Rachel's Precaution Reporter #54
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

From: SantaCruzLive.com ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
September 3, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In California, a proposed state law lapsed without a Senate vote Sept. 2, ending, at least for now, a campaign by agribusiness corporations to outlaw a precautionary approach to genetically modified crops.]

By Bert Muhly

[RPR introduction: This article describes California Senate Bill 1056, an attempt by agribusiness firms to pass a state law preempting county ordinances that have banned genetically modified crops in Marin, Mendocino, Trinity and Santa Cruz counties. Senate Bill 1056 was passed by the Assembly but failed in the Senate Sept. 2.)

It is officially recorded as Senate Bill 1056, but it is popularly known in the halls of the California State Legislature as the Monsanto Bill as it streaks along a well-greased track through the legislative process toward Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for signing, guided by its handpicked author, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

It is called the Monsanto Bill because it was apparently introduced at the behest of the corporate agribusiness giant Monsanto, whose objective is to continue its presently unregulated and unaccountable practices of genetically engineering foods in California.

If SB 1056 is enacted, it would prevent local governments from legislating against genetically modified crops, in spite of indisputable proof that the federal government and state government have heretofore defaulted in the responsibility of each to assure the protection of the health, safety and general welfare of the people.

The proof is contained in the extremely well researched 56-page report to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors by the Genetic Engineering GE Subcommittee of the Public Health Commission of the County of Santa Cruz. The report's findings and recommendations caused the board, on June 20, to approve unanimously an ordinance that established a precautionary moratorium prohibiting the planting and production of genetically engineered crops in Santa Cruz County.

The GE report to the board was the result of a 10-month study by the aforementioned subcommittee. The 14 members of the subcommittee were picked from diverse sectors of county agricultural interests and qualified members of academia to undertake the required research. The report includes findings that emphatically challenge assertions by supporters of the Monsanto Bill who claim that regulation by local government is unnecessary because the industry is already highly scrutinized by the federal government. See Santa Cruz Sentinel, Saturday, Aug. 26, page A10, a report by Kimberly Geiger, under the headline, "Bill would ban local rules on bioengineered crops."

Critical issues of concern that led the GE subcommittee to recommend the countywide adoption of a precautionary moratorium, which is in direct opposition to the supporters of SB 1056, are as follows, taken directly from the executive summary of their report.

** Inadequate regulatory monitoring and oversight of genetically engineered crops at the federal and state level to ensure public health and environmental safety. A recent audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general found that the agency is not living up to its own protocols for GE crop regulation. The report found that the USDA did not know the location of many of the GE test sites being used; some GE test crops, including drug-containing crops, remained the test fields and contaminated subsequent harvests; and some crops not approved for human consumption have found their way in to the food supply.

** Health testing of the effects of exposure to GE organisms is not required by any government agency. The lack of comprehensive safety testing leaves a potentially dangerous scientific void in the knowledge available about the short- and long-term health effects of GE foods.

** Farmers and gardeners who choose not to grow GE crops have no legal recourse if contaminated by GE pollen or seeds.

** There is no legal requirement to label GE seeds or rootstock, thus eliminating farmers' or gardeners' choices.

** Adequate safeguards do not exist to prevent GE contamination of non-GE crops plants, insects, domesticated animals, wild life and wild lands, that can result from forces of nature and human causes. Once GE pollen is released into the environment, there is no known ability to reverse the process. The resulting impacts on ecosystems are unknown.

The Santa Cruz study and the report clearly exposes the GE issue as more of a public health issue than an agricultural issue, certainly of a magnitude not to be summarily handed over the domains of corporate agribusiness and/or the California Farm Bureau Federation.

At the Assembly Agriculture Committee hearing on June 26, those of us from Santa Cruz among the overflow crowd from throughout the state were there in opposition to the bill. Our testimony was dismissed by the committee chairwoman as being irrelevant to the issues presented by the content of SB 1056. As a retired practitioner and teacher of urban and regional planning, and as a former mayor and city councilman, I was told by the chairwoman that I could only state my name and whether I was for or against the bill, while I was trying to support testimony of the legislative representatives from the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, who have consistently been in opposition to the bill because of its ill-thought-out potential negative impacts on zoning and related local regulatory ordinances.

Although the Santa Cruz County delegation was not allowed to testify at this so-called "hearing," we distributed copies of this report, or the executive summary thereof, to each member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee before early August, when they voted the bill out of the Assembly committee. Obviously, they were not inclined the read the material, since six committee members were co-authors of the bill.

