Rachel's Precaution Reporter #41
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Can genetically modified (GMO) crops coexist with normal crops without causing genetic contamination? Many people now say No. The biotech industry favors global contamination, and once contamination occurs, it can't be reversed, so a precautionary approach is the only hope for preserving the world's stock of non-GMO crop genes.]

By Elisabeth Rosenthal

AUBINS, Spain -- Enric Navarro was dumbfounded when the letter arrived from the testing lab of the Spanish organic farmers association in late February, telling him his organic crop actually contained 12 percent genetically modified corn.

For Mr. Navarro, finding plants modified by biotechnology was almost as traumatic as finding nuclear waste would have been. For four years, he had lovingly planted hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs to attract just the right mix of insects so he would not need fertilizers or weed killers on his precious seven hectares (17.3 acres).

"If I could not farm organic, I would not farm," said Mr. Navarro, dressed in sweatpants and a stained T-shirt as he sipped coffee in his shed. "I could not sleep at night if I sold that crop."

He decided to burn the corn still in the field, to rid his farm of what he called a "contaminant." But he is still not certain how the unwanted seed got onto his property. There is no way to claim compensation for his economic losses. And he is not sure when it will be safe to use the field for his form of organic farming.

As the European Union begins opening its doors wider to genetically modified crops, Mr. Navarro's byzantine experience serves as a cautionary tale about the uncertainties surrounding the lack of policies to deal with the problems that will almost certainly arise.

"There is a lot that hasn't been worked out," said Julian Kinderlerer, of the Institute of Biotechnical Law and Ethics at the University of Sheffield in England, who has advised the European Union on the issue.

For eight years, Spain was the only country in the union to permit commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops. But in the last 18 months, the European Commission has approved 11 genetically modified seeds for planting in the union, and in 2005, France, Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic began planting small commercial plots.

In the United States, the vast majority of large commercial farms plant genetically modified crops, like corn or soy, and there is no general effort to distinguish those from nonbiotech crops and foods in farming or food processing.

But the cornerstone of the European Union's new open-door policy is the political conviction that it is possible for genetically altered crops and conventional crops to coexist separately within Europe with proper safeguards, like keeping a distance between fields and imposing a liability system for accidents.

Scientifically, there are strong disagreements about whether "coexistence" is possible, at what cost and even how it should be defined.

"Coexistence is feasible in the vast majority of places, so long as farmers talk to each other and cooperate," said Simon Barber of EuropaBio, an industry group in Brussels. He said that experiences like Mr. Navarro's should be rare.

But many scientists, and not just those with green credentials, think coexistence is not feasible in many European countries, where small, closely spaced farms are the norm.

"My experts all agreed that coexistence often just doesn't work," said Chantal Line Carpentier, an agricultural economist who led a panel of experts that studied the issue under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The study was requested by Mexico in 2002, after genetically modified corn was found in fields in Oaxaca, hundreds of miles from the United States. Mexico feared that the heartier modified variants would edge out its unique native strains.

That report, "Maize and Biodiversity," released in 2004 by the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, concluded that the genetically engineered corn might well have a long-term effect on Mexico's ecology and biodiversity and that it should be better studied and monitored.

The United States and Canada attacked its conclusions. But some farmers said the report did not go far enough. "Saying that G.M. and non-G.M. farming can coexist is nonsensical," said Julian Rose, an organic farmer from England. "It's like saying that noise and silence can coexist in a room."

The scientific disagreement over coexistence is also partly a question of definition: the biotech industry and new regulations proposed by the European Union would permit some degree of inadvertent intermixing.

The biotech industry considers "coexistence" achieved if mixing is below 0.9 percent and, under proposed regulations, foods in the European Union could be labeled free of genetic modification if they contained less than this amount.

Such labeling is not required in the United States, where the two types of product are regarded as essentially equivalent.

"I think that it's great we are able to commingle all types of corn," said Michael J. Phillips, a vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. "That allows us to sell it at low cost and feed the world."

The concept of coexistence is problematic because there are simply too many ways that mixing occurs, experts said. Wind blows seeds, mills grind crops from different farms, a cookie contains oil made from imported genetically modified soy. The genetically engineered corn in Oaxaca was probably the progeny of corn ears that had been legally imported for animal feed but whose kernels had been illegally used for planting.

