Rachel's Precaution Reporter #115

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2007..........Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

France Promises Green Revolution
  French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted at a shift in political
  culture which would see France's institutions adopt the precautionary
  principle when dealing with potential environmental threats -- rather
  than expect those opposed to a practice to prove it could be harmful,
  those proposing ecologically destructive decisions will need to prove
  there is no other choice.
Torturers Are Now Invoking the Precautionary Principle
  "Countries are accepting the 'precautionary principle' and are
  gathering and sharing information not only to track suspected
  'terrorists' but to stop dissidents from flying and/or entering other
  countries, to stop activists and intellectuals at borders, to detain
  persons without reasonable grounds and to send persons to third
  countries and prisons operated by the U.S. government, where are
  detained indefinitely without charge, tortured and are sometimes
Parents Worried About Toxics Get Picky About Kid Products
  Whole Foods' Michaels said many parents naturally follow the
  "precautionary principle," erring on the side of caution to protect
  their children.
Commentary: Elektro-smog and the Politics of Class Injustice
  "Countries such as Switzerland, which both honor the precautionary
  principle and have good cell phone service, operate within standards
  that are 100 times more protective than our own."
How a Mother's Love Is at Heart of Power Struggle
  "We got no answers," she said. "Our community is very angry over
  the health implications, the serious, serious health implications of
  the high-voltage power lines."
GMOs: 'Don't Mix the Precautionary Principle and Public Perception'
  An interview with the executive director of EuropaBio, the trade
  association for biotechnooogy corporations in Europe.


From: Edie News Centre, Oct. 29, 2007
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By Sam Bond

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has put a moratorium on the
growing of genetically-modified crops and has announced plans to ban
energy-wasting lightbulbs along with a raft of other concessions to
the environment in a move which is supposed to put France in the
vanguard of 'green' states on the international stage.

Speaking at the end of a major conference which brought together
politicians, business people and environmental activists, Mr Sarkozy
pledged to lead a green revolution.

While his speech was full of good intentions, concrete promises were
thin on the ground.

He did say GMOs would be banned, though it was unclear whether this
would be a permanent measure or a temporary moratorium to allow for
further investigation into their potential environmental impact.

He also said France would aim to phase out all incandescent lightbulbs
by 2010, nine years earlier than the European industry's own self-
imposed targets.

Perhaps most importantly, he hinted at a shift in political culture
which would see France's institutions adopt the precautionary
principle when dealing with potential environmental threats -- rather
than expect those opposed to a practice to prove it could be harmful,
those proposing ecologically destructive decisions will need to prove
there is no other choice.

Environmentalists have expressed disappointment that there was no
suggestion that France would reduce its reliance on nuclear power
generation and that action on transport, a major source of emissions
for the country, looked likely to be limited.

Mr Sarkozy called for more use of train transport, and better fuel
efficiency for cars but there were no firm proposals on how this might
be encouraged.

While the President's speech was lacking in detail, it did spell out a
change in emphasis from his administration and if the rhetoric
translates into action then France could soon be on the way to
becoming a world leader in sustainable development.

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From: MWC News, Oct. 30, 2007
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By Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat

On the invitation six members of the Canadian Parliament to speak
October 25 on Canada's Parliament Hill as a member of a panel called
"Peacebuilders Without Borders: Challenging the Post-9/11 Canada-US
Security Agenda," I arrived at the Ottawa airport in the morning of
October 25 to be met by three members of Parliament and to hold a
press conference at the airport.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink Women for Peace and Global
Exchange, was also invited by the Parliamentarians, but had been
arrested the previous day for holding up two fingers in the form of a
peace sign during the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign
Affairs hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified
on Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestinian issues.

