Rachel's Precaution Reporter #95
"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"
Wednesday, June 20, 2007.............Printer-friendly version
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Table of Contents... Consensus Statement on Electromagnetic Radiation -- Draft The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) has been building consensus on the need for precautionary measures to avert harm from electromagnetic radiation. Here is their draft statement. When Bad News Is No News Unfortunately, evidence of harm from electromagnetic fields (cell phones and wireless computer networks) is being ignored by the U.S. media. Could You Live Without Your Mobile Phone? "Placards, signs and demonstrations have become commonplace [in England] as residents' and campaign groups have focussed on the potential health risks of phone masts [cell phones towers], particularly when they are sited near schools or nurseries." And in the U.S.? Ho-hum. European Trade Commissioner Defends Precaution for Biotech European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson defends the European policy of precautionmary action to avert harm from genetically modified foods. Province Isn't Doing Enough To Protect Water: NDP Leader A New Democratic Party (NDP) leader calls for precautionary policies to protect Canada's water. NGOs Urge Precautionary Principle in Use of Nanomaterials As evidence of danger from nano-sezed materials mounts up, non- governmental organizations are calling for a precautuionary approach to this powerful and poorly understood new technology. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), Oct. 10, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] CONSENSUS STATEMENT ON ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION -- DRAFT We, the undersigned, are members of the CHE-EMF Working Group within the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), together with like-minded colleagues from science, medicine and environmental health. We believe there are legitimate health concerns regarding exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (EMR), which has rapidly become one of the most pervasive environmental exposures in modern life. These concerns are based on the weight of evidence spanning decades of scientific research on radiofrequency (RF) radiation from countries around the world. The radiofrequency radiation sources addressed in this Consensus Statement are those from newer wireless technologies such as cell phones and cordless phones, cell towers/antennas, WI-FI networks, WI-MAX, as well as Broadband Radiofrequency Internet over electrical power lines (BPL). We recognize that there are significant uncertainties about the long- term health effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation. However, prudent policy requires acting on the best available scientific evidence. Then, based on the Precautionary Principle, which is an overarching guide for decision making when dealing with credible threats of harm and scientific uncertainty, policies to protect public health can be adopted. As a way of implementing the Precautionary Principle, there should be an ongoing investment in research, as well as funding for a transparent, participatory policy analysis of alternatives, when there is reason to believe that there may be a significant risk from current or proposed technologies. The principle states that "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." These precautionary measures may include but are not necessarily limited to making investments in research and policy analysis. We are deeply concerned that there is insufficient non-industry funding support for critical research, given the potential public health consequences of involuntary and chronic exposure to radiofrequency radiation. The following four examples show how the Precautionary Principle has been implemented. * Scientists in the United Kingdom recommend that no child under the age of 8 years old use a cell phone. Research evidence shows that children are more vulnerable than adults to harm from other environmental exposures (such as chemicals), and the same may be true of radiofrequency radiation exposures. * The International Association of Fire Fighters passed a resolution in 2004, calling for a moratorium on new cell phone antennas on fire stations and a study of the health effects of these installations. The Chairman of the Russian National Committee for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP), Yuri Grigoriev, advised that cellular communication is strongly contraindicated for children and teenagers. The Canadian Public Health Officer, David Butler-Jones, advised Canadians to limit their and their children's use of cell phones until science resolves uncertainties about long-term health effects. * More research is needed on the health/biological effects, the level of current and future exposure, and the feasibility, cost and exposure implications of these technologies, as well as alternatives and modifications to current technology. * While research continues, we believe there is sufficient evidence to recommend precautionary measures that people can take to protect their health, and the health of their families, co-workers and communities. We recommend the following measures: Use a corded phone/land line if possible, which does not involve RF exposure. Emergency use of cell phones is not discouraged but land lines should be used for normal day-to-day communication needs. If you use a cell phone, use an earpiece/headset or the "speaker phone" setting, which greatly reduces the RF exposure because the phone is not held next to your head and brain. Using text messaging is also a good way to reduce RF exposure. Be aware that the cell phone radiates to some degree even when in "standby" mode. You can avoid this radiation by either keeping the phone off (using it as an answering machine), or away from your body. Using a cordless phone outdoors to alert you to an incoming call is handy, but returning inside to use a corded phone/land line to conduct the conversation is advisable. Before adopting WI-FI wireless networks in workplaces, schools and cities, the extent of exposure and possible health effects should be publicly discussed. Although convenient, WI-FI wireless networks create pervasive, continuous, involuntary exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Preferable alternatives to wireless technology for voice and data transmission, including cable and fiber-optic technologies (that produce no radiofrequency radiation), should be considered, given the uncertainties about health, cost, liability, and inequity of impact. There needs to be substantial community