With so many routes, environmental groups say, the 0.9 percent limit will inevitably be breached.

Mr. Phillips acknowledged that keeping modified and nonmodified crops apart in fields or in the market was expensive and he ruled out industry compensation. "If you're a small farmer trying to differentiate your product," he said, "the onus is on you to pay for the needed separation."

Last year, Greenpeace tested 40 organic farms in Catalonia. Nearly 20 percent had contamination, from 0.7 percent to 12 percent.

Spain decided to admit cultivation of genetically modified crops in 1998. Twelve percent of corn is now biotech -- about half of it in Catalonia.

Mr. Navarro's two fields are 70 and 100 meters from neighbors' farms, a distance often deemed adequate to prevent mixing. But it was windy last winter, and perhaps some seed blew in, he speculated.

There is no log of who plants genetically modified seeds and nowhere to turn for compensation for his economic losses. Neither the Agriculture Ministry nor the organic farmers association could provide guidance on how to clean up a contaminated field.

Mr. Navarro recently prepared a field in the center of his property for planting corn, hoping that distance and the rows of shrubs will protect it. If not, he says, he will quit.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


From: Boston Globe .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 1, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In Europe, the precautionary approach to toxic chemicals in electronic devices is driving innovation worldwide. Instead of "precautionary principle," you might call it the ingenuity principle.]

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff

A tough European Union law that limits toxic substances in electronic devices takes effect on July 1, and US companies that want to do business across the Atlantic are racing to comply, spending billions of dollars to redesign their products.

"This is probably the biggest change in electronics in 50 years," said George Wilkish, senior quality engineer at M/A-Com Inc., a business unit of Tyco Electronics Corp ., in Lowell that makes a variety of radio and microwave components for communications gear.

Many electronic devices, like computer circuit boards and cathode ray tubes, are crammed with substances that can cause serious health problems if ingested. Lead can cause brain damage and pregnancy complications, for example, and cadmium can cause kidney disease. To prevent these poisons from ending up in landfills, EU regulators took a two-tiered approach. A law that took effect last year requires electronics firms to recycle their products, and the EU also enacted RoHS -- the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive-- to eliminate lead, cadmium, mercury, and three other toxic chemicals from electronic devices.

The federal government sets no limits on the chemicals used in electronics, but the power of RoHS extends far beyond Europe.

US companies must comply to retain their European customers. And after spending millions to eliminate the substances, companies like M/A-Com, which makes about 20 percent of its sales in Europe , plan to sell their cleaner products not just to European clients, but also to customers in the rest of the world.

Dick Anderson, senior principal engineer at M/A-Com's research and development group, said the approximately $1 million cost of complying with the European law will be good for business.

"In addition to doing this because it's the law, we're doing it because it differentiates us," Anderson said. He figures that even US customers will choose M/A-Com's components over those made by rivals who haven't been as quick to clean up.

Other Massachusetts technology firms don't think they'll profit from obeying the European standard because they expect their competitors to comply as well. "There's no economic benefit we can derive from this," said Denny Lane, director of product management at Stratus Technologies Inc. of Maynard, a maker of computers and data storage systems. "We can't say, 'We're green and you're not.' "

Still, Lane, who holds a degree in environmental biology, favors the EU standards, even though compliance has cost his company "hundreds of thousands" of dollars. "This is important," said Lane, "maybe not for my kids, but my kids' kids."

America's biggest consumer electronics firms are also committed to compliance. Leading desktop computer maker Dell Inc. says its product line is almost all Euro-ready. Apple Computer Inc. said that its iPod Nano and Shuffle music players meet the European standard and that all Apple products will comply with the EU regulations by July 1.

Many businesses won't reveal exactly how much they've spent on RoHS compliance. But Pamela Gordon, president of Technology Forecasters Inc., a consulting firm in Alameda, Calif., estimates that US electronics firms will spend a total of $3.5 billion.

