Rachel's Precaution Reporter #39

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006..............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Global Coalition Sounds the Alarm On Synthetic Biology
  In October 2004, an editorial in the British scientific journal
  Nature warned, "If biologists are indeed on the threshold of
  synthesizing new life forms, the scope for abuse or inadvertent
  disaster could be huge." Now, less than two years later, there is no
  doubt that biologists have crossed that threshold. The race is on to
  invent and commercialize new forms of life never before seen on Earth.
The Catania Resolution On Electromagnetic Radiation
  The human body can be viewed as a machine whose internal parts
  communicate via chemicals and electricity. Can electromagnetic field
  (EMF) radiation from cell phones, cordless phones, wireless networks,
  etc. cause biological effects in humans? "The weight of evidence calls
  for preventive strategies based on the precautionary principle. At
  times the precautionary principle may involve prudent avoidance and
  prudent use."
School Board Adopts Precaution Toward Electromagnetic Radiation
  Considerable evidence now suggests that electromagnetic fields may
  cause biological effects in humans, so it makes sense to limit the
  exposure of children as a precautionary measure.
European Union's Communication On the Precautionary Principle
  The European Commission (EC) is the environmental agency of the
  European Union (EU). In 1992, the EU included the precautionary
  principle in its founding document, the Treaty on the European Union,
  also known as the Maastricht Treaty. In early 2000 the EC adopted a
  "Communication on the use of the precautionary principle," reprinted
  below, which spelled out how the principle would be applied in
  environmental decisions.


From: ETC Group, May 19, 2006
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A coalition of thirty-five international organizations has called for
inclusive public debate, regulation and oversight of the rapidly
advancing field of synthetic biology -- the construction of unique
and novel artificial life forms to perform specific tasks. The
coalition raising the alarm about synthetic bilogy includes
scientists, environmentalists, trade unionists, biowarfare experts and
social justice advocates.

Synthetic biologists are meeting this weekend [May 20-22] in Berkeley,
California where they plan to announce a voluntary code of self-
regulation for their work. The organizations signing the Open Letter
are calling on synthetic biologists to abandon their proposals for
self-governance and to engage in an inclusive process of global
societal debate on the implications of their work (see Open Letter,
appended below).

"The researchers meeting in Berkeley acknowledge the dangers of
synthetic biology in the hands of 'evildoers," but they naively
overlook the possibility -- or probability -- that members of their
own community won't be able to control or predict the behavior of
synthetic biology or its societal consequences," said Jim Thomas of
ETC Group.

"Scientists creating new life forms cannot be allowed to act as judge
and jury," explains Dr. Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch UK. "The
possible social, environmental and bio-weapons implications are all
too serious to be left to well-meaning but self-interested scientists.
Proper public debate, regulation and policing is needed."

In the last few years, synthetic biologists, by re-writing the genetic
code of DNA, have demonstrated the ability to build new viruses and
are now developing artificial life forms. In October last year,
synthetic biologists at the US Center for Disease Control re-created
the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed between 50-100 million
people[1] and last month scientists at the University of Wisconsin-
Madison created a new version of E. coli bacteria.[2] Meanwhile,
genomics mogul Craig Venter, whose former company, Celera, led the
commercial race to sequence the human genome, now heads a new company,
Synthetic Genomics, that aims to commercialize artificial microbes
for use in energy, agriculture and climate change remediation. It is
one of around 40 synthetic biology companies undertaking gene
synthesis and/or building artificial DNA.

"Biotech has already ignited worldwide protests, but synthetic biology
is like genetic engineering on steroids," says Dr. Doreen Stabinsky of
Greenpeace International. "Tinkering with living organisms that could
be released in the environment poses a grave biosafety threat to
people and the planet," adds Stabinsky.

In October 2004, an editorial in the journal Nature warned, "If
biologists are indeed on the threshold of synthesizing new life forms,
the scope for abuse or inadvertent disaster could be huge." The
editorial suggested that there may be a need for an "Asilomar-type"
conference on synthetic biology -- a reference to an historic meeting
in 1975 where scientists met to discuss biosafety risks associated
with genetic engineering and opted for self-governance which
ultimately pre-empted and avoided government regulation. Following the
Asilomar model the "Synthetic Biology Community" intends to use their
second conference (Synthetic Biology 2.0, 20-22 May 2006) to adopt a
code of self-governance for handling the biosafety risks.