involvement in decisions about the placement and operation of cell towers (also called antennas or masts). Where possible, siting of these facilities should avoid residential areas and schools, day-care centers, hospitals and other buildings that house populations more vulnerable to the effects of radiation exposure. Periodic information on levels of exposure should be provided to the public. Cell towers produce radiofrequency radiation exposure in communities that is constant and involuntary. While acknowledging that this technology enables voice and data transmission via a cell phone that is important to many people in every community, those who live, work or go to school in the vicinity of wireless facilities will be disproportionately exposed. Not enough research has been done to determine the safety or risk of chronic exposure to low-intensity RF radiation from cell towers and some studies suggest there may be harm. Broadband Radiofrequency Internet transmitted over electrical power lines (BPL) needs to be thoroughly researched and the findings publicly disclosed and discussed before full deployment of this new technology. Discussion should include comparison of exposures and potential health effects of BPL technology versus cable and fiber optics. BPL technology uses electrical wiring as the vehicle for carrying RF radiation into and throughout all electrified buildings in a community, including every home. Therefore, BPL has the potential to expose entire communities to a new, continuous, involuntary source of RF radiation. The RF signal will be carried on everyone's home wiring, even in the homes of those who do not wish to subscribe to this new Internet service. People will have no chance to "opt out" or turn off the signal. In summary, we recommend caution in the further deployment of wireless technologies, and deployment of safer, wired alternatives until further study allows better definition of the risks of wireless. Signed by: Jeffrey L. Anderson, MD, Member, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Corte Madera, CA James B. Beal, EMF Interface Consulting, Wimberley, TX Martin Blank, PhD, Columbia University, New York, NY Roger Coghill, Coghill Research Labs, UK Andy Davidson, HESE-UK, Worthing, UK Cynthia Drasler, MBA, President, Organic Excellence Chemical Free Products; Host, Chemical Free Living Radio Show, Phoenix, AZ Nancy Evans, Health Science Consultant, San Francisco, CA David Fancy, Canadian SWEEP Initiative (Safe Wireless Electric and Electromagnetic Policy), St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada Marne Glaser, Chicago, IL Reba Goodman, PhD, Columbia University, New York, NY Leonore Gordon, Coordinator, New York State Coalition to Regulate Antenna Siting, Brooklyn, NY Elizabeth A. ("Libby") Kelley, Executive Director, Council on Wireless Technology Impacts, Novato, CA Michael Kundi, PhD, Institute of Environmental Health, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria Henry Lai, PhD, University of Washington, Seattle, WA Michael Lerner, PhD, Commonweal, Bolinas, CA Samuel Milham, MD, MPH, Indio, CA Lloyd Morgan, Berkeley, CA Lisa Nagy, MD, Member, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and Environmental Health Research Foundation, Vineyard Haven, MA Elihu Richter, MD, MPH, Hebrew University, Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Jerusalem, Israel Joan M. Ripple, Treasurer, Council on Wireless Technology Impacts and health and disability researcher, Novato, CA Jeanne Rizzo, RN, Executive Director, Breast Cancer Fund, San Francisco, CA Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science and Environmental Health Network, Ann Arbor, MI Cindy Sage, Sage Associates, Santa Barbara, CA Lavinia Gene Weissman, Managing Director, WorkEcology, Jamaica Plain, MA Patricia Wood, Executive Director, Grassroots Environmental Education, Port Washington, NY See below for international resolutions urging precaution with wireless technologies. International Resolutions Advocating a Precautionary Approach to the Use and Expansion of Wireless Technologies Scientists and public policy researchers across the globe have acknowledged the evidence of potential health effects from radiofrequency radiation and advocated a precautionary approach to the use and expansion of wireless technologies. For example: October 1998, scientists adopt the Vienna Resolution, which states that "biological effects from low intensity [RFR] exposures are scientifically established." June 2000, scientists adopt the Salzburg Resolution, stating "the assessment of biological effects of exposures from base stations in the low-dose range is difficult but indispensable for protection of public health...there is at present evidence of no threshold for adverse health effects." In other words, there is no threshold for safe exposure. May 2000, the UK Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones chaired by Sir William Stewart, reports that "a precautionary approach be adopted until more robust scientific information becomes available." [Read the "Stewart Report" here.] September 2002, scientists at the International Conference "State of the Research on Electromagnetic Fields Scientific and Legal Issues" held in Catania, Italy, adopt the Catania Resolution, calling for "preventive strategies based on the precautionary principle." November 2004, the European Union's EMF REFLEX Research Project is released [11 Mbyte PDF], showing that mobile phone radiation (radiofrequency radiation) damages DNA in human cells. [Read a commentary by Dr. Lennart Hardell here.] In January 2005, the UK National Radiation Protection Board issues a warning that no child under age 8 should use a cell phone, citing the growing scientific evidence that exposure to RFR poses a health risk. The report also cautions about the health risks of exposure to cell phone antennas (referred to as "base stations): "...there remain particular concerns in the UK about the impact of base stations on health, including well-being. Despite current evidence which shows that exposures of individuals are likely to be only a small fraction of those from phones, they may impact adversely on well-being." In February 2005, the Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA) issues a statement urging that "the strictest possible safety regulations be established for the installation of masts and transmitters, and for the acceptable levels of potential exposure of individuals to electromagnetic radiation." In September 2006, the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS) releases the Benevento Resolution, which emphasizes that the accumulated evidence points to "adverse health effects from occupational and public exposures to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (EMF) at current exposure levels." Signed by 31 leading scientists from around the world, this resolution calls for governments to "adopt guidelines for public and occupational EMF exposure that reflect the Precautionary Principle." Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Chicago Reader, Jun. 15, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] WHEN BAD NEWS IS NO NEWS European papers are reporting some troubling research about cell phones that American papers aren't. By Michael Miner The Columbia Journalism Review plays darts every issue with unworthy journalists, but its Darts & Laurels feature for May and June threw one at the entire "U.S. news media." Launching a dubious metaphor, CJR took the American media to task "for failing to pick up a long- distance signal." The item explained that when major papers in Britain, Germany, Canada, Israel, and other countries "recently rang, sometimes on page one, with the findings of a five-country study that showed a statistically significant increase in a certain type of brain tumor among people who had used cell phones for ten years or more, one might have expected the American press to at least record the message." But it didn't, said CJR, even though "the telecom industry here keeps hoping that the FCC and the federal health agencies will raise the levels of cell- phone radiation currently allowed. "Memo to journalists: call waiting." Cell-phone radiation is non-ionizing, which means it produces heat but, at least in theory, doesn't threaten biological organisms at the atomic level. The idea that nonionizing radiation is a menace regardless goes back at least as far as the 1977 book The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk, and the Coverup, by New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur. "There is a vast conspiracy among the press, especially newspapers, not to write about the biological studies, especially the epidemiological studies done in Europe," Brodeur told me this week. Like other vast conspiracies, this one shows every sign of being able to live on indefinitely, never confirmed beyond doubt or discredited to everyone's satisfaction. That a long period of latency precedes whatever damage cell phones might do only hardens both sides' convictions. CJR singled out two publications for praise: the Florida Sun-Sentinel, for reporting the study, which was published in January by the International Journal of Cancer, and Microwave News, a newsletter that provided a "comprehensive, comprehensible account of the controversial findings." Brodeur tells me its editor, Louis Slesin, got his start by studying the Zapping files and is now "the authority on microwave radiation." When I looked online for the story CJR told me wasn't there -- well, it wasn't there. On the ABC News site I found an AP story with the headline "Study Disputes Cell Phone-Cancer Link: Large Study From Denmark Offers the Latest Reassurance That Cell Phones Don't Trigger Cancer." Medpagetoday.com carried a staff-written story citing the same Danish study and headlined "Once Again, No Cell Phone-Cancer Link Found." The PC Magazine Web site carried a Reuters story based on a British survey under the headline "Study Minimizes Cancer Risk From Cell Phones." And the very day I conducted my search, May 29, MSN.com touted a story by MSNBC science editor Alan Boyle on the possible link between cell- phone radiation and low sperm count and played it for laughs: "There's no known connection between cell phone radiation and health risks, but thankfully there's silver-threaded underwear for those who are concerned." Ho ho. Slesin was so concerned that the American press wasn't telling the public something it needed to know that he wrote and shopped around an op-ed sounding the alarm. It began, "Two billion people now use cell phones, many for hours on end. But are they safe? Could putting a small microwave transmitter next to your brain lead to cancer or a neurological disease?" He couldn't be sure, "but some of the early returns are disquieting." Citing studies that other reporters took comfort in, Slesin said they "point to a problem over the long term. These studies show that using a cell phone for more than ten years leads to higher rates of two different kinds of tumors: gliomas, a type of brain tumor, and acoustic neuromas, a tumor of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. In each case, the tumors were more likely to be on the side of the head closest to the phone." "To be sure, these are still preliminary findings," Slesin acknowledged, but he didn't think it made sense to ignore them. In his view skeptics who assert that "the worst microwaves can do is heat you up, and even then only at power levels much higher than you could ever get from a cell phone" not only "abound" but dominate the debate in this country. "The heating-only advocates, many of whom have links to industry, are in control even though laboratory research has shown that microwave radiation can damage DNA, upset sleep patterns, alter cognitive function, increase the flow of chemicals through the blood- brain barrier and bring on headaches." Here in the U.S., Slesin wrote, no epidemiological studies are being made of cell-phone radiation, the American Cancer Society has called the idea of cancer risk a "myth," and Consumer Reports published a long recent report on cell phones that didn't even take up the question of radiation. But "it's a completely different story in Europe." The op-ed wasn't published. Slesin says the New York Times and Boston Globe both turned it down. When I asked Brodeur to explain what he meant by a "vast conspiracy," he took a verbal step back, as if to distance himself from the lunatic fringe. "What there is is self-censorship," he replied. "The reason is, as always, money. You follow the money trail and the newspapers have a vested interest in the big telecommunications companies. It's an enormously powerful industry and it has managed to convince a lot of people there is absolutely no harm." Slesin said something similar in his op-ed: he claimed the "wireless industry has a stranglehold on the health debate" and "Motorola and Nokia, the two largest phone manufacturers, dismiss all claims of a possible hazard." When I looked harder I began to find studies that backed Slesin up. For instance, "Tumour risk associated with use of cellular telephones or cordless desktop telephones" appeared in the World Journal of Surgical Oncology in October 2006. And in January of that year, "Cellular Phones, Cordless Phones, and the Risks of Glioma and Meningioma" ran in the American Journal of Epidemiology, where