Rachel's Precaution Reporter #94

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2007.............Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Canadian Nurses Take a Strong Stand for the Precautionary Principle
  Nurses union delegates unanimously supported entrenching the
  "precautionary principle" in public health planning in order to ensure
  the safety of health care workers and the public. The precautionary
  principle means erring on the side of caution.
Massachusetts Groups Challenge State Plans To Use Herbicides
  "We're practicing a precautionary principle. We believe risks don't
  need to be taken because there are other methods to try to get rid of
Agri-biotech in Africa: Safety First?
  African nations are coming under intense pressure to abandon the
  precautionary approach to food safety.
Op-Ed: Protecting Farms from Genetically Modified Crops
  "Saskatchewan organic farmers embrace the precautionary principle
  and will continue our struggle to protect organic farming and organic
  food from GMO contamination."
Foes of Power Lines Head To High Court
  The Tsawwassen people in British Columbia are demanding that the
  precautionary principle be used as the basis for stopping two high-
  voltage power lines scheduled to be built near Tsawwassen homes. Lower
  courts have ruled against them; now their case moves to Canada's
  highest court.


From: CNW Group, Jun. 8, 2007
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ST. JOHN'S, June 8 /CNW Telbec/ -- The Canadian Federation of Nurses
Unions (CFNU) passed a strong resolution at their Biennial Convention
in St. John's demanding full protection for health care staff during
any pandemic.

Delegates unanimously supported entrenching the "precautionary
principle" in public health planning in order to ensure the safety of
health care workers and the public. The precautionary principle means
erring on the side of caution. When there is any question or doubt
about what protection is required, the higher level of protection must
be used.

CFNU and its member organizations will be lobbying for amendments to
build in the "precautionary principle" as a core element of the
Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan and of provincial plans. The
principle was not in play during the SARS outbreak in Toronto where
two nurses and 42 others died. Ontario Justice Archie Campbell's final
report on the SARS outbreak found that nurses had been supplied with
inadequate protection, particularly masks.

"Front-line nurses must have the same level of health and safety
protection in their workplaces as other workers," said CFNU President
Linda Silas. "Our safety is not negotiable. Nurses need to be
protected to care for their patients and their families."

In a position statement on staffing for a pandemic, CFNU stated:
"Frighteningly, the evolution of the threat cannot be predicted, nor
can the nature or severity of the outbreak. For this reason, one of
the greatest threats to the health system is not just the outbreak of
a pandemic, but an inability to limit the transmission and to provide
adequate care." The policy also states "From the experience with SARS,
we know first-hand how existing nursing shortages 'were magnified when
fewer nurses were available to work because of home/work quarantine,
additional demands for infection control and restrictions on
employment in more than one health care facility'."

In addition to lobbying governments, the resolution calls on employers
to properly supply, fit and train nurses on the appropriate masks. The
statement also calls for the federal government to release announced
money to the provinces to help provide the N-95 -- or greater --

CFNU's position statement is available at www.cfnu.ca.

For further information: Teresa Neuman, Acting Director of
Communications/Campaigns, CFNU, 613-292-9106 (Cell); Peter D. Birt,
Manager, Public Relations, Ontario Nurses' Association, 416-300-8415

The CFNU Biennial Convention is happening at the St. John's Convention
Centre, Marconi Hall


Copyright 2005 CNW Group Ltd. PRIVACY & TERMS OF USE / CONTACT US /

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From: Daily News Transcript (Norwood, Mass.), Jun. 11, 2007
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By Greg Duggan/Daily News stafff

Opposition has sprouted to a state highway department plan to spray
herbicides along roads.

The spraying, set to begin in August, affects 17 interstates and state
routes in 57 cities and towns, including Norwood and Walpole.

"We don't apply (herbicides) in sensitive areas," said MassHighway
press secretary Erik Abell. "It's primarily for vegetation management
along medians on highways in order to control invasive species of

Abell said the spraying locations are along thin medians or Jersey

"It's predominantly in high-speed locations where stopping to use
mechanical methods to treat would be a less safe work environment,"
Abell said.

The spraying will occur, Abell said, "on less than one-half of 1
percent" of all roads treated by MassHighway during the year.

For two environmental groups, however, even a fraction of a percent is
too much.

The Toxics Action Center of Boston and the Hilltown Anti-Herbicide
Coalition of Ashfield have joined forces against the spraying as the
Massachusetts Coalition for Pesticide Reduction.