According to the Open Letter, the effect of the Asilomar declaration
was to delay the development of appropriate government regulation and
to forestall discussion on how to address the wider socio-economic
impacts. Asilomar proved to be the wrong approach then, and Synthetic
Biology 2.0 is the wrong approach now.

"We scientists must come to terms with the fact that science can no
longer claim to be living in an abstract realm disconnected from the
rest of society," said Alexis Vlandas of International Engineers and
Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES).

The signatories to the Open Letter urge the synthetic biologists
meeting in Berkeley to withdraw their declaration of self-governance
and join in seeking a wider, inclusive dialogue.

A background note for press is available from the ETC Group at
www.etcgroup.org and at www.etcblog.org

[Afterword: The synthetic biology conference in Berkeley produced an
interim statement on self-regulation, which is still being discussed
via the internet before final approval by synthetic biologists.]


[1] Tumpey, TM et al (2005) Characterization of the Reconstructed 1918
Spanish Influenza Pandemic Virus. Science 310: 77-80.

[2] Posfai, G et al (2006) Emergent Properties of Reduced-Genome
Escherichia coli. Published online April 27 2006;
10.1126/science.1126439 (Science Express Reports).

Text of Open Letter:

An Open Letter from Social Movements and other Civil Society
Organizations to the Synthetic Biology 2.0 Conference May 20-22, 2006
Berkeley, California concerning the "community-wide vote" on
Biosecurity and Biosafety resolutions (to be implemented Jan 1, 2007.)

We are writing to express our deep concerns about the rapidly
developing field of Synthetic Biology that is attempting to create
novel life forms and artificial living systems. We believe that this
potentially powerful technology is being developed without proper
societal debate concerning socio-economic, security, health,
environmental and human rights implications. We are alarmed that
synthetic biologists meeting this weekend intend to vote on a scheme
of voluntary self-regulation without consulting or involving broader
social groups. We urge you to withdraw these self-governance proposals
and participate in a process of open and inclusive oversight of this

Asilomar 2.0? In 1975 a group of scientists convened at Asilomar to
try to address the safety hazards associated with genetic engineering.
The Asilomar meeting promoted self-regulation that had the result of
preempting public debate and preventing government action. Synthetic
Biology 2.0 follows down the same self-regulation road. The scope of
discussion at Asilomar was narrowly limited to questions of safety
hazards -- explicitly excluding broader socio-economic and ethical
issues. The effect of the Asilomar declaration was to delay the
development of appropriate government regulation and to forestall
discussion on how to address the wider socio- economic impacts.
Asilomar proved to be the wrong approach then, and Synthetic Biology
2.0 is the wrong approach now. We recognize that you are justifiably
concerned about certain risks of Synthetic Biology, but society
requires strong mandatory measures in accordance with the
precautionary principle to curtail these risks. As the chair of the
recent Boston 'Town Hall Meeting' speaking about the recent proposals
said: "I don't think this will have a significant impact on the misuse
of this technology." We agree that these proposals will be
ineffectual. Moreover, the social, economic, ethical, environmental
and human rights concerns that arise from the field of synthetic
biology go far beyond deterring bioterrorists and "evildoers." Issues
of ownership (including intellectual property), direction and control
of the science, technology, processes and products must also be
thoroughly considered.

Society -- especially social movements and marginalized peoples --
must be fully engaged in designing and directing dialogue on the
governance of synthetic biology. Because of the potential power and
scope of this field, discussions and decisions concerning these
technologies must take place in an accessible way (including
physically accessible) at local, national and global levels.

In the absence of effective regulation it is understandable that
scientists are seeking to establish best practices but the real
solution is for them to join with society to demand broad public
oversight and governmental action to ensure social wellbeing.
Moreover, in the years since Asilomar, science has become more
strongly linked to commercial interests, so this can appear as an
industry saying that it should only police itself. We urge you
therefore to withdraw your declaration of self-governance and join
with us in seeking a wider inclusive dialogue.