On Aug. 24, the Assembly voted for passage of the bill 51-24. Assemblyman John Laird should be given great credit and thanks for his vigorous opposition to the bill. He garnered at least 24 votes to slow down the Monsanto Express heading full throttle toward Gov. Schwarzenegger's office. As may be expected, Florez, the author of the bill, has already received assurance from the governor's office that Schwarzenegger will sign the bill. But the governor and his staff will have every opportunity to read the full Santa Cruz report before the bill reaches his desk. And if he should then wish to take a responsible position on this industry-generated bill, he would be wise to tell Sen. Florez to yank the bill from the Senate floor and to read the Santa Cruz GE report in its entirety. He should then advise Sen. Florez that if confronted with the need to veto the bill, he will include in his veto message this belief, borrowed from the Santa Cruz Health Commission report.

"It is the responsibility and purview of the State of California to establish regulatory oversight to ensure public and environmental health and safety, which, to this date, the State has clearly not done. In the absence of that oversight every county and every city of California has the right and responsibility to take action by implementing a Precautionary Moratorium that protects the health of each county and city and its residents, and in doing so, sends a strong message to the State to follow suit."


Bert Muhly, a former Santa Cruz mayor, is a Santa Cruz resident.

Copyright 1999-2006 Santa Cruz Sentinel.


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #54 ...................[This story printer-friendly]
September 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A reader from India asks whether the Coca- Cola Company has violated the precautionary principle, and columnist Carolyn Raffensperger responds.]

To the editors:

Thank you for the very informative Rachel's Precaution Reporter which we have used to keep updated on the various campaigns internationally.

I am writing specifically in regards to the Coca-Cola company and its practices in India. We, the India Resource Center, work actively with communities in India to challenge the company's abusive practices in India. The Coca-Cola company is accused of

1. creating severe water shortages across India by significantly depleting groundwater

2. polluting the land and groundwater by discharging its toxic waste indiscriminately

3. selling products in India with high levels of pesticides

In a highly irresponsible act, the Coca-Cola company has located many of its bottling plants in drought-prone areas of India, and as a result, the already existing water crisis has been further exacerbated as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations.

The campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable is very strong, and one of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India has been shut down since March 2004 as a result. In the US, New York University has banned Coca-Cola and the University of Michigan has placed the company on probation -- until it cleans up its act.

The Coca-Cola company has recently signed on to the UN Global Compact, which I am sure you are aware of. One of the Principles of the Global Compact is that "Business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges."

We would like to understand from you if and how the Coca-Cola company may be in violation of the Precautionary Principle in India.

Thank you

Amit Srivastava Coordinator India Resource Center www.IndiaResource.org

Dear Mr. Srivastava,

Yes, Coca-Cola is in violation of the Global Compact, particularly the precautionary principle. The Global Compact is a U.N.-led international effort to engage business in supporting 10 universal labor and environmental principles. But it is voluntary. The U.N. lacks any enforcement mechanisms and so Coca-Cola is in violation of the social contract established between society and companies and it's in violation of the ecological contract all of us hold with nature.

But Coca-Cola is not breaking any enforceable precautionary law.

The environmental provisions in the Compact, including the precautionary principle, are derived from the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, an international agreement drafted in 1992. While numerous countries have signed on to the Rio Declaration and other lofty international documents, until the year 2000, the precautionary principle was aspirational and not hard law. That has since changed with the passage of two international treaties and a law -- the Biosafety Protocol, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS treaty) and a new law enacted in 2003 by the City of San Francisco. The precautionary principle now guides major environmental efforts on toxic chemicals (POPS treaty), environmentally friendly purchasing (San Francisco) and genetically modified organisms (Biosafety Protocol).

But, these treaties and laws only bind governments, not corporations. While they will affect business, they still don't require Coca-Cola, or any other corporation to actually do anything. This provides a marvelous opportunity for India to lead the way and put teeth into the precautionary principle and actually hold corporations legally accountable.

Where might India (or one of its states like Kerala) start in putting the precautionary principle into law binding corporations?

A good beginning step would be to define the role of the government, not as balancing competing interests, but as serving as trustee of the commons -- particularly water -- for this and future generations. Government has not only a right, but a responsibility, to safeguard the essential necessities of life so that it can sustain life and health for the children of our grandchildren. The best way to fulfill that responsibility is to use the precautionary principle. We have some legal language from the Supreme Court of Hawaii that makes the case that trusteeship of the commons requires the precautionary principle.