it was reported that "among long-term cellular phone users [ten years or more] a twofold risk of glioma was observed." But I also discovered a mainstream newspaper article neither CJR nor Slesin had given credit to. It ran February 18 in the Chicago Tribune and was written by Mike Hughlett, a financial writer who covers Motorola. Hughlett says he wrote about the debate because he considered it part of his beat. "I'd read for years about it," he says. "I wondered, is it a dead issue? I researched and it didn't seem to be a dead issue -- on the other hand, there was nothing you could prove. My story was more about science than business, the limits of science." Hughlett reported that most epidemiological studies done in Europe haven't found a statistical link between tumors and cell-phone usage -- but not all. "The problem," Hughlett wrote, "in addition to the conflicting lab results: lack of an accepted scientific theory" of how cell-phone radiation could cause harm. Hughlett talked off and on with Slesin for months, and the article labeled him either "a pot-stirring independent voice, or an advocate of the view that radiation risks are being soft-pedaled -- depending on who's describing him." Those are pretty friendly characterizations, and not even mutually exclusive. Slesin is willing to answer to either one. Yet when Slesin accused the media of negligence he didn't cite Hughlett as an exception. "Here's why he dropped off my radar screen," Slesin e-mailed me. "I guess I never considered his piece as covering the tumor findings. He does mention them, but not as spot news, the way the Sun-Sentinel did. It's more one item in an 'On the one hand... and on the other hand' piece... . But he did mention the tumor findings, which is more than most everyone else in the U.S. did." Gloria Cooper, who writes Darts & Laurels for CJR, didn't know about Hughlett's story until I told her, and then she was embarrassed. "We did the best search we could possibly do," she said, wondering aloud if she should run a correction. She asked what Hughlett had said to me about her CJR item, but the obliviousness was mutual. Hughlett hadn't known it existed. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Hornsey and Crouch End Journal (UK), Jun. 20, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] COULD YOU LIVE WITHOUT YOUR MOBILE PHONE? Health fears have sparked protests in Haringey There are at least five [cell phone towers] within 100 metres of the Clock Tower on Crouch End Broadway. The rooftops along Muswell Hill Broadway and Wood Green's town centre are also lined with them. And on the streets below everyone is jabbering into a mobile phone. While people love the flexibility and low cost of mobiles they are not so at ease with their inevitable by-product -- a giant mast [cell phone tower] on their doorstep. Battle lines have been drawn countless times in Haringey as one of the many mobile phone giants is given planning permission for another base station to cope with growing demand. Placards, signs and demonstrations have become commonplace as residents' and campaign groups have focussed on the potential health risks of phone masts, particularly when they are sited near schools or nurseries. Sarah Purdy, who has fronted a campaign against them in Muswell Hill for over two years, has urged planning bosses to take potential health risks into account at the planning stage -- something they are unable to do at the moment. Mrs Purdy said: "I think with mobile phone use it is Russian roulette. It's like smoking. However, I think with being in the main beam of a phone mast all day and all night, it destroys the immune system. So not everyone gets cancer but if you look at that school where they have been in the main beam 15 years, 14 out of 30 teachers were sick." She added: "The Stewart Report that was done in 2000 is being completely ignored by the government and that did recommend a precautionary principle. They said the main beam of a phone mast should not fall onto schools. "It was taken on in the Department of Education but not in planning law." Residents can often feel powerless as mobile operators apply to put masts in their areas. Appeals to the planning authorities fall on deaf ears as they can only turn applications down on environment issues - such as whether they unacceptably clutter the pavement -- not as a potential health hazard. Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, has backed a parliamentary private members bill by her Liberal Democrat colleague, Andrew Stunell, calling for tighter health restrictions. Ms Featherstone said: "That would make health grounds an objection you can make against mobile masts. The point is it's raising exactly the right issue. At the moment many a planning application goes through because there's not a reason to refuse it. "I think people are very concerned. At the same time they use mobile phones. And therefore I don't think you can put the mobile phone genie back into the bottle. But nevertheless, I think you can go along with the precautionary principle." She added: "All mobile phone companies should have an obligation to work together and to share masts. They should work with local people when choosing sites. They should find out more about local areas." Recent anti-mast campaigns have seen controversy rage over a mast in St Peter Le Poer Church, in Colney Hatch Lane, Muswell Hill, with accusations that it could be used to send pornographic imagery. There was also outrage when it was discovered Haringey council was receiving £10,000 a year for accommodating one on Hornsey Town Hall's roof. There was also a long-running campaign against masts on the old BT exchange in Grand Avenue, Muswell Hill, which is close to more than one school. And the council's River Park House building even has one on its roof. Haringey is one of a clutch of councils which has agreed to put pressure on the government over the worries faced by residents. But it stopped short of adopting the "precautionary principle" -- which would enable the council to reject applications for masts on the grounds of potential health risks. The government-funded Stewart Report, concluded seven years ago, was the last major investigation into mobile phone masts. Technology has moved on since then. James Stevenson, communications manager for O2, which recently sited a mast in Muswell Hill, said: "If the government changes the legislation, which is unlikely, we would not be too fussed with that. We could cope with the government change. "I think the industry would welcome another Stewart Report -- even though there's been another report which again proves there's no ill health effects. "It's still quite a useful piece