Kenneth Stanvick, senior vice president and co-founder of Design Chain Associates LLC in Pelham, N.H., said that some smaller electronics firms haven't complied with the EU regulations, and hope to slip past European regulators undetected. "It's risk management," he said. "What are my chances of getting caught?"

But the odds against scofflaws will only get worse. China plans to enforce an even stricter law beginning next March; South Korea will set similar standards starting next July. And California has enacted its own standards, which take effect in January.

Attempts to evade government regulations are a waste of time, said Gordon of Technology Forecasters, "The astute electronics industry executive realizes that environmental requirements are here," Gordon said. "They're not going anywhere--they're going global."

Compliance with the new EU rule has not been easy. Boston modem maker Zoom Technologies Inc. had to cancel a new product planned for the European market because it couldn't be made in compliance with the law.

"It turns out there's this one chip that we can't get," said Zoom president Frank Manning . The only available version of the vital chip contained toxic chemicals, and Zoom's order wouldn't have been large enough for its maker to justify making a clean version.

A half-century ago, new soldering techniques enabled the mass production of today's cheap electronic equipment. Today, the challenge is to keep producing a vast array of electronic devices without depending on lead solder. The alternatives, mostly based on tin, require far hotter temperatures, which in turn can cause circuit boards and other components to melt or crack. Switching to tin solder not only requires new soldering gear, but also product redesigns, and exhaustive testing of the finished components. At M/A-Com, engineers test the lead-free components under vibration and extreme heat and cold , then study the results under microscopes, in search of fatal defects just a few microns in size.

Even so, tin solder still isn't as reliable as lead. So lead solder is still permitted in devices with military and aerospace applications, and in heavy-duty computer servers made by companies such as Stratus. Even these exceptions will be reviewed every four years -- and eliminated when European authorities judge that lead-free solders have become more reliable.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

Copyright Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


From: Chemical & Engineering News (pg. 45) ...........[This story printer-friendly]
June 5, 2006


White House proposal could impede broad range of government activities, agency representatives warn

[Rachel's introduction: The White House has found a way to bring government regulation to a crawl, and perhaps a halt: delay governmental action until a high degree of scientific certainty has been achieved in the risk assessments that accompany new regulations.]

By Cheryl Hogue

A White House plan for standardizing risk assessments across the U.S. government is well-intended, representatives of federal agencies told a National Research Council (NRC) committee late last month. But as laid out in January by the President's Office of Management & Budget (OMB), the proposal is likely to snarl government action, they warned, giving plenty of examples.

Adherence to the proposed guidelines, they said, could deter the Food & Drug Administration from telling the public about serious health effects from a prescription drug. Or impede the National Institutes of Health from providing guidance to health professionals about handling blood from patients with HIV. Or slow down the Department of Agriculture's assessments of whether a low-income pregnant woman, infant, or young child is at risk of insufficient nutrition and thus qualifies for supplemental foods provided by the government. Or hamper the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's ability to issue informational bulletins about potential workplace hazards. Or cause the National Aeronautics & Space Administration to ditch years of work compiling detailed risk assessment procedures that are highly specific to space missions.

OMB's draft bulletin is designed to set minimum standards for the scientific quality of federal agency assessments of risk to human health, safety, or the environment. The guidance would require agencies to describe the methods, assumptions, and uncertainties in calculating a risk assessment and to provide a range of risk estimates. It would apply to risk assessments performed for regulation of pollutants, approval of new pharmaceuticals, and development of safety systems for nuclear and chemical plants, liquefied natural gas terminals, and space shuttles (C&EN, Jan. 16, page 6).

OMB asked NRC to review the proposal and to make suggestions for improving it. The NRC committee reviewing the plan held its first public meeting on May 22 to gather information. Members of the panel got an earful from agency officials as well as from representatives of academia, industry, and public interest groups.

John D. Graham, credited as the chief architect of the risk assessment proposal, said the guidelines would apply to risk assessments done for regulation, such as Environmental Protection Agency controls on chemicals. They would also cover deregulation, such as the U.S. decision to accept shipments of Canadian beef again after Canada put systems in place to prevent mad cow disease, he said. The bulletin is an internal guidance document that sets out OMB's expectations of how agencies are to operate, he said.