List of Organizations Signing the Open Letter

Accion Ecologica (Ecuador) -- www.accionecologica.org California for
GE Free Agriculture -- www.calgefree.org

Centro Ecologico (Brazil)

Clean Production Action -- www.cleanproduction.org

Corporate Europe Observatory -- www.corporateeurope.org

Corporate Watch (UK) -- www.corporatewatch.org

Edmonds Institute -- www.edmonds-institute.or/

ETC Group -- www.etcgroup.org

Farmers Link -- www.farmerslink.org.uk

Friends of the Earth International -- www.foe.org

Foundation on Future Farming (Germany) -- www.zs-l.de

Foundation Science Citoyennes (France) -- www.sciencescitoyennes.org

Gaia Foundation -- www.gaiafoundation.org

GeneEthics Network (Australia) -- www.geneethics.org

Genewatch (UK) -www.genewatch.org

GRAIN -- www.grain.org

Greenpeace International -- www.greenpeace.org

Henry Doubleday Research Association (UK) -- www.gardenorganic.org.uk

Indigenous People's Biodiversity Network

International Center for Technology Assessment -- www.icta.org

International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global
responsibility -- www.inesglobal.com

Institute for Social Ecology -- www.social-ecology.org

Institute for Bioethics, Culture and Disability -

International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers -- www.iuf.org

Lok Sanjh Foundation (Pakistan) -- www.loksanjh.org

National Farmers Union (Canada) -- www.nfu.ca

Oakland Institute -- www.oaklandinstitute.org

Polaris Institute -- www.polarisinstitute.org

Pakistan Dehqan Assembly

Practical Action -- www.practicalaction.org

Quechua Ayamara Association for Sustainable Livelihoods, (Peru) -

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (India) -

Soil Association -- www.soilassociation.org

Sunshine Project -- www.sunshine-project.org

Third World Network -- www.twnside.org.sg


For further information:

North America:

Jim Thomas -- ETC Group, email: jim@etcgroup.org, ph: +1 613 2412267

Pat Mooney -- ETC Group, email: mooney@etcgroup.org , cell: +1 613

Hope Shand -- ETC Group, email: hope@etcgroup.org ph: +1 919 960-5767

Edward Hammond -- Sunshine Project (biological weapons expert)
email: Hammond@sunshineproject.org, cell: +1 510 717 7772

Beth Burrows -- Edmonds Institute: email: beb@igc.org, ph: +1


Dr Sue Mayer -- GeneWatch UK, email: sue.mayer@genewatch.org,
ph: +44 1298 871898 (office); mobile: + 44 7930 308807

Alexis Vlandas -- International Network of Engineers and Scientists
email: alexis.vlandas@materials.ox.ac.uk, ph: +44 7747 036446

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From: Council on Wireless Technology Impacts, Sept. 14, 2002
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The Scientists at the International Conference "State of the Research
on Electromagnetic Fields Scientific and Legal Issues", organized by
ISPESL*, the University of Vienna and the City of Catania, held in
Catania (Italy) on September 13th 14th, 2002, agree to the following:

1. Epidemiological and in vivo and in vitro experimental evidence
demonstrates the existence for electromagnetic field (EMF) induced
effects, some of which can be adverse to health.

2. We take exception to arguments suggesting that weak (low intensity)
EMF cannot interact with tissue.

3. There are plausible mechanistic explanations for EMF-induced
effects which occur below present ICNIRP and IEEE guidelines and
exposure recommendations by the EU.

4. The weight of evidence calls for preventive strategies based on the
precautionary principle. At times the precautionary principle may
involve prudent avoidance and prudent use.

5. We are aware that there are gaps in knowledge on biological and
physical effects, and health risks related to EMF, which require
additional independent research.

6. The undersigned scientists agree to establish an international
scientific commission to promote research for the protection of public
health from EMF and to develop the scientific basis and strategies for
assessment, prevention, management and communication of risk, based on
the precautionary principle.