of work. We've got a lot of evidence from a lot of scientific organisations who have looked at it and found absolutely nothing as far as health and safety concerns." He added: "We understand how people feel and we try as best we can to explain to them what we are doing and how the industry works. Copyright 2007 Archant Regional Limited Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Medical News Today, Jun. 16, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] BIOTECHNOLOGY AND THE EU Speech By Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner In this speech to the European Biotechnology Open day in Brussels EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson strongly defends an open European approach to biotechnology and GM food; one that prioritises strict science-based health and safety testing but which recognises that safe biotechnology has a crucial role to play in agriculture and agricultural trade both in Europe and the developing world. Calling biotechnology "The coal face of applied science in the twenty first century" he concludes: "we must be under no illusion that Europe's interests are served by being outside a global market that is steadily working its way through the issues raised by GM food. They are not". Mandelson argues that Europe has the appropriate risk-management systems for ensuring that biotechnology is rigorously tested, but that these systems can be badly undermined if politicians and risk-managers do not defend the science that underpins them. He says: "A rigorous system means approving GM imports when the science is on their side just as we take a firm line when precaution is justified... if politicians and risk managers undermine their own system... we devalue objective science as our most important benchmark -- and that is a dangerous step to take." Mandelson warns that as a global market for GM products grows, EU application of its rules will come under greater international scrutiny. He warns: "If we fail to implement our own rules, or implement them inconsistently, we can -- and probably will - be challenged. Mandelson argues that any blanket rejection of GMOs ignores the fact that genetically modified foods have played a key part in past revolutions in agricultural productivity and will be central to providing sufficient food and feed stocks for a growing population in the developing world. They are also likely to have a central role in shaping agricultures response to climate change through adapted bio- fuel crops. Mandelson argues that there is an economic risk in Europe if we fall behind the global economy in approving safe biotechnology. He cites recent European Commission research that suggests that Europe may find it increasingly hard to source animal feed that is approved under EU rules -- putting a heavy strain on the EU livestock sector. He says: "Isolation from international trade in agricultural biotech products that have passed credible safety standards simply may not be a viable option for the EU". Mandelson argues that the EU should take the lead in shaping "a global system of clear rules that allow exporters and importers to trade GM crops and feed in confidence". He identifies negotiations on the Codex Alimentarius, bringing the Biosafety Clearing House of the Cartagena Protocol to full operational status and the reinforcement of the WTO SPS Agreement as key priorities. Mandelson concludes: "One extreme of the biotech debate in agriculture often wrongly portrays it as a conflict between consumer sovereignty and corporate power -- between caution and recklessness. The other extreme of the debate -- especially in the United States -- thinks it is a tussle between free trade and protectionism. It is none of these. Strong safety standards are legitimate principles of international law. The best defence of consumer and corporate interests is a regime that is open to new technologies but ensures they are tested in a way that keeps public safety and health paramount. And so long as we apply the same rules and standards across the board the protectionist label doesn't stick. From its side, the biotech industry needs to keep in mind that while technology determines what is possible, consumer demand determines what is economically viable. Public fears may be misplaced, but they cannot and should not be dismissed. We -- and by that I mean you the industry and we, public authorities and governments -- need to do a better job of setting out the issues." ============== Many thanks for the invitation to join you today. The title of this conference calls biotech 'the invisible revolution'. Which is true. Yet this all but invisible technology is reshaping agriculture and industry; revolutionising medicine. Biotechnology is arguably the coal face of applied science in the twenty first century. But biotech can arouse strong emotions. There is something in human nature that can make us afraid of science, nervous of new technologies. When those technologies affect the basic materials of life, the concerns are magnified. But technological change has transformed the way we live immeasurably for the better. The scientific revolution taught us how to understand the natural world. Technological change has given us the capacity to shape and develop it for the public good. My essential message today is that biotechnology is a critical part of the world's economic and environmental future. But it touches on some deeply sensitive issues -- it goes right to the heart of how we feel about nature, risk and technology. There are still those who are unnerved at the speed with which science, and the application of science through technology, changes our lives. Biotech is at the sharpest end of that technological revolution -- and evokes some of the strongest responses. Its advocates -- like the advocates of many new technologies -- sometimes make expansive claims. Its opponents say untested technology is being pushed on unwilling people. The atmosphere can end up so impossibly polarised that a rational public debate becomes impossible. However, we must not allow the positive argument for biotech to be lost because public authorities and governments are sometimes afraid or unable to make the case to their citizens. That is not the leadership the public has the right to expect. As others around the world move ahead -- in the United States and Japan, but also the emerging economies -- we in Europe must also play a leading role in a sector that will play such an important role in tomorrow's economy. So we need an open and rational debate about the risks and benefits of biotechnology more than ever. That debate -- and the implications for trade and development -- is what I would like to talk