The October 24 committee hearing began with Codepink peace activist
Desiree Fairooz holding up her red paint stained hands to Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice and shouting "The blood of millions of Iraqis
is on your hands." As Capitol Hill police took her out of the hearing
of the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs, Fairooz
yelled over her shoulder "war criminal, take her to the Hague."
Shortly thereafter two Codepinkers were arrested for just being in the
room and brutally hauled out of the hearing by Capitol police. An hour
later Medea and a male Codepinker were arrested for no reason. Four of
the five had to stay overnight in the District of Columbia jail. Medea
was one of those and missed the trip to Ottawa.

I presented to immigration officials our letter of invitation from the
Parliamentarians that explained that Medea and I had been denied entry
to Canada at the Niagara Falls border crossing on October 3, 2007
because we had been convicted in the United States of peaceful, non-
violent protests against the war on Iraq, including sitting on the
sidewalk in front of the White House with 400 others, speaking out
against torture during Congressional hearings, and other misdemeanors.

The Canadian government knew of these offenses as they now have access
to the FBI's National Crime Information database on which we are
listed. The database that was created to identify members of violent
gangs and terrorist organizations, foreign fugitives, patrol violators
and sex offenders -- not for peace activists peacefully protesting
illegal actions of their government.

The immigration officer directed me to secondary screening where my
request to call the members of Parliament waiting outside the customs
doors was denied. My suggestion that the letter of invitation from the
Parliamentarians might be valuable in accessing the need for me to be
in Canada was dismissed with the comment that members of Parliament do
not have a role in determining who enters Canada. I suggested that the
laws enacted by the Parliament were the basis of that determination. I
added that the reason I had been invited to Ottawa by Parliamentarian
was to be an example of how current laws may exclude those whom
Canadians may wish to allow to enter. I also mentioned that Parliament
might decide to change the laws that immigration officials implement.
I also suggested that since the Parliament provides the budget to the
Immigration Services, they might notify the Parliamentarians awaiting
my arrival that I had been detained. The officers declined to do so
citing my privacy, which I immediately waived. The Parliamentarians
were never notified by Immigration that I had arrived and was being
detained. Only when my cell phone was returned to me by Immigration
officers four hours later was I able to make contact with the

After nearly four hours of interrogation, I was told by the senior
immigration officer that I was banned from Canada for one year for
failure to provide appropriate documents that would overcome the
exclusion order I had been given in early October because of
conviction of misdemeanors (all payable by fines) in the United
States. The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit
(TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must
provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer's
report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the
convictions and an official document describing the termination of
sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by
the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten
years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and
Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected
members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to
write a letter all been convicted of similar "offenses") and a
completed 18 page "criminal rehabilitation" packet.

Additionally, besides obtaining the Temporary Resident Permit, since I
was being banned for a year from Canada, I would have to obtain a
"Canadian Government Minister's consent." The officer said that the
TRP and the Minister's consent normally took from 8-10 months to
obtain. In the distant future, to be able to enter Canada without a
TRP, I would have to have to be "criminally rehabilitated" and be free
for five years of conviction of any offense, including for peaceful

The senior immigration officer took my fingerprints for Canadian
records, escorted me to the airport departures area and placed me on
the first plane departing for Washington, DC. In the meantime, the
members of Parliament conducted the press conference and the panel
without my presence but certainly using the example of what had
happened to me and previously to Medea Benjamin as incidents that the
Parliamentarians are very concerned about, specifically their
government's wholesale acceptance of information on the FBI's
database, information that appears to have been placed there for
political intimidation.

A participant on the Parliamentary panel that I was unable to attend
was Monia Mazigh, the wife of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was sent
by US authorities when he transited New York's JFK airport, to Syria
where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months. The day before I
arrived at the Ottawa airport, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
acknowledged that the United States had "not handled his case
properly." But Rice did not apologize to Arar on behalf of the Bush
administration during testimony to the House of Representatives
Foreign Affairs Committee. The previous week during a video
conference, both Republican and Democrat members of Congress offered
apologies to Arar. Arar, an Ottawa telecommunications engineer, still
has a lawsuit pending against American officials. Arguments are
scheduled for Nov. 9 in New York.