List of signers:

Fiorella Belpoggi, Fondazione Ramazzini, Italy

Carl F. Blackman, President of the Bioelectromagnetic Society
(1990-1991), Raleigh, USA

Martin Blank, Department of Physiology, Columbia University, New York,

Emilio Del Giudice, INFN Milano, Italy

Livio Giuliani, University Camerino, Italy

Settimio Grimaldi, CNR-INMM, Roma, Italy

Lennart Hardell, Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Oerebro,

Michael Kundi, Institute of Environmental Health, University of
Vienna, Austria

Henry Lai, Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, USA

Abraham R. Liboff, Department of Physics, Oakland University, USA

Wolfgang Loscher, Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy,
School of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover, Germany

Kjell Hansson Mild, National Institute of Working Life, Umea, Sweden

Wilhelm Mosgoeller, Institute for Cancer Research, University of
Vienna, Austria

Elihu D. Richter, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
Hebrew-University-Hadassah, Jerusalem, Israel

Umberto Scapagnini, Neuropharmacology, University of Catania, Italy,
Member of the European Parliament

Stanislaw Szmigielski, Military Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology,
Warsaw, Poland

*Istituto Superiore per la Prevenzione e la Sicurezza del Lavoro,
Italy (National Institute for Prevention and Work Safety, Italy)

To order films: "Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy and the Wireless
Revolution" and, "Dr. Ted Litovitz's EMR Research Presentation to U.S.
Congressional Staff" click here.

Your tax deductible donation helps continue work on the biological
effects of electromagnet fields. Please make your check payable to
CWTI and send to us at 936 B Seventh Street, #206, Novato,
California. 94945. You can donate online by clicking here.

For more information on CWTI, please contact info@energyfields.org

Copyright 2002-2003 Council on Wireless Technology Impacts (CWTI),

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From: Markham (Canada) Economist & Sun, May 18, 2006
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By Serena Willoughby, Staff Writer

They're closing hallways, moving the basketball net and putting up
fences at St. Monica Catholic School in Markham, all to protect
students from a threat federal and provincial health authorities
aren't sure exists.

An independent test ordered by the York Catholic District School Board
found EMF levels as high as 10 milligauss near a transformer at St.

Some research links prolonged exposure to "dirty electricity" at
levels higher than two to leukemia, as well as chronic fatigue
syndrome, fibromyalgia and attention deficit disorder.

But other research on EMFs, which are created wherever electricity is
generated such as in cellphones, computers and power lines, indicated
the link to health problems is unsubstantiated.

The board fenced off the transformer and closed other areas with high
EMF readings at St. Monica, although spokesperson Chris Cable wouldn't
speculate on whether similar precautions would be taken at other

"Regardless of whether you believe (the research) or not, we at the
board are following a precautionary principle," Ms Cable said.

Dr. Magda Havas, a professor of Environmental Sciences at Trent
University, believes EMFs in schools are a major problem because
schools use several kinds of equipment that emit EMFs such as older
model computers, fluorescent lighting and public address systems.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of EMFs, she

But Gloria Rachamin, a toxicologist with the public health division of
the Ontario Ministry of Health, denied the connection in a report to
York public health, the school board and parents.

"Overall, the scientific evidence does not support casual association
between EMF exposure and human health risks," she said.

"According to Health Canada.... there is no conclusive evidence of
any harm caused by exposures at levels normally found in Canadian
living and working environments. It further indicates that, at
present, there are no Canadian government guidelines for exposure to
EMF at extremely low frequencies since the scientific evidence is not
strong enough to conclude that typical exposures cause health

Copyright York Region Newspaper Group

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From: European Commission, Feb. 2, 2000
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Commission adopts Communication on Precautionary Principle

Brussels, 2 February 2000

The European Commission has today adopted a Communication on the use
of the precautionary principle. The objective of the Communication is
to inform all interested parties how the Commission intends to apply
the principle and to establish guidelines for its application. The aim
is also to provide input to the on-going debate on this issue both at
EU and international level. The Communication underlines that the
precautionary principle forms part of a structured approach to the
analysis of risk, as well as being relevant to risk management. It
covers cases where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive
or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that that
there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially
dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health
may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the
EU. Today's Communication complements the recently adopted White Paper
on Food Safety and the agreement reached in Montreal this week-end on
the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety.