about today. The Biotech Economy We are already living in a biotech era -- from the medicine you take to the laundry detergent you use. In the health sector, biotechnology is now an essential part of the development of new drugs and therapies. Industrial biotechnology that can replace chemical processes and the consumption of fossil fuels will be important in reducing Europe's carbon footprint. The European Union's bio-fuel strategy would not be possible without industrial biotechnology. Most Europeans are not overly troubled by this. In fact, the most recent Eurobarometer on this subject from 2005 actually showed that most Europeans are enthusiastic about potential new applications of biotechnology. But there is one glaring exception. Something like six in ten Europeans say they oppose Genetically Modified food. When applied to agriculture and the food we eat, biotech appears more threatening and our reaction is more ambivalent. Nevertheless, half of Europeans still say that they would be ready to buy GM food if it were healthier or more environmentally friendly. Which suggests that the advocates of biotechnology need to do a lot more to explain what biotech is, and what its real risks and benefits are. The role of science and risk Like any new science, biotechnology carries risks and those risks must be probably assessed and managed. EU legislation on the approval of biotech products requires all new products to be thoroughly tested to the most rigorous scientific standards. But no technology can ever be totally risk free. So we have developed the precautionary principle which is now incorporated in most EU policy on environmental and health protection. The precautionary principle is not about purely hypothetical hazards. It carries its own strict preconditions. First, a potentially dangerous effect must be identified and second, it must be possible to show clearly that we do not have the scientific means to judge properly the level of risk. This process takes time, and those whose job it is to manage risk are right to be thorough. But it is also reasonable to insist that when the process has run its course, and the scientific issues have been thrashed out, we stand by the science. And that applies to both the technical experts and to the politicians they report to. A rigorous system means approving GM imports when the science is on their side just as we take a firm line when precaution is justified. It is hard enough to communicate the outcome of complex scientific assessments to people in a simple but clear manner. If politicians and risk managers undermine their own system it becomes almost impossible. We devalue objective science as our most important benchmark -- and that is a dangerous step to take. Biotechnology and the (next) green revolution The reason for a consistent, science-based approach to GMOs is not only a matter of good government and public trust. A rational debate on GMOs is a matter of the economic future and well-being of people around the world. Take agriculture. The world's population is projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organisation anticipates that world food demand will double by that date, while agriculture will have to produce more energy crops and more raw materials for industry if we want to tackle climate change. To meet this demand in a sustainable way, we will have to increase productivity in agriculture. Water resources will be put under increasing strain. Inputs like nitrogen fertilisers will become more expensive and subject to stricter rules. Forty years ago, the green revolution was about producing more with more: more fertilisers, more energy, more water. The challenge of the 21st century is to produce more with less. We face a huge rise in demand for food and animal feed in the developing world. GM can help developing countries produce crops designed to address their specific needs -- like genetically modified wheat did in India and Pakistan. It is simply not responsible or defensible calmly to refuse to assess the role of GM food in meeting those demands. Could Europe get left behind? Turning our own backs on safe GMOs here in Europe may carry the same risks. Europe is a major agricultural exporter and one of the largest importers of farm goods -- including biotech products. This is particularly important for the European livestock industry. Europe is heavily dependant on the import of feed products for the simple reason that we do not have the available land both to farm animals and to grow the feed they need. Reliable imports of feed are the basis of EU livestock production and its thousands of jobs. My colleague Mariann Fischer Boel, the Agriculture Commissioner, has just conducted a study on the impact on the EU farm sector when GM crops that have been widely approved outside of Europe are then not approved in Europe. The results suggest that as the EU's major suppliers of animal foods, such as soybeans, approve new GM varieties, Europe may find it increasingly difficult to source GM-free soybeans. China's massive appetite for soybeans will also increasingly shape what is grown and sold. Today, agricultural biotech has largely remained a US-based industry. But very soon it is likely to become a global technology. Unless we can close the gap between GMO approvals in the EU and in feed- exporting countries such as US, Argentina and Brazil we may have hungry cows and struggling farmers. Isolation from international trade in agricultural biotech products that have passed credible safety standards simply may not be a viable option for the EU, and we have to understand this reality. The implications for trade policy How do these questions impact on trade policy? Europe's policies on biotechnology are above all a domestic issue. We set and implement our own rules, a right respected alongside our obligations under agreements like the Cartagena protocol and the WTO SPS Agreement. But in an increasingly open global economy, where trading partners are moving ahead with their own GM and biotech policies, Europe's policies will of course affect those who want to trade with us. We will inevitably be scrutinised closely. If we fail to implement our own rules, or implement them inconsistently, we can -- and probably will - be challenged. I believe Europe should have a positive agenda too -- an interest in shaping a global system of clear rules that allow exporters and importers to trade GM crops and feed in confidence. Europe can and should play a leading role here. International negotiations on the Codex Alimentarius as an important standard setting body are one place to start. The Biosafety Clearing House of the Cartagena Protocol needs to be made fully operational