Many countries have succumbed to the behind the scenes 9-11 pressure
of the Bush administration to enact extensive and expansive anti-
terrorism laws to increase "harmonization" and integration of security
measures among countries. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is
mirroring the Bush administration's use of security measures to
increase control over dissent in their country -- and in other

Most of the new security measures are done through administrative
agreements, international joint working groups, regulations and the
use of international organizations such as the G-8 and the
International Civil Aviation Organization. By using administrative
regulations, the U.S. and Canadian governments avoid opening up the
proposed restrictions of personal privacy to public scrutiny and
debate by preventing such regulations from being enacted in the
Congress or Parliament.

Through these agreements with Canada and other G-8 countries, the Bush
administration is setting up a global infrastructure for the
registration and surveillance of populations worldwide, looking at
every person as a suspect and a risk, whom must in their opinion, as a
precaution, be identified and tracked. Ordinary legal protections
fundamental to democratic societies such as the presumption of
innocence, rights against unreasonable search and seizure and rights
against arbitrary detention and punishment are greatly threatened by
these precautionary measures.

Countries are accepting the "precautionary principle" and are
gathering and sharing information not only to track suspected
"terrorists" but to stop dissidents from flying and/or entering other
countries, to stop activists and intellectuals at borders (the Bush
administration has refused visas for numerous academics from all over
the world who have been invited to teach at American universities but
whom have spoken and written against the Bush war in Iraq, torture and
other violations of international law), to detain persons without
reasonable grounds and to send persons to third countries and prisons
operated by the US government, where are detained indefinitely without
charge, tortured and are sometimes murdered.

The Canada-U.S. Smart Border Agreement and Action Plan, an
administrative agreement signed in December 2001, is the master
document for security integration between Canada and the United
States. The agreement calls for biometric standards for identity
cards, coordinated visa an refugee policy, coordinate risk assessment
of travelers, integrated border and marine enforcement teams,
integrated national security intelligence teams, coordinated terrorist
lists, increased intelligence sharing and joint efforts to promote the
Canada-US model internationally.

After 9-11 the Bush administration, under the National Security Entry-
exit Registration System (NSEERS) registered and took biometric
identifiers (fingerprints) of all males age 16-45 with links to Muslim
and Arab countries visiting or traveling though the United States.
Next, persons applying for visas to visit the United States had to
submit biometric data (fingerprints) that will be stored in a US
database for 100 years through the new U.S. Visitor and Immigrant
Status Indication Technology (US-VISIT) program.

The Bush administration expanded its biometric round-up on a global
scale in 2002 by requiring all countries that want to retain their
visa waiver status with the U.S. to require by 2004 biometric
passports through the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform
Act of 2002. In 2004 the International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO) set a face recognition standard with fingerprint and iris scans
as optional standards. Beginning in 2005 the United States and Canada
have biometric passports with facial recognition.

We all want our countries to be safe from criminal actions. However,
the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties and purposeful
targeting of those who disagree with government policies must end.

I call on the US Congress to conduct hearings to determine who ordered
the FBI to place peaceful, non-violence protest convictions on the
international data base and for what purpose.

It feels to me like purposeful intimidation to stop dissent -- but I
can guarantee you, it won't work!

To all those concerned about free speech, freedom to travel, ending an
illegal war, stopping torture and other violations of domestic and
international law, come to Washington and help us!!!

(For more extensive information on security agreements that
unnecessarily jeopardize our civil liberties, please see
"Americanizing the Restriction of Canadians' Rights -- Security
Overtaking Trade as a Driver of 'Deep Integration'," by Maureen Webb,
Canadian centre for Policy Alternatives.

About the Author: Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army veteran who retired
as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in
opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada,
Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and
Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened
the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The US Department of State has
delayed for over three months publication of her new book "Dissent:
Voices of Conscience." It will be published whenever the State
Department finishes its search for classified materials.