The coalition has pointed to studies linking herbicides to health
problems including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and birth defects. It is
reaching out to residents to form local opposition.

Dan Dilworth, organizer for the Toxics Action Center, acknowledged,
"There have not been any documented effects (from the state's
spraying) so far. Many problems with (herbicides) don't usually come
out until years after they're used. We're practicing a precautionary
principle. We believe risks don't need to be taken because there are
other methods to try to get rid of weeds."

Dilworth cited hand cutting as an alternative.

Ken Kipen of the Hilltown Anti-Herbicide Coalition could not be
reached for comment.

Asked about the risk of a motorist striking a worker, Dilworth
responded that a worker using herbicides could "develop some kind of
disease" years later.

"Our opinion is that the use of herbicides is a greater risk than
mechanical cutting," Dilworth said.

MassHighway stopped spraying herbicides in the late 1990s after
hearing health and environmental concerns. Abell said chemicals were
brought back in 2004 for safety reasons.

Abell said when MassHighway sprays herbicides, it uses substances
available at hardware stores and dilutes the concentration before
spraying. He said spraying does not occur in windy weather.

Affected communities include Foxborough, Norwood, Sharon and Walpole
along Rte. 1 and Interstate 95, as well as Mansfield on I-95. Natick
will undergo spraying on Rte. 9, as will 14 communities along
Interstate 495.

The public comment period runs from June 25 through Aug. 8. Comments
should be sent to the Department of Agricultural Resources, 251
Causeway St., Boston, MA, 02114-2151.

Daily News staff writer Greg Duggan can be reached at 781-433-8355 or

Copyright 2006-2007 GateHouse Media, Inc.

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From: SciDev.Net, Jun. 12, 2007
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Maryke Steffens reports on the influences behind Africa's diverse
attitudes to transgenic crops, and the need for a unified agenda.

By Maryke Steffens

Africa embraces a range of attitudes towards agricultural
biotechnology, particularly transgenic crops. While genetically
modified (GM) crops are commercially farmed in South Africa, an
informal ban is in place in Zambia.

Biotechnology promises to solve many of Africa's problems, including
an insecure food supply from a dry, harsh and unpredictable land. But
the African Union (AU) believes that if Africa is to pursue
biotechnology's promise it is going to have to do so as a cohesive

Too many outsiders are pushing biotechnology agendas in Africa, says
John Mugabe, science and technology advisor to the New Partnership for
Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Mugabe believes that foreign interests, imposed on Africa, are
creating a continent with no clear strategy.

He says the time has come for Africa to take back control of its
biotech future.

Risk assessment

David Duthie, from the biosafety unit at the UN Environmental
Programme (UNEP), says the problem is that many countries are confused
about how to approach GM.

"African countries are really struggling with this," says Duthie.
"They don't have access to [scientific] literature, they don't have
scientific and technical elites to talk about the subjects. But they
do have a lot of newspapers and a lot of media."

The chief concern of many countries is the safety of the environment
and people's health. In accordance with the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety, UNEP has been setting up procedures to help sub-Saharan
African countries decide whether or not to import GM crops.

Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda are working with UNEP to make
their biosafety policies operational, while almost all other African
states plan to have draft policies by December 2007, when the UNEP
project is scheduled to end.

According to Duthie, UNEP has stayed clear of the pro- versus anti-GM

"As a UN agency, we take a policy-neutral approach. We don't prescribe
any particular policy or approach to safe use of modern

Caught between transatlantic differences

How a country defines 'safe' in the context of biotechnology forms the
cornerstone of the debate. Germany and the United States -- both
actively implementing biosafety policy and research programmes in
Africa -- are in disagreement.

In the United States a transgenic product is considered to pose no new
health risks if it can be assessed as 'substantially equivalent' to
its unmodified counterpart.

But in Germany, which had led the formation of EU policy in Europe,
the 'precautionary principle' is used. In the face of uncertainty, a
defensive approach is taken even when causal links have not been
scientifically established.

"From the EU standpoint, there is this question of 'what if?'" says
Jose Falck-Zepeda, a research fellow at the US-based International
Food Policy Research Institute.

Falck-Zepeda says there is no clear endpoint in that decision making
process, whereas the United States is willing to live with a system
that considers "safety as a matter of degree".

There are nations in Africa willing to live with this system too. The
US-funded Program for Biosafety Systems has trained scientists in
countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda to run field trials
for GM crops in line with its own approach to biosafety.