to allow developing countries to make informed choices about the food products they import. Within the WTO, the SPS Agreement could become a stronger focal point for international rules on GM policy and practice. We also need to recognise that our rules raise the bar for exporters into the European Union from developing countries, who sometimes see our safety standards as an impediment to trade or even as hidden protectionism. If we want developing countries to participate in the trade in biotechnology and to benefit from it we have to provide support to enable them to meet the requirements. By helping them fulfil our requirements, we can help them meet global standards. Most importantly, we must be under no illusion that Europe's interests are served by being outside a global market that is steadily working its way through the issues raised by GM food. They are not. Conclusion: the way ahead One extreme of the biotech debate in agriculture often wrongly portrays it as a conflict between consumer sovereignty and corporate power -- between caution and recklessness. The other extreme of the debate -- especially in the United States -- thinks it is a tussle between free trade and protectionism. It is none of these. Strong safety standards are legitimate principles of international law. The best defence of consumer -- and corporate - interests is a regime that is open to new technologies but ensures they are tested in a way that keeps public safety and health paramount. And so long as we apply the same rules and standards across the board the protectionist label doesn't stick. From its side, the biotech industry needs to keep in mind that while technology determines what is possible, consumer demand determines what is economically viable. Public fears may be misplaced, but they cannot and should not be dismissed. We -- and by that I mean you the industry and we, public authorities and governments -- need to do a better job of setting out the issues. So that people are aware of the potential benefits of GM food; and -- crucially -- so they have confidence in our testing and approval regime and are given appropriate information. Otherwise too many Europeans will continue to see GMOs in black and white terms, wholly good or wholly bad. The way that human technologies affect us and the natural world has always been a flashpoint for debate. Biotechnology is no different. The only rational response is a patient assessment of the evidence and a careful explanation of the facts. Biotechnology has already improved millions of lives around the world. That alone is reason enough to ensure that we do not deny those benefits to millions more. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), Jun. 20, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] PROVINCE ISN'T DOING ENOUGH TO PROTECT WATER: NDP LEADER By Rob O'flanagan Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton was in Guelph yesterday talking about water resources. Water is a finite resource that must be carefully conserved, says provincial NDP Leader Howard Hampton, who stood near the rippling Speed River in Guelph yesterday and assumed the stance of guardian of the province's precious H2O. Flanked by Guelph's federal New Democrat candidate Tom King and Wellington Water Watchers' activist James Gordon, Hampton said the Liberal government is not observing a "precautionary principle" to protect and sustain water, allowing it to be bottled and sold by private companies, and potentially exported to the United States. Strong regulations are needed to protect the vulnerable resource, he said. Hampton said a major population surge projected for Guelph will put water resources under increasing pressure. Allowing a major international company like Nestle to drain off local water is a mistake, Hampton said. Nestle Waters Canada has a major water bottling operation in Aberfoyle. Global warming, Hampton added, will have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of our water. Hampton said that before the 2003 election, McGuinty asserted taking water for commercial purposes should be limited. The government recently brought in the Safeguarding and Sustaining Ontario's Water Act, intended to strengthen the management, protection and conservation of Ontario's water resources. But Hampton said the legislation is toothless. "While the rhetoric of the legislation is all high sounding and has all of the right buzz words in it, when you actually look at the legal standards in the legislation and the legal requirements in the legislation, they are very lax," he said. There is nothing in the legislation to prevent a large private company from taking large quantities of water from local aquifers or from transferring water out of the Great Lakes, he said. The issue is relevant to Guelph, he said, because Nestle recently applied to renew its permit to take nearly 3.6 million litres of water out of wells in Aberfoyle daily for the next five years. "This all comes to roost here in Guelph because you have a very large transnational corporation, Nestle, which wants to get a permit to take very large amounts of water from one of the local aquifers," Hampton said. "Many of the people who are sounding the warning about global warning are saying that part of global warming is you cannot take your water supplies for granted," he added. "In the longer term, areas in southern Ontario may have less water than we have traditionally had, and we may go through periods of very serious drought." King called water a "precious resource." Letting a company pump water is "just plain nuts," he said, urging consumers to stop buying bottled water. King and James Gordon agreed water coming out of Guelph's taps is of excellent quality, and said there is no need to purchase bottled water. "I think the days of bottled water has come and gone," Gordon said, adding the public has put its trust in the government to protect and preserve our water supply, but the government does not have firm strategies in place to do so. email@example.com Copyright 2007 Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: EurActiv, Jun. 14, 2007 [Printer-friendly version] NGOS URGE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE IN USE OF NANOMATERIALS As lack of scientific data on nanotech's health and environmental risks impedes the development of specific legislation, NGOs [non- governmental organizatuions] call for the application of the precautionary principle. "The need for more evidence does not have to stop us from taking action now," they claim. ======================================================== Related: Nanotech -- risks for health and environment need assessment ======================================================== Background: Industry is increasingly using nanotechnology in sectors such as healthcare (medicine), consumer products (food, electronics, cosmetics), information technology and the environment. However, major gaps remain concerning the exposure risks associated with nanomaterials. The potential risks of nanotechnology include the risk to health of nanoparticles and materials as the nanoparticles can be inhaled, swallowed, absorbed through skin or injected into the body, whereas the behaviour of nanoparticles inside the body is not as yet known. As to environmental risks, the effects of free nanoparticles on the air or water are also unknown. ======================================================== Other related news Biomonitoring still perceived as 'controversial' science Member states accused of 'cheating' on bathing-water quality Experts urge international effort on nanotech safety UN says more research needed on nanotech safety Experts tell EU to prop up ethics in nanomedicine ======================================================== While nanotech products are already being mass-produced, the political debate on regulating nanotechnologies is just beginning. The EU's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENHIR), which has analysed whether the current nanotech risk- assessments are good enough for developing legislation, came to the Conclusion (2006) that improvement is needed. Issues: "The production of nanomaterials is increasing rapidly and they have broad applications (tennis balls, cosmetics, electronic equipments, cleaning products, stain- free surface coatings) even if their health, environment and safety aspects are not known yet," said Commission official Eva Hellsten in a Green Week session on 'Future Scenarios for Human Health and the Environment' on 13 June 2007. She explained that the EU's approach to nanotechnologies is 'safe, integrated and responsible' and presented two range of issues currently under EU examination: Regulatory aspects -- making an inventory of existing regulation and checking whether nanotechnologies are already covered by other community legislation, thus defining the legislative framework, considering both implementation and enforcement tools for this specific framework, and; improving knowledge base -- conducting nanotech risk assessment, considering risk management and studying toxicity, ecotoxicity, as well as human and environmental exposure to nanomaterials. "Environmental and health risks of nanomaterials are in principle covered by the EU regulatory framework. However, implementation of the legal framework remains difficult because of scientific knowledge gaps [on nanomaterials] and a fast-evolving market for products," said Hellsten. Positions: "Will we slam the stable door after the horse has bolted?" asked Benedicte Paviot, moderator of the session, using a metaphor to raise a question on the urgency of nanotech regulation. "Current scientific risk-assessment methods [for nanomaterials] are really not reliable. We don't have the knowledge. Nanomaterials are so small and reactive and we don't have natural defences in the body against them," said Eva Hellsten, from the Commission's DG Environment, Directorate Water, Chemicals and Cohesion. Hellsten added that inclusion of nanomaterials in the Reach chemicals regulation that entered into force on 1 July 2007 is "somewhat problematic". "Nanomaterials resemble chemicals, but the novel nanomaterial properties being developed make them different," she said. But Erwin Annys, speaking for the chemical industry group CEFIC, was more convinced that no specific nanomaterial regulation is needed as "nanomaterials are already covered by the current Reach legislation". Aleksandra Kordecka, chemicals campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) said that the "opportunities for improvement in the next Reach, set to take place 2012, include the inclusion of new substances, such as nanoparticles, to the law. With regards Reach, she said that FoE "is quite seriously concerned that it will not be properly implemented and afraid that future reviews will weaken the law". "More money in the EU's Seventh framework programme for research (FP7) goes towards the development of new nanomaterials rather than studying their health and environmental effects," a representative of Friends of the Earth pointed out, urging more coherence between stated policy priorities and final actions. She also said that ensuring nanomaterials safety has been an issue for re-insurance companies, due to lack of proper health-risk assessment. Lisette van Vliet, toxics policy advisor at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said: "There is a huge gap between what science tells us about chemicals and the policy methods used to protect health." She illustrated how, between 1970 and 2000, the regulation on methylmercury has become stricter as more scientific evidence and knowledge has been gained and urged the application of the precautionary principle. "The need for more research and evidence does not have to stop us from taking action now." According to a recent Eurobarometer (June 2006), Europeans do not perceive nanotech as risky; rather, they support its development, perceive it as being useful to society and morally acceptable and have far greater confidence in regulation than for example their transatlantic counterparts in the US or Canada. Links EU official documents PreLex: Commission communication: nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009 Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENHIR) Opinion on the appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies (28-29 September 2005) Think tanks & Academia Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars -- Project on emerging nanotechnologies: Nanotechnology and Life Cycle Assessment -- A systems approach to nanotechnology and the environment -- Synthesis of results obtained at a workshop in Washington DC 2-3 October 2006 (20 March 2007) The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering: Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties -- Two-year review of progress on Government actions: Joint academies' response to the Council for Science and Technology's call for evidence (October 2006) The Royal Society: Nanotechnology and Nanoscience: opportunities and challenges (July 2004) International Organisations United Nations Environment Programme: GEO (Global Environment Outlook) Year Book 2007 (5 February 2007) [Emerging challenges - nanotechnology and the environment] @ EurActiv Return to Table of Contents ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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