Secondly, a government could legally define how they would apply the precautionary principle to the commons. One possibility might be to codify the Natural Step as a matter of law. The Natural Step argues that it is not sustainable when society (or a corporation) depletes or degrades a resource like water faster than the Earth can replenish it. Applying the precautionary principle to this ecological rule (of not depleting and/or degrading it faster than it can be replaced) means that if a corporation might deplete the water supply faster than it could be replenished, the activity would be prevented and all parties would seek better alternatives.

Finally, the state could appoint or elect a guardian for future generations that could veto corporate abuses of common resources. Some U.S. states have public intervenors or advocates that have power to go to court on behalf of children, the handicapped or natural resources. Expanding this power to fulfill our responsibility to future generations while meeting the needs of this generation, would go a long way to giving the precautionary principle the needed legal clout and bind corporations.

Until that happens, we can revoke our side of the social contract and refuse to buy products from companies that have violated their agreements with society to behave decently and treat the Earth as if they had to share it with the rest of us.

Of course Coca-Cola is emblematic of a larger structural problem -- the publicly-held corporation. Corporations were initially created as subordinate entities but over time they have become, in some sense, independent governing bodies. Many people recognize the importance of this problem, but still aren't sure what might be done about it. In the U.S., good work on corporate power is being done by the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD), and by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which operates an important Democracy School for citizens.

Perhaps you, or other readers of the Precaution Reporter, have additional ideas about how to make a precautionary approach legally binding?

Best wishes, Carolyn


From: The Guardian (UK) ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 31, 2006


Cameron's Conservatives have recognised that we can benefit the economy and the environment at the same time

[Rachel's introduction: In England, the Conservative Party has adopted the precautionary principle for global warming: "The argument in favour of taking strong action to counter climate change is overwhelming, which is why the Conservative party's Quality of Life Policy Group has taken as its starting point an assumption that climate change is real enough to justify the precautionary principle."]

By Zac Goldsmith

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently described the economy as "a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment". Calling for an immediate response to climate change, he said "the Earth itself is what ultimately controls economic activity because it is the source of the materials upon which economic activity works".

His view, echoed by the likes of Nobel economics laureates Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz among a great many others, is that we need a new type of market economics -- an approach that actually takes the planet into account. It may seem like an obvious call, but it's an approach that until recently couldn't have been further from that of our current, or previous governments. We have had strong words -- but little action.

But that is changing. Climate change -- for so long an abstract concern for an academic few -- is no longer so abstract. Even the Bush administration's Climate Change Science Programme reports "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system". The strength of that consensus is such that we are presented with a window of opportunity between the denial of yesterday and the despair of tomorrow. We are at a fork in the road -- on one side is complacency and the pursuit of short-term economic growth, on the other the pursuit of innovation, the development of new technologies, and the realisation of our ability to reconcile economic growth with long-term sustainability.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, speaking in Japan today, will describe environmental pollution as a market failure. "It is a classic case of what economists call an externality. Because the pollution is external to the market, polluting can make life easier, while the true cost is paid not by the polluter, but by everyone else." Given what we can expect if even the most conservative climate change predictions are accurate, failure to correct this market failure is not an option.

Christian Aid, for instance, recently warned that 184 million people in Africa alone could die as a result of water and food shortages caused by climate change before the end of the century. The International Red Cross has said that it does not expect international aid to be able to keep up with the impact of climate change. And according to the world's biggest insurer, Munich Re, economic losses linked to climate change have increased by a factor of eight since the 1960s. The UN environment programme's insurers believe worldwide annual losses will exceed $300bn in 50 years time.

Clearly it is impossible to make a definitive prediction on the future impacts of climate change, but we have only to take into account the horrific effects of Hurricane Katrina, both in human and financial terms, to glimpse the potential climate change has for wreaking havoc on our infrastructures.

The argument in favour of taking strong action to counter climate change is overwhelming, which is why the Conservative party's Quality of Life Policy Group has taken as its starting point an assumption that climate change is real enough to justify the precautionary principle. And, contrary to the government's negative approach, the Conservative party recognises that, while climate change presents an unprecedented risk, it also presents real long-term economic opportunities.

We cannot, for instance, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions without major investment in new, clean technology -- there are opportunities to be found in the need for change. For those at the forefront of delivering a low-carbon economy, these opportunities will come from developing high-value jobs, greater energy efficiency, and secure, affordable energy supplies.