Copyright 2007 MWC News

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From: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Ariz.), Oct. 31, 2007
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By Elizabeth Weise and Liz Szabo, USA Today

Consider the BornFree baby bottle. It's made from a plastic that is
five times as expensive as the one used for regular baby bottles. And
its retail price, $9.50, is about triple that of a conventional

It also is flying off shelves in stores catering to parents who want
the safest possible environment for their babies, stores where items
labeled "bisphenol A-free" and "phthalate-free" line up next to the
cloth diapers and breast pumps.

To anyone not contemplating parenthood, phthalates and bisphenol A
sound like something kids bring home on chemistry quizzes, not cuddle
in their cribs. But these chemicals are actually at the heart of
worldwide scientific investigation and a debate over whether they are
harmful to the very young.

Parents, activists and not a few scientists are concerned that if a
baby drinks from a bottle made with bisphenol A or gums a toy made
with phthalates, he or she could suffer serious and even permanent
harm, including genital malformations.

These substances are sometimes called "everywhere chemicals" because
they're so widely used. Bisphenol A, used to make plastics strong and
shatter-resistant, shows up in water bottles, food containers, baby
bottles, some dental fillings and the coatings for the inside of cans
containing foods.

Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), which make plastic soft and
flexible, are used in toys, rattles, teethers, car interiors and
medical devices such as tubing, catheters and intravenous bags.

Nearly every American has been exposed. A 2000 study by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of 75
percent of the people tested. CDC research has shown that 95 percent
of Americans have detectable levels of bisphenol A in their bodies.

The American Medical Association last month urged the Food and Drug
Administration to require labeling of all medical products containing
one phthalate to protect newborns in hospitals. More than a hundred
hospitals have begun removing such products from their neonatal

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the National Academies
of Science to produce a report on phthalates, a process that could
take several years. The National Academies data would help the EPA set
a "reference dose" for those chemicals, the maximum amount scientists
think a person could be exposed to in food and water every day without
suffering harm.

The agency also is doing research on the health effects of bisphenol A
and has begun a risk assessment, likely a multiyear process.

Although the government hasn't made up its mind, more and more parents

Take Marina Borrone of Menlo Park, Calif. For Borrone, a clean house
is about more than sparkling countertops. She aims to protect her home
from chemicals she fears could harm her family or the planet. The
restaurant owner and mom shuns most plastic in favor of old-fashioned
glass baby bottles and wooden toys.

Her home state is catching up with her. This month, California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the country's first ban on the
use of phthalates in toys and other kids' products. Under the law, any
product made for young children that contains more than one-tenth of 1
percent of phthalates cannot be sold or distributed in California
beginning in 2009.

The chemical industry disagrees with this approach.

"We know that exposure to phthalates is very low, well within what the
EPA sets as their safety limits," said Marian Stanley, an American
Chemistry Council spokeswoman. "We believe that for the amount in
which they're used and the amounts that people are exposed to, there
is not a problem."

Jeremiah McElwee, who oversees health and beauty products at Whole
Foods Market Inc., said her company stopped selling baby bottles made
of polycarbonate plastic in January 2006 over concerns about a form of
bisphenol A used in the plastic.

"The research doesn't say these compounds are bad," said Joe Dickson,
Whole Foods' quality-standards coordinator. "It says these products
have a lot of question marks around them."

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association says in a series of
fact sheets on the safety of bisphenol A that plastic containing the
chemical "has been rigorously studied and tested by both industry and
government for decades."

Whole Foods' Michaels said many parents naturally follow the
"precautionary principle," erring on the side of caution to protect
their children.

Evenflo has marketed a glass baby bottle since the era when all baby
bottles were glass, but its plastic bottles contain the chemical.
Gerber sells several bisphenol A-free bottles, including its Clear
View, Fashion Tints and Gentle Flow lines. Playtex' Nurser System
disposable liners also do not contain the chemical.

Small companies focusing on baby bottles without bisphenol A are doing
a brisk business. BornFree went on sale last year, and the Adiri
Natural Nurser made its debut this summer.

Adiri can "barely keep up with demand" and ran out of its smallest
bottles within a week of their August launch, said Sarah Eisner, vice
president of sales and marketing.

