way the agencies conduct risk assessments, the studies that form the basis for health protections. The Office of Management and Budget has proposed mandatory "guidelines" that would require agencies to conduct impossibly comprehensive risk assessments before issuing scientific or technical documents, including the rules polluters have to follow.

What appears at first blush to be good government reform is in fact a backdoor attempt to undermine existing environmental laws. If this is successful, the uncertainty manufactured by polluters will be written into federal risk assessments, providing the justification to weaken public health protection.

The White House should thank the tobacco industry for providing the groundwork for the risk assessment proposal.

Thank you for Smoking was written in the early 1990s, when the cigarette manufacturers were under attack, particularly from federal agencies. A 1992 EPA risk assessment estimated that every year, secondhand tobacco smoke killed 3,000 nonsmokers and caused more than 150,000 respiratory infections among children.

Big tobacco's response, disputing EPA estimates, was spearheaded by experts in the lucrative new industry science called "product defense."

The cigarette manufacturers' scientists-for-hire were rarely successful in swaying federal scientists, so the industry arranged for other legislation whose name was misleading, the "Data Quality Act" (DQA), to be slipped into an appropriations bill in 2001 without hearing or debate. The DQA allows affected parties to challenge a government report or document, giving tobacco a new forum to argue over science and to further delay the government's smoking prevention activities.

Now, with its risk assessment proposal, the Bush administration is interpreting the DQA as a license to override the Clean Air Act and laws meant to protect the public's health and environment.

Years from now, we will view these attempts by the administration and hired scientific guns to weaken environmental protections with the same outrage with which we now look back on the deceits perpetrated by Big Tobacco. But will years from now be too late?

** David Michaels is a professor and associate chairman of the department of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. His e-mail is eohdmm@gwumc.edu.

Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun


From: The Washington Times ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
April 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, headquartered in South Korea, owns the Washington Times, an ultra-right wing voice inside Washington, D.C. and indeed inside the White House. The Reverend Mr. Moon -- who in 2004 declared himself the reincarnation of Jesus Christ -- has decided that the precautionary principle is evil, and he has recruited a team of writers who attack precaution relentlessly. Stanford University's professor Henry Miller seems to be a pawn in the Reverend Mr. Moon's game.]

By Henry I. Miller

As self-appointed regulator-wannabe of much of what goes on in the world, the United Nations has become a profoundly negative influence. While its best known interventions -- attempts to attain and maintain international peace and comity -- too often are exercises in lowest- common-denominator diplomacy that progresses at a glacial pace, the U.N.'s essays into public health and environmental protection frequently are wrong-headed, self-serving and disastrous.

Underlying the U.N.'s deficiencies is the inability of its leaders to apprehend the relationship between wealth creation and public and environmental health -- and between their own flawed policies and the inevitable failure of their ambitious Millennium Development Goals. The U.N. agencies' trumpeting supposed successes and promulgating lofty goals on World Health Day today serve only as a reminder of the organization's abject failures.

The complicity of many U.N. agencies in the unscientific, ideological and excessive regulation of biotechnology -- also known as gene- splicing, or genetic modification (GM) -- has prevented critical advances in agricultural and pharmaceutical research and development. Gene-spliced products could alleviate famine and water shortages for millions, and even lead to the development of vaccines incorporated into edible fruits and vegetables. But during the past decade, delegates to the U.N.-based Convention on Biological Diversity have negotiated and implemented a regressive "biosafety protocol" to regulate the international movement of gene-spliced organisms. A travesty that flies in the face of sound science, this regulatory scheme is based on the bogus "precautionary principle," which dictates that every new product or technology must be proven completely safe before it can be used.

Many other U.N. agencies have gotten into the anti-biotech act. A task force of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food standards program of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, has singled out only food products made with gene- splicing techniques for draconian and unscientific restrictions that conflict with the worldwide scientific consensus that gene-splicing is merely a refinement, or improvement, over less precise and predictable genetic manipulation techniques that have been used for centuries. Thousands of greenhouse and field studies, as well as widespread commercialization in almost a dozen advanced countries, have shown that the risks of gene-spliced plants and foods are minimal; their benefits proven; and their future potential, extraordinary. Globally, the adoption of gene-spliced crops reduces pesticide use by scores of millions of pounds annually (as well as the frequency of pesticide poisonings), and saves millions of tons of topsoil from erosion.