Graham, who was the administrator of OMB's Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) from 2001 until earlier this year, is now dean of the RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif.

Representatives from federal agencies said they supported the broad goals of the bulletin, but most also laid out specific concerns about how the proposal could inhibit key activities.

Steven K. Galson, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation & Research, said OMB's bulletin would enhance the quality of his agency's risk assessments. But it also may deter the agency from activities that are important for protecting public health, he said.

For instance, the proposal's definition of risk assessment is too broad, capturing activities that are not intended as formal risk assessments, Galson said.

This broad definition could have serious impacts on FDA's getting critical information to physicians and patients quickly about drugs, medical devices, or foods, Galson said. He pointed out that this kind of risk information is used not by federal regulators but by doctors and patients to select the best course of action for patients.

For instance, FDA may, in the interest of protecting public health, wish to inform the public about an adverse effect from a drug before the agency can, through a formal risk assessment, define the relationship between dose and outcomes, he said. Such a situation occurred in June 2005 when FDA alerted the public about potential suicidal thoughts and behavior in adults being treated with antidepressant medications. The agency did so before it had completed a formal review of the issue, which is still in process.

In addition, the agency is concerned that the OMB bulletin could hamper FDA response to diseases that require rapid action, such as a pandemic flu, Galson said.

The bulletin needs to distinguish "discovery research," such as studies conducted by NIH, from risk assessments prepared by regulatory agencies, said Christopher J. Portier, associate director for risk assessment at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Because they identify hazards associated with chemicals, human health studies and toxicology tests may eventually feed into risk assessments conducted by regulatory agencies, he pointed out. But the studies themselves, as well as National Toxicology Program products, such as the congressionally mandated report on carcinogens, need to be explicitly excluded from the bulletin's sweep, he said.

Meanwhile, many of the risk assessments done by USDA affect regulatory actions pertaining to pests, diseases, safety of meat and poultry, and release of genetically engineered organisms and would fall under the proposed guidelines, said Linda Abbott, USDA senior scientist for risk modeling. The department, however, is most concerned about whether the OMB bulletin would apply to evaluations of people who may be eligible for benefits under WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children.

The proposal could also apply to assessments done to determine the risks of individual farmer's fields to erosion and for other environmental impacts. If the planned standards cover assessments of such individual needs, some activities of the department could face serious delays, she told the NRC committee.

Similarly, OSHA uses risk assessments almost exclusively for its regulatory actions, said William Perry, acting deputy director of the agency's standards and guidance directorate. The bulletin would apply to those risk assessments. However, OSHA is unsure whether the guidelines would also affect the nonregulatory, informational bulletins that it issues occasionally about workplace hazards, Perry said. For instance, OSHA and EPA in 2000 jointly issued an informational bulletin warning about a little-known risk from molten 2,4-dichlorophenol (C&EN, May 1, 2000, page 49).

EPA is the agency rumored to be the main target of the OMB bulletin. George M. Gray, the agency's science adviser, said, though, that EPA "is in pretty good shape" for complying with the planned risk assessment guidelines. The proposal, however, does not address how interagency disputes over risk assessments will be resolved, Gray told the NRC committee.

EPA has found itself at odds with other agencies in some of its chemical-specific assessments. Notably, the agency's preliminary drinking water standard for perchlorate came under heavy fire from the Pentagon, the Department of Energy (DOE), NASA, and their contractors, all of which face liability for pollution from this component of rocket fuel and wanted a more relaxed standard. Eventually, NRC got involved in the dispute and offered a safe daily dose number that was higher than EPA's but would translate into a lower drinking water standard for perchlorate than suggested by the military (C&EN, Jan. 17, 2005, page 13).

Gray and Homayoon Dezfuli, manager for system safety at NASA's Office of Safety & Mission Assurance, pointed out that their agencies have developed their own policies and procedures for risk assessments. OMB's draft bulletin is silent on the role of these agency-specific guidelines.

Dezfuli added that some of the proposal's standards are of limited applicability to the agency's risk assessments or are inconsistent with NASA's formal risk assessment procedures, which represent years of effort. Harmonizing NASA's procedures to the ones proposed by OMB would be a difficult task, he added.