The chemical industry has responded quickly to the threat to its
market share. The American Chemistry Council, through a complaint
filed with the Better Business Bureau, forced BornFree to change its
marketing this year. The company used to pitch its bottles as a safer
alternative but was ordered in February not to claim its products are
more child- or eco-friendly.

In December, the National Toxicology Program, part of the Department
of Health and Human Services, concluded that one form of phthalate,
called di(2-ethylhexyl) or DEHP, used in intravenous tubing, catheters
and other flexible plastic medical equipment, could pose a risk to
baby boys' reproductive tracts.

Copyright 2007, azcentral.com

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From: The Berkeley (Calif.) Daily Planet, Nov. 2, 2007
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By Laurie Baumgarten

Welcome to South Berkeley. With its 14 cell phone antenna locations
and an unknown number of actual radiation emitters at each location,
South Berkeley has become Berkeley's elektro-smog ghetto. Any Berkeley
resident who lives in a neighborhood without antennas is probably
using ours! As far back as1996, the Communications Workers of America
stated in their pamphlet called Your Community Guide to Cellular Phone
Towers, " In some cases, companies have chosen poorer sections of a
town to build towers. Is this part of town being asked to house the
eyesore and health hazard so the other side of town can use the

Elekro-smog is the term German citizens have given to ambient RF
radiation coming from cell phone antennas. These antennas pollute the
environment continuously with low- level radio frequency emissions. RF
radiation has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause
cell damage in lab animals. Studies done in Spain, Germany, Israel,
Austria, Egypt and the Netherlands indicate significant adverse health
effects from living near cell antennas. In September, the European
Environmental Agency urged precaution. The National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences has classified electromagnetic fields as
Class 2B carcinogens, as has the World Health Organization.

The recent BioInitiative Report (
http://www.bioinitiative.org/report/index.htm), published in August,
2007, written by 14 scientists and public health advocates states,
"There may be no limit at which exposures do not affect us. Until we
know if there is a lower limit below which bioeffects and adverse
health impacts do not occur, it is unwise from a public health
perspective to continue " business-as-usual" deploying new
technologies that increase ELF and RF exposures, particularly
involuntary exposures."

Many scientists with excellent reputations have found ill effects from
exposure to RF radiation only to have their funding cut off and their
reputations ruined. The case of Robert Becker is an example of a giant
in this field who had his lab closed and his career smashed in the
1980's when he started alerting the public to the connection between
power lines and leukemia. How can studies be replicated and refined if
funding is denied and researchers fired? Louis Slesin (MA in Chemical
Physics from Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Policy from
M.I.T.), who is the editor of Microwave News says in an interview in
October, 2007 with the Institute for Inquiry, a non-profit web-based
organization and journal, "A new generation of scientists comes along,
asks the same question, finds the same effect and publishes the
results, but then the funding dries up and the issue remains
unresolved....The major player is industry (electric utility and
telecommunications), and its principal objective is to shut down all
health research."

We need the health questions answered if we want our government to set
emission standards that are protective. Instead, our FCC standards
were set by representatives of the industry and the military, but
there is a growing consensus that those standards are too low.
Countries such as Switzerland, which both honor the precautionary
principle and have good cell phone service, operate within standards
that are 100 times more protective than our own. Must we in South
Berkeley live in a degraded environment because we live downtown? How
is Berkeley going to sell the concept of infill and density if living
in these multi-use neighborhoods means being exposed to harmful

There is also a growing consensus about cell phones themselves. The
Karolinska Institute of Sweden has found a 39% increase in brain
tumors on the side of the head radiated by cell phones among people
who have been using cell phones for 10 years or more. Recently, Marcus
Antonietti of the Max Planck Institute, one of Germany's most renowned
scientific research facilities, warned of greater danger than
previously thought from these emissions. He has limited his daughter
to no more than five minutes a day on her cell phone!