Germany has directed its efforts toward persuading the AU, rather than
individual countries, to adopt new biosafety regulations. Though the
AU has no authority over its member states, it advises them on
biosafety regulations.

Germany has, for example, funded an AU biosafety project, now in its
second year, that focuses on building an Africa-wide biological safety
system where member states are guided by a regional model law -- the
African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology.

The proposed law, which some say derives from the idea that the
Cartagena Protocol cannot sufficiently safeguard human health and the
environment in an African context, is conservative in its approach to
biosafety. It puts the onus on exporting countries to pay compensation
if any harm or loss of livelihood occurs as a result of introducing GM

A combined approach

Although a great deal of money has been invested in Africa through
these projects, some think African nations have not benefited as much
as they should have.

"The different projects may have resulted in more fragmentation," says
Julius Mugwagwa, a researcher from the UK-based Open University and a
former biotechnologist at the Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe, where
he assisted in setting up a regional initiative (RAEIN-Africa)
implementing a Southern African biosafety and environment programme
from Namibia.

The Freedom to Innovate report, jointly published by NEPAD and the AU
and put together by the High-Level African Panel on Modern
Biotechnology, tries to reconcile these competing interests.

NEPAD's John Mugabe says it is about Africa taking back control of
biotechnology and expanding scientific capacity -- laboratories,
scientists, field trials -- beyond biosafety frameworks.

The report involved an all-African panel of experts, including
Calestous Juma from Harvard University, the director general of
Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority Tewolde Egziabher and
representatives from the German-funded AU biosafety project, as well
as scientists and representatives of nongovernmental organisations.
They were charged with charting a strategy based on consensus.

Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria and co-chair
of the panel, says the report offers "an alternative way forward from
the paralysis that has characterised much of the work in Africa".

According to co-chair Calestous Juma, it is about developing long-term
strategies that will give biotechnology efforts "a more pragmatic

The Freedom to Innovate report emphasises the need for countries
across Africa to unify their approach to biotechnology and regulation
of risk.

Julius Mugwagwa says if countries don't work collaboratively as
regional economic communities they will lose out.

He says regions want to be seen as one big market, so that investors
won't have any problems with different systems in different countries.
According to Mugwagwa, there will be economic losses if they don't

He says the report reflects the continent's current enthusiasm for
science, technology and innovation to "propel economies to a greater

But, he adds, whether this can be translated from an expert-driven
report into sustained action at the implementation level is another

"A critical issue is how prepared are the regional economic
communities at the policy, infrastructural, human resources and other
levels to handle these responsibilities?"

Mugwagwa also questions the potential commitment of individual
countries to the Freedom to Innovate report, especially those without
the technical or policy capacity to contribute to regional
biotechnology activities.

Some countries have been reluctant to let go of their sovereignty, but
this may be changing. In March, West African states adopted a regional
five-year plan of action for increasing food production through

Saving the orphans

The risk associated with incompatible biosafety requirements across
the continent goes far beyond economic loss.

Small public-sector projects aimed at developing 'orphan' crops such
as sorghum, cassava and pigeon pea -- largely ignored by big
biotechnology companies -- may struggle to move forward through the
sheer number of regulatory hurdles. These projects' limited financial
resources would stretch further under one common testing and approval

Supporting these projects is vital, according to Frank Shotkoski from
USAID (US Agency for International Development) who is currently
involved in a Ugandan project on transgenic pest-resistant bananas.

Although agricultural biotechnology can't be a "silver bullet"
solution for Africa, he believes it has "the potential to do more to
bring Africa up to speed on the ability to produce food for its people
than any other technology out there".

Field trials

Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa are already running or
planning GM field trials of both orphan and commercial crops.

Nigerian farmers and their crops
Credit: USAID/A Fleuret
Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda are preparing for trials with
Bt cotton -- engineered to carry the insect-killing Bt toxin. Kenya is
pursuing transgenic maize, sweet potato and cassava. Nigeria is
looking into Bt cowpea, and virus-resistant cassava is in the pipeline
in Nigeria and Uganda.

There are other projects planned. The Harvest Plus project, funded by
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is fighting
malnutrition with GM technology by fortifying the nutrient content of
key crops such as sorghum, banana and cassava.

If Africa can forge a common path to protecting itself from any unseen
consequences of GM technology without smothering innovation, it could
find a pot of gold at the end of the transgenic rainbow.