In contrast with many agencies' worries about OMB's bulletin, Shannon E. Cunniff, director of emerging contaminants at the Department of Defense (DOD), indicated no concerns about the proposed standards to the NRC panel.

The plan would apply to many of the military's risk assessments, she said. Most focus on occupational issues, ranging from explosive safety to the air quality inside submarines, but DOD also does site-specific assessments of the risks from contaminants at its facilities, Cunniff said. She added that the military is still trying to determine whether the bulletin would be applicable to weapons safety.

Al Cobb, senior policy adviser in DOE's Office of Policy & International Affairs, said his department probably has "the least interest" in the bulletin among federal agencies because it has virtually no regulatory role. However, DOE is interested in seeing consistency among risk assessments in the government, he said.

John F. Ahearne, chair of the NRC committee, suggested that the bulletin may affect DOE risk assessments done in connection with the cleanup of sites such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. Ahearne is director of the ethics program at Sigma Xi, the scientific research society.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how OMB would ensure that agencies comply with its risk assessment guidelines. The committee asked Nancy Beck, a toxicologist and risk assessor at OIRA, about the consequences for an agency that does not follow the guidelines. She responded, "We haven't gotten that far."

Graham, the former OIRA chief, told the panel that OMB is "not toothless" in ensuring that agencies follow its bulletins because OMB determines agencies' annual budgets.

The committee also heard critiques of the proposal from those outside the government. The draft bulletin uses a definition of risk assessment that is broader than the standard one, which is "the probability as well as the severity of risk," said Gilbert S. Omenn, professor of medicine, genetics, and public health at the University of Michigan Medical School. He chaired a congressionally mandated commission that produced a 1997 report delineating the appropriate uses of risk assessment and risk management in federal regulation.

"OMB has tried to put too much in there," agreed Alan J. Krupnick, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. He and Omenn, however, endorsed the draft bulletin's intent of improving risk assessment throughout the government.

Risk assessment, Omenn said, is distinct from the identification of hazard presented by a commercial chemical, drug, or other agent, Thus, he said, risk assessment does not include identification of hazards, toxicology studies, structure-activity relationships, modeling, or epidemiology studies. All of these, he said, are "preliminary" to risk assessment. Omenn urged that the final version of the bulletin clearly state that research on hazards does not fall under the proposed guidance.

The NRC committee also heard a variety of arguments about one particular provision in the draft guidelines. This part would require federal risk assessments to provide a range of risk estimates, from what some describe as the "worst case" to the "best case."

Cunniff endorsed ranges instead of a "point estimate," a single number in an assessment reflecting the best judgment on what the risk is most likely to be. Although risk managers tend to prefer a single point estimate, this provides "a false sense of precision that can be misleading to the public," she said.

But point estimates are appropriate because they are provided through the expert judgment of risk assessors, said Robert Shull, director of regulatory policy at watchdog group OMB Watch. Providing "mushy ranges when point estimates are needed" inappropriately hands over part of the risk assessor's job to policymakers deciding how to manage risk, he said.

Judith A. Graham, managing director of the American Chemistry Council's long-range research initiative team, said ranges of risk can be useful to risk managers. "I don't see how information is bad as long as it doesn't cause paralysis by analysis," she said.

Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said scientists within agencies often have expertise specific to a narrow subject or location. The bulletin, by setting government-wide standards, would strip these scientists of their ability to provide expert judgments to agency decisionmakers, she said. Shull agreed, saying the proposal would shift such judgments from agencies to OMB.

The bulletin puts the onus on agencies to justify the risk assessments underlying their regulatory decisions. Omenn and Sass pointed out, however, that it explicitly excludes analyses by companies seeking licenses, approvals, permits, and registrations from the federal government. "I think that might be revisited," Omenn said.

ACC's Graham argued that the proposed standards should cover risk assessments for agencies' overall policies for licensing, permitting, or other approval, but not for those affecting decisions on companies' products.