The City's own health officer, Fred Medrano, submitted a report in
July, 2006, after reviewing the literature, that states that he does
not know whether RF radiation is safe or not. Are the chances 50-50?
70-30? What percentage of chance makes it acceptable to irradiate
people, young and old, people who happen to live in the flatlands? To
date, there has been no measuring of these emissions to find out if
South Berkeley is out-of-whack with other neighborhoods.

Verizon is presently threatening to sue the City of Berkeley. If our
local ordinance is thrown out in court, even those of you who live in
more affluent neighborhoods may be effected. If tall buildings are the
desirable hot spots, why not the Claremont Hotel, or the Lab up the
hill? Perhaps you will find the trade-off of having towers close by
worth it: The closer the antenna, the weaker the signal, and the less
radiation going into your head.

Personally, I want no part of this devil's bargain. I prefer my low-
tech cord phone, and I don't like being a guinea pig. Class divisions
aside, all of us are in this boat together. Our environment needs
repair in many ways, and this issue of wireless technology is one of
them. The insanity of the present type of irrational development gets
even worse when guided by the proprietary interests of the telecom
companies. According to law, when a company puts up cell antennas in a
particular location, every other company can put up antennas in the
same location in order to compete for business. This is called
collocation, which increases the health risks to a particular
neighborhood. If these microwaves can go through our walls, then they
also go into our bodies, and no amount of tin foil on our windows, as
suggested by Gordon Wozniak at our last council meeting, is going to
protect us.

So what is the way out of this horrible conundrum?

We have to stand up for our democratic right to control the health of
our community and protect our children and ourselves. Berkeley
Neighborhood Antenna Free Union (BNAFU) believes that our city should
not be intimidated by the threat of a lawsuit by Verizon or by nay-
saying attorneys and technocrats who are afraid to challenge existing
telecommunications law. We need to assemble a team of people who are
passionate about this cause and who have legal knowledge from all
angles: Is there no constitutional, environmental, or public interest
law that could be brought to bear on this case? Has the whole issue of
need vs. capacity and transmission of voice vs. film and music data
been explored legally? We want our city officials to do EVERYTHING in
their power to pressure the courts: We want them to use connections to
Boalt Law School, to mayors and attorneys in other cities, to national
Democratic Party officials and representatives to help us stand up for
what is right. When we allow the corporations to muzzle the free
speech of our government representatives, as The Telecommunications
Act of 1996 does, then it is time for both moral courage and outrage.

We saw that courage and leadership in Max Anderson, our council
member, who spoke up for the people of South Berkeley at the October
23rd City Council meeting. He put forward a motion to support our
local zoning board's refusal to grant the antenna permit on U.C.
Storage Building. Yet, because he mentioned his obligation to protect
the health of his constituents, Verizon appealed once again to the
federal court in Oakland to have our local ordinance immediately
thrown out. We believe that our government officials, and city staff
workers and managers should have the right to freely and publicly
respond to the issues of health concerns without risking a lawsuit or
compromising a positive outcome in court. The right to free speech
should not be curtailed in anyway! The laws of the FCC are ripe for
change by Congress but unless we denounce the Telecommunications Act,
and take it to the courts- and the streets- Congress will not get the

New technologies exist that do not emit RF radiation and are actually
much faster. One such example is underground fiber-optics. From all I
have read, I hope that wireless technology, which relies on radio
frequency microwaves, goes the way of the Edsel. But more than that, I
hope and pray that we are mistaken. Wouldn't it be nice to have our
cake and be able to eat it too? In the meantime, with cancer rates as
high as they are, our bodies are saying NO. There are too many
different kinds of environmental triggers for us to go into denial
about this one. Our city council is still waffling on whether to grant
Verizon a permit. Please support us by showing up once again-yes,
folks, it's a drag, but we need you once again -- at Old City Hall at
7:00 on Nov. 6 to say to our representatives: DON'T SELL US OUT. STAND

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From: Independent.ie (Dublin, Ireland), Oct. 28, 2007
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Communities along the new north-south electricity path are preparing
to fight, says Maeve Sheehan

Ann Murray divides her time between her job with Monaghan County
Council and raising her three children in the sleepy village of
Annyala, in the north of the border county. She involves herself in
the day-to-day goings on of her community, welcomed the opening of a
creche for pre-school children, and enjoys rearing her family in the
peaceful countryside where she grew up.