The UK has the opportunity to become a leader in new renewable energy technologies, with London becoming a major financial centre at the heart of trading carbon and raising capital for the "new investment frontier". In doing so we will enhance our competitive advantage, not reduce it.

Indeed, where companies have already begun to invest in low carbon technologies and energy efficiency, they are being rewarded financially. Dupont, for instance, has reduced its emissions by 72% since 1990, saving more than $3bn in the process. GE has promised to double its investment in environmental technologies to $1.5bn by 2010. Goldman Sachs, Wall Street's best-known investment bank, is currently ploughing more than $1bn into clean technologies.

These initiatives are happening both as a result of consumer pressure and because they make financial sense. But it is the role now of government to provide a more stable, long-term policy framework in order to help unleash the wave of innovation that is needed.

Recently, the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change wrote to the government calling for more support for this transition to a low- carbon economy. It is these long-term policies that the quality of life policy group is helping the Conservative party to develop. We must establish how to build consensus in society on high-impact actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and seek ways to revitalise the international political process around global solutions to climate change. Britain can be used as proof that you can reduce carbon emissions without losing economic advantage or sacrificing quality of life.

We need to look again at the range of current incentives and what messages they send to business and consumers. Without a doubt, a more honest application of the principle that the polluter pays is needed, along with long-term innovative and sustainable market mechanisms such as emissions trading schemes, eco-labelling programmes, renewable energy targets, cleaner public transport, improved building regulations and so on.

And, as George Osborne will point out in Japan, we will need to make more use of eco taxes. "We should move some of the burden of taxation away from income and capital, and towards taxes on environmentally damaging behaviour. Instead of a tax system that penalises hard work and enterprise, we need to move towards more effective and fair taxes on pollution."

Climate change presents us with an uncomplicated choice. If we are wrong about the dangers, these initiatives come with no downside. But if we are right and we fail to act, the consequences don't bear thinking about.

Zac Goldsmith is the deputy chair of the Conservative party's quality of life policy group.


From: MindaNews ...........................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 30, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "We have to protect first our people and environment," he said, using the precautionary principle against the alleged ill effects of aerial spraying [of pesticides] on the health of residents and the environment near agricultural plantations.]

By Walter I. Balane, MindaNews

Davao City, Philippines, August 29 -- Banana firms should not threaten the city government that they will move out of if an ordinance banning aerial spraying is passed, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said.

If the firms leave, it may be difficult at first, he admitted "but we will survive eventually." "We have to protect first our people and environment," he said.

Duterte was reacting to reports that banana firms were threatening to leave the city when the proposed law banning aerial spraying is passed.

The Council was expected to vote today on the proposed ban but instead tasked an ad hoc committee to sum up all positions and recommendations. It was not the first time the Council postponed the vote. On August 8, the Council decided to convene as a committee of the whole on August 23 to deliberate on the issue.

Duterte said if the industry could show enough proof that aerial spraying does not harm health and environment, "then we could make them use aerial spraying".

The city government is using the precautionary principle against the alleged ill effects of aerial spraying on the health of residents and the environment near agricultural plantations.

But the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) debunked the claims and said member-companies that use the method are responsible and have taken safety measures. In a statement published in local newspapers last week, it expressed confidence in the city council's deliberations.

City officials have confirmed strong lobbying from the banana industry not to pass the ordinance and instead bat for more regulation.

Many councilors received persistent calls from the banana industry, Councilor Leonardo Avila, environment committee chair, told MindaNews Monday.

The ad hoc body, composed of councilors Avila, Jesus Zozobrado, Nenita Orcullo, and Bonifacio Militar, was given 15 days after the receipt of the minutes to consolidate the proceedings of Avila's committee report on August 8, the positions from stakeholders during the August 23 special session, and the discussions of the session today.

Charito Santos, chief of the resolutions, ordinance and agenda division of the city council said it might take them at least a week to work on the minutes.

The councilors expected more inputs in today's session from Department of Health regional director Paulyn Russel Ubial. Ubial, who sent a representative to make a presentation on August 23.

Some councilors counted on Ubial's presentation for official findings on the alleged ill effects of aerial spraying on health. Rex Labadia, from the DOH's environmental health program told the city council today they could not conclusively say aerial spraying is harmful in the absence of a DOH study.

Supporters of the ban marched to City Hall after the session to express dismay over the delay of the approval.

But Duterte said he would not be moved by protesters.

"As much as we want this ordinance passed, we still respect the independence of the city council," he said. He said he will listen only to the city council. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)

Copyright Copyright 2006 MindaNews, A Publication of the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center


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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