Lorenz Rhomberg, a principal at Gradient Corp., an environmental consulting company, expressed concern about the proposal's broad call for agencies to describe uncertainties in risk assessments. It is difficult to deal with uncertainty comprehensively, he said, because "someone can always think up" another factor that the assessment has not addressed. Also, no scientific standards exist for analysis of uncertainty. Rhomberg added that simply laying out uncertainties without suggesting which are the most important is not helpful to decisionmakers.

Sass noted that although the bulletin contains some positive aspects, it lays out a burdensome approach that will hamper agencies from taking regulatory action.

ACC's Graham, in contrast, had only praise for the bulletin. "The bulletin is essential," she said, adding that it "will invigorate the scientific community that has advanced the knowledge of chemicals and ways to assess them only to be frustrated when that knowledge and more sophisticated practice was not used" by agencies.

John D. Graham, the former OMB official, said the draft risk assessment bulletin is likely to be revised in light of the NRC committee's comments. Those are expected later this year.

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society


From: Kaiser Permanente ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 23, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: In 2005, Kaiser Permanente, the largest U.S. health maintenance organization, with headquarters in Oakland, California, adopted the precautionary principle to guide its purchase, use and disposal of chemicals.]


Kaiser Permanente aspires to create an environment for its workers, members and visitors that is free from the hazards posed by chemicals that are harmful to humans, animals and the environment.

Alignment with KP Values:

Linkages to Kaiser Permanente's Mission

KP's mission is to provide affordable, high-quality health care services to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Our concern for the health of our communities extends to the air we breathe and the water we drink. (KP 2002-03 Annual Report)

KP's Environmental Stewardship Vision

We aspire to provide health care services in a manner that protects and enhances the environment and health of communities now and for future generations.

Alignment with Externally-Developed Environmental Concepts:

The Precautionary Principle

When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. (From definition created at the Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle, January, 1998.)

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

EPR is an environmental policy approach in which a producer's responsibility, physical and/or financial, for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product's life cycle. Manufacturers should have a responsibility for the health impacts of the chemicals they use and the products they create. Purchasers of these products and chemicals have the right to request safety testing and full disclosure of the results. Two key features are: (1) the shifting of responsibility (physically and/or economically, fully or partially) upstream to the producer and away from municipalities and purchasers, and (2) to provide incentives to producers to take environmental considerations into the design of the product. (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1994 Guidance Manual)


1. In the U.S. we are experiencing alarming increases in chronic diseases. Cancer, asthma, birth defects, developmental disabilities, autism, endometriosis, and infertility are becoming increasingly common. Mounting evidence links incidence and severity of these diseases to environmental toxicants.

2. Lack of information from manufacturers of products used in health care about all chemicals, ingredients, and processes used in manufacturing.

3. Lack of safety testing to identify health and environmental impacts for the majority of industrial chemicals.

4. Burdens faced by users (KP) due to the lack of information:

** ascertaining potential health impacts of products

** conducting assessments of products (resources, expertise, data)

** public concern

** research work and testing required of purchasers that want to ensure products and chemicals are safe

** making product selection decisions without adequate information

** continued use of potentially hazardous materials

** potential liability

** unpredictable regulatory climate

** costs to organizations due to above listed burdens

5. Underclassification or mischaracterization of hazardous compounds.


We will take the following actions to achieve our vision:

Internal focus

** Identify high priority chemicals and chemical groups; regularly update and prioritize this data resulting in a living list of chemicals of concern

** Conduct an inventory of product standards for presence of chemicals of concern

** Understand cost implications of substitutions and incorporate cost of ownership model into purchasing systems

** Communicate preferences to GPO, vendors and manufacturers

** When appropriate, communicate desired alternatives and reasons to employees, members and the communities we serve

** Continue to pursue green building activities

** Develop goals and metrics to measure progress and include mechanisms for sharing successes and lessons with the public

Contracting focus

** Create appropriate contractual obligations with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors to:

** avoid identified chemicals of concern

** conduct and share results of extended toxicity testing

** disclose processes that use chemicals of concern even if the chemicals used in the processes are not a part of the end product

** Substitute safer alternatives identified through hazard analysis

** Integrate a cost-of-ownership approach to assessing alternative products

External focus

** Support sound public policies that promote greater evaluation of chemicals and public disclosure

** Influence manufacturers to provide materials disclosure and performance of safety tests

** Promote labeling of products with all ingredients

** Influence medical research into less hazardous clinical and laboratory products and processes


From: New York Newsday ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "As we attempt to preserve habitat, we should follow the precautionary principle: Even if science has not yet determined every last detail of how a habitat nurtures fish, if we have strong evidence that it's essential, we must preserve it."]