The 2001 U.N. Environment Program's Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention, which stigmatizes the insecticide DDT as one of the world's worst pollutants, is a regulatory atrocity. It places virtually insuperable obstacles in the way of the use of the chemical by developing countries, many of which are plagued by malaria, West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases.

Not only do U.N. officials dismiss scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness and relative safety of DDT, they also fail to take into consideration the inadequacy of alternatives or to appreciate the distinction between its large-scale use in agriculture (which has been discontinued) and more limited application for controlling carriers of human disease.

A complete prohibition on DDT usage is tantamount to withholding antibiotics from patients with infections; it is mass murder, and the U.N. is a co-conspirator in the deadly campaign against the chemical's use.

Another example of the U.N.'s willingness to adopt extreme positions occurred at last year's annual World Health Assembly, the policy- making body of the World Health Organization, at which the delegates adopted a resolution that supposedly reflects concern about potential bacterial contamination of powdered infant formula. According to the WHO, two low-weight babies died in 2004 in hospitals in France, and one in New Zealand, supposedly from formula contaminated by bacteria. The stories are tragic, but even if true, hardly constitute an epidemic.

The resolution proclaims that infant formula is not sterile and "may contain pathogenic microorganisms" that allegedly have been a cause of infection and illness in pre-term and low birth-weight infants, and "could lead to serious developmental [damage] and death." It calls for a warning label and for health-care workers and parents, particularly those caring for infants at high risk, to be informed about the "potential for introduced contamination" and the need for safe preparation, handling and storage of infant formula. Finally, it concludes that babies should be breast-fed exclusively for six months and calls for precautions in preparing formula for those at high-risk, such as pre-term, low birth-weight or immune-deficient infants. But infant formula already had carried explicit information about storage, preparation and handling. The resolution appears not to have been motivated by legitimate concerns about the product in question, but rather by the anti-corporate bias that pervades the U.N. and its supporters. The label's misleading warning about dangerous pathogens discourages the use of formula in situations where it is needed. How ironic that the slogan for this year's World Health Day is, "Working together for health," because the U.N.'s actions are rife with contradictions and conflicts that not only are harmful to health, but also make a mockery of the organization's own overblown Millennium Development Goals. One goal, for example, aims to reverse the spread of malaria and several other infectious diseases by 2015, while the U.N. Environment Program bans DDT, an effective and inexpensive intervention against malaria.

The most ambitious objective, "to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" by 2015, certainly cannot be accomplished without innovative technology -- which, in turn, cannot be developed in the face of excessive regulatory barriers and bureaucracies. The Food and Agriculture Organization calls on one hand for greater allocation of resources to agriculture, and then makes those resources less cost- effective by gratuitous, unscientific over-regulation of the new biotechnology.

An important way to "reduce child mortality," another goal, would be to produce pediatric vaccines cheaply in gene-spliced edible fruits and vegetables, but there is near-hysteria at Codex, the U.N.'s food standards agency, over conjectural food-safety problems with this approach.

The secretary-general of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization announces that "integrated water-resources management is the key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals of securing access to safe water, sanitation and environmental protection," while other U.N. agencies are making virtually impossible the development of gene- spliced plants that can grow with low-quality water or under drought conditions.

T.S. Eliot could have had the U.N. in mind with his observation, "Hell is the place where nothing connects."

Regulation is a growth industry at the U.N., but the approach taken regularly defies scientific consensus and common sense. The result is vastly inflated R&D costs, less innovation, and diminished exploitation of superior techniques and products -- especially in poorer countries, which need them desperately.

I think we need yet another Millennium Development Goal: Stop genocide-by-regulation at the U.N.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, headed the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993.

Copyright 2006 News World Communications, Inc.


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.

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