The Communication also qualifies the measures that may be taken under
the precautionary principle. Where action is deemed necessary,
measures should be proportionate to the chosen level of protection,
non-discriminatory in their application and consistent with similar
measures already taken. They should also be based on an examination of
the potential benefits and costs of action or lack of action and
subject to review in the light of new scientific data and should thus
be maintained as long as the scientific data remain incomplete,
imprecise or inconclusive and as long as the risk is considered too
high to be imposed on society. Finally, they may assign responsibility
-- or the burden of proof -- for producing the scientific evidence
necessary for a comprehensive risk assessment. These guidelines guard
against unwarranted recourse to the precautionary principle as a
disguised form of protectionism.

Today's Communication was presented to the Commission by Mr Erkki
Liikanen, Enterprise and the Information Society Commissioner, Mr
David Byrne, Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, and Ms
Margot Wallstrom, Environment Commissioner. It is a follow-up to
President Romano Prodi's speech to the European Parliament on 5
October 1999.

The Communication recalls that a number of recent events have
undermined the confidence of public opinion and consumers because
decisions or absence of decisions were not supported by full
scientific evidence and the legitimacy of such decisions was

The Commission has consistently striven to achieve a high level of
protection, inter alia in the environmental and human, animal and
plant health fields. It is the Commission's policy to take decisions
aimed to achieve this high level of protection on a sound and
sufficient scientific basis. However, where there are reasonable
grounds for concern that potential hazards may affect the environment
or human, animal or plant health, and when at the same time the lack
of scientific information precludes a detailed scientific evaluation,
the precautionary principle has been the politically accepted risk
management strategy in several fields. Although the precautionary
principle is not explicitly mentioned in the EC Treaty except in the
environment field, the Commission considers that this principle has a
scope far wider than the environment field and that it also covers the
protection of human, animal and plant health.

The Communication makes it clear that the precautionary principle is
neither a politicisation of science or the acceptance of zero-risk but
that it provides a basis for action when science is unable to give a
clear answer. The Communication also makes it clear that determining
what is an acceptable level of risk for the EU is a political
responsibility. It provides a reasoned and structured framework for
action in the face of scientific uncertainty and shows that the
precautionary principle is not a justification for ignoring scientific
evidence and taking protectionist decisions.

The horizontal guidelines established in this Communication will
provide a useful tool in the future for taking political decisions in
this regard and will contribute to legitimate decisions taken when
science is unable to assess completely the risk rather than decisions
based on irrational fears or perceptions. Thus, one of the objectives
of the Communication is to clearly describe the situations in which
the precautionary principle could be applied and determining the scope
of measures taken in this respect. It will therefore help ensuring the
proper functioning of the Internal Market as well as a high level of
protection and predictability for consumers and economic operators
located in the EU and elsewhere.



1. The issue of when and how to use the precautionary principle, both
within the European Union and internationally, is giving rise to much
debate, and to mixed, and sometimes contradictory views. Thus,
decision-makers are constantly faced with the dilemma of balancing the
freedom and rights of individuals, industry and organisations with the
need to reduce the risk of adverse effects to the environment, human,
animal or plant health. Therefore, finding the correct balance so that
the proportionate, non-discriminatory, transparent and coherent
actions can be taken, requires a structured decision-making process
with detailed scientific and other objective information.

2. The Communication's fourfold aim is to:

** outline the Commission's approach to using the precautionary

** establish Commission guidelines for applying it,

** build a common understanding of how to assess, appraise, manage and
communicate risks that science is not yet able to evaluate fully, and

** avoid unwarranted recourse to the precautionary principle, as a
disguised form of protectionism.

It also seeks to provide an input to the ongoing debate on this issue,
both within the Community and internationally.