On the way from the deep to our plates, the life journey of fish depends heavily on preservation of the habitat that produces them. So the struggle over habitat is vital to the well-being of our seas and the survival of the fishing industry.

That fight takes many forms.

The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, which updated the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act, ordered the regional fishery management councils to designate and protect essential fish habitat for federally managed fish species. That gives councils a powerful tool for commenting on - and even influencing -- actions by other agencies that might harm habitat. But it's a tool not always used. So environmental groups have more than once sued the federal fishery bureaucracy for failing to consider habitat sufficiently.

One suit involved tilefish, a major species for Montauk. In crafting a management plan, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council did examine whether some fishermen, using trawling gear to chase other fish, are hurting tilefish burrows. The council found insufficient evidence of damage to burrows. So the Natural Resources Defense Council sued in 2001, arguing that the analysis was defective, and the government should have protected the habitat. The NRDC lost, but there will be other suits, here and elsewhere.

Another habitat protection strategy, not yet widely enough used, is the designation of marine protected areas, where fishermen either can't fish at all or can't use gear that would damage habitat. One ardent advocate of this is right here on Long Island: David Conover, the dean of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University.

When commercial fishermen hear "essential fish habitat," they fear closure of areas where they've fished for years. When recreational fishermen hear "marine protected area," that sounds to them like closure too. So some recreational fishermen have been pushing for "freedom to fish" legislation, to block the designation of protected areas. So far, it hasn't made much headway. Nor should it.

After all, marine protected areas are not exactly new. Rod Fujita, an Environmental Defense expert on this, points out that, for centuries, Pacific Islanders took that holistic approach, to conserve the precious resource that kept them alive. There's no reason it can't work now. In fact, in the North Pacific region, 380,000 square nautical miles of ocean, the size of New England, are already protected from bottom trawling.

Habitat issues are not easy. For example, it seems like just common sense to say that we should protect coral formations, the nurseries for many species, from trawling gear damage. Fishermen argue that no sane fisherman would hurt coral -- but some fishermen must be doing it. The advocacy organization Oceana has strong before-and-after photographic evidence.

As we attempt to preserve habitat, we should follow the precautionary principle: Even if science has not yet determined every last detail of how a habitat nurtures fish, if we have strong evidence that it's essential, we must preserve it.

In addition to conserving fish, we must protect fishing communities. So, if habitat preservation requires a reduction of trawling, policy makers must find ways to ease transition costs for fishermen, such as buying back excess gear that current practices and market conditions encouraged them to buy.

Habitat preservation demands cooperation, not conflict: a creative alignment of science and markets, to save both fish and fishermen. It's a harmony that we must achieve.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #41 ...................[This story printer-friendly]
June 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has issued a "call for workshops" for its National Environmental Public Health Conference, Dec. 4-6, 2006. We are told that workshops on the precautionary principle would be welcome. Who will step up to the plate?]

By Peter Montague

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta will be sponsoring the 2006 National Environmental Public Health Conference December 4-6 in Atlanta with the theme, "Advancing Environmental Public Health: Science, Practice, New Frontiers."

We have it on good authority that the organizers of the conference would be receptive to a proposal for a workshop on the precautionary principle. This is an opportunity to promote discussion of precautionary perspectives within the National Center for Environmental Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and their umbrella organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The deadline for submitting proposals for workshops is August 1. A form must be filled out and submitted via email to conference organizer Dr. Stephen Margolis at smargolis@cdc.gov. The necessary form can be found here.

Complete the form, save a copy, and submit it as an e-mail attachment to smargolis@cdc.gov. The form is a Word document and the shaded areas will expand to accept your responses.

If you have questions regarding your submission, please contact: Dr. Stephen Margolis at smargolis@cdc.gov [Telephone: (404) 498-0193]


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.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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