According to Ismail Serageldin, Africa must look to the success
stories and get inspiration. "These should not be the exception and
they can be the norm," he says.

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From: The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), Jun. 7, 2007
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By Arnold Taylor

Despite the denial of class-action certification by the Saskatchewan
Court of Appeal ("Organic farmers may appeal ruling", Leader-Post, May
4), Saskatchewan organic farmers maintain there remains a compelling
legal and moral claim for damages resulting from contamination of
food, field and crops, by genetically engineered canola.

After the ruling, Monsanto's Trish Jordan was quoted as saying all
types of farming can coexist "with reasonable tolerances and
thresholds for adventitious presence ...", and that Saskatchewan
organic farmers should "focus on something positive for your industry
instead of trying to criticize what other farmers want to do".

This condescending and insulting advice ignores the fact organic
farmers' livelihoods depend on protecting the integrity of the food
they produce in a way that meets the demand of their customers, many
of whom believe contamination by transgenic material is potentially

Despite Jordan's assertions that "food and feed products containing
ingredients derived from plant biotechnology crops have a solid 10-
year history of safe use", consumers have reason to question the
safety assessment given GMO (genetically modified organism) crops by
government regulators.

A study released at a Paris press conference on March 13, 2007 (in the
peer-reviewed American journal Archives of Environmental Contamination
and Toxicology, revealed the Monsanto maize MON863 caused serious
damage to the livers and kidneys of rats in feeding trials. Prof.
Gilles-Eric Seralini, who conducted the study on data initially
suppressed by Monsanto, said "this maize cannot now be considered safe
to eat. We are now calling urgently for a moratorium on other approved
GMs while the efficacy of current health-testing methods is

The maize was approved by the European Community on Aug. 9, 2005, and
while this study deals with maize, not canola, it exposes shortcomings
in the approval process for GMO products.

Saskatchewan organic farmers embrace the precautionary principle and
will continue our struggle to protect organic farming and organic food
from GMO contamination.

Taylor is chairman of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, Organic
Agriculture Protection Fund Committee.

Copyright The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

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From: The Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia), Jun. 13, 2007
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Tsawwassen community group wants route moved out of its neighbourhood

By Glenn Bohn and Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun

DELTA -- A Tsawwassen community group hopes an appeal to the Supreme
Court of Canada will keep two proposed high-voltage lines out of a
residential neighbourhood and away from the 1,300-student South Delta
senior secondary school.

Last July, the B.C. Utilities Commission approved a $250-million
proposal by the publicly owned B.C. Transmission Corp. to build two
new 230-kilovolt power lines on its existing aerial right-of-way
through Tsawwassen.

Construction has already started on the project, which is part of an
electrical power line upgrade for Vancouver Island and the Gulf
Islands. It will serve 700,000 people when it's running in 2008.

But the Tsawwassen Residents Against Higher Voltage Overhead Lines,
which filed documents Tuesday asking Canada's highest court to hear
its appeal, argues the lines shouldn't be running through their

They say a potential route through DeltaPort Terminal, the industrial
shipping terminal just north of the BC Ferries terminal would be

The route was rejected by the commission, along with five other

TRAHVOL, which points to the much-debated, long-term human effects of
chronic exposure to electrical and magnetic fields around high-voltage
lines, has argued in earlier briefs that government should err on the
side of caution when considering major projects.

"I think Canadians want to be reassured that governments and
regulators are looking at the health and environmental impacts of
megaprojects," said Maureen Broadfoot, spokeswoman for the community
group, when asked why the Supreme Court of Canada should hear the

"Too often they look only at costs and economic implications," she
said. "But where something could damage people's health or damage the
environment, they should at least have the precautionary principle as
part of their decision-making, especially at these times. Hindsight is
20-20 with global warming, second-hand smoke, with asbestos -- things
where the warning signs were there but were ignored," she said.

Jane Peverett, president and CEO of B.C. Transmission Corp., said
health authorities have said there is no reason to be concerned about
exposure levels from transmission lines and the public shouldn't be

"This is safe," Peverett said. "We wouldn't be building it if it
wasn't safe."

She said the route, along with alternatives, had been thoroughly
reviewed for 21 months, and the B.C. Utilities Commission deemed it
was the best location. She said, and the lines would replace those
that have been in place for 50 years.



Copyright The Vancouver Sun 2007

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  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
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  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.

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