3. The precautionary principle is not defined in the Treaty, which
prescribes it only once -- to protect the environment. But in
practice, its scope is much wider, and specifically where preliminary
objective scientific evaluation, indicates that there are reasonable
grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the
environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with
the high level of protection chosen for the Community.

The Commission considers that the Community, like other WTO members,
has the right to establish the level of protection -- particularly of
the environment, human, animal and plant health, -- that it deems
appropriate. Applying the precautionary principle is a key tenet of
its policy, and the choices it makes to this end will continue to
affect the views it defends internationally, on how this principle
should be applied.

4. The precautionary principle should be considered within a
structured approach to the analysis of risk which comprises three
elements: risk assessment, risk management, risk communication. The
precautionary principle is particularly relevant to the management of

The precautionary principle, which is essentially used by decision-
makers in the management of risk, should not be confused with the
element of caution that scientists apply in their assessment of
scientific data.

Recourse to the precautionary principle presupposes that potentially
dangerous effects deriving from a phenomenon, product or process have
been identified, and that scientific evaluation does not allow the
risk to be determined with sufficient certainty.

The implementation of an approach based on the precautionary principle
should start with a scientific evaluation, as complete as possible,
and where possible, identifying at each stage the degree of scientific

5. Decision-makers need to be aware of the degree of uncertainty
attached to the results of the evaluation of the available scientific
information. Judging what is an "acceptable" level of risk for society
is an eminently political responsibility. Decision-makers faced with
an unacceptable risk, scientific uncertainty and public concerns have
a duty to find answers. Therefore, all these factors have to be taken
into consideration.

In some cases, the right answer may be not to act or at least not to
introduce a binding legal measure. A wide range of initiatives is
available in the case of action, going from a legally binding measure
to a research project or a recommendation.

The decision-making procedure should be transparent and should involve
as early as possible and to the extent reasonably possible all
interested parties.

6. Where action is deemed necessary, measures based on the
precautionary principle should be, inter alia:

** proportional to the chosen level of protection,

** non-discriminatory in their application,

** consistent with similar measures already taken,

** based on an examination of the potential benefits and costs of
action or lack of action (including, where appropriate and feasible,
an economic cost/benefit analysis),

** subject to review, in the light of new scientific data, and capable
of assigning responsibility for producing the scientific evidence
necessary for a more comprehensive risk assessment.

Proportionality means tailoring measures to the chosen level of
protection. Risk can rarely be reduced to zero, but incomplete risk
assessments may greatly reduce the range of options open to risk
managers. A total ban may not be a proportional response to a
potential risk in all cases. However, in certain cases, it is the sole
possible response to a given risk.

Non-discrimination means that comparable situations should not be
treated differently, and that different situations should not be
treated in the same way, unless there are objective grounds for doing

Consistency means that measures should be of comparable scope and
nature to those already taken in equivalent areas in which all
scientific data are available.

Examining costs and benefits entails comparing the overall cost to the
Community of action and lack of action, in both the short and long
term. This is not simply an economic cost-benefit analysis: its scope
is much broader, and includes non-economic considerations, such as the
efficacy of possible options and their acceptability to the public. In
the conduct of such an examination, account should be taken of the
general principle and the case law of the Court that the protection of
health takes precedence over economic considerations.

Subject to review in the light of new scientific data, means measures
based on the precautionary principle should be maintained so long as
scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive, and the risk is
still considered too high to be imposed on society, in view of [the]
chosen level of protection. Measures should be periodically reviewed
in the light of scientific progress, and amended as necessary.

Assigning responsibility for producing scientific evidence is already
a common consequence of these measures. Countries that impose a prior
approval (marketing authorisation) requirement on products that they
deem dangerous a priori reverse the burden of proving injury, by
treating them as dangerous unless and until businesses do the
scientific work necessary to demonstrate that they are safe.

Where there is no prior authorisation procedure, it may be up to the
user or to public authorities to demonstrate the nature of a danger
and the level of risk of a product or process. In such cases, a
specific precautionary measure might be taken to place the burden of
proof upon the producer, manufacturer or importer, but this cannot be
made a general rule.

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
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  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
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  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.

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