Two weeks ago, this typical working mother took on an unexpected role
as community activist. The spur was not the more usual issues that
plague country communities, issues such as rural crime. It was her
almost chance discovery that her rural hamlet fell right in the path
of an 80-kilometre high-voltage crossborder electricity cable planned
to run from Cavan, across Monaghan to Tyrone. A second power line in
Meath would boost the supply to the densely populated north east.

In gestation for three years, and announced by energy ministers north
and south last year, the cables would connect the Republic's supply to
the North, bringing cheaper and more efficient electricity into

Three weeks ago, the proposed routes for the cables were unveiled for
the first time to the unsuspecting communities that will host them.

For a project that will have an impact on several hundred thousand
households, the launch was remarkably low key. There was no leaflet
drop or information campaign. Just advertisements in five local
newspapers and an invitation to attend one of three public meetings --
one for each county. The three meetings were attended by no more than
500 people. They were told that the power lines are vital to Ireland's
economic infrastructure.

The first Ann heard of it was from her sister two weeks ago, when she
learnt that EirGrid, the operator of this line, was holding a public
meeting for local residents. She went to the Glencarn Hotel in
Castleblaney with a mental note of questions in her head. Cheaper
electricity was fine but not if it meant exposing her children to
health risks, having pylons blight her view and devalue her property.

She wanted to know where the pylons would be erected, how high they
would be and what were the health effects.

"We got no answers," she said. "Our community is very angry over the
health implications, the serious, serious health implications of the
high-voltage power lines. There are hundreds and hundreds of people
who will be affected. We have a school and a creche here and all three
proposed routes will be in the townlands around us. Not alone are
there health risks, but it will spoil the look of the place, and the
value of our homes. Who wants to live in a house next to a pylon?"

Ann responded by setting up a public meeting of her own. She
telephoned friends and neighbours to spread the word, booked a room in
the CleverClogs creche, and organised tea and biscuits for afterwards.
Almost 100 people crammed into the community hall last Monday night.
Parents, teachers, farmers, young couples, pregnant women, many were
hearing for the first time that pylons would be plotting a course in
the townlands of Annyala and beyond. The only public representative
was a Fine Gael councillor, Gary Carville.

It quickly became evident that many of those who crammed into the
classroom felt that they had been caught on the hop.

"Was this debated in the Dail?" asked one man.

"Was this known about before the General Election?" asked another.

"We must stand united on this," said Councillor Carville.

Jim Lennon, a former high level civil servant who is involved in the
anti-pylon protest against the North's section of power line, talked

"Organise yourselves into groups. Knock on every door. Tell people
what is happening," he said. "We can delay them and we will delay them
on technical issues. It does not stop it but it does put costs up."

The meeting in Annyala marks the start of what looks like being a long
and divisive battle that could yet end in the courts. At its core is
economic advancement over what communities such as Annyala claim are
their human rights.

On the one hand, there is the efficient energy infrastructure which is
vital to Ireland's economic development. The Celtic Tiger has drained
Ireland's energy resources, particularly in the highly populated north

Ireland needs access to other energy supplies. To achieve this end,
the governments north and south have launched the single electricity
market which will start next month.

What it means for consumers is lower utility bills. Electricity
suppliers will be able to trade electricity on the all-Ireland market
and sell it at competitive prices to customers. British suppliers are
already looking at entering the Irish market.

Facilitating all of this is EirGrid, the State body that builds the
infrastructure that transmits the power.

The biggest project is the cross-border high-voltage power line
undertaken with Northern Ireland Electricity. The €180m, 400 kv power
line will run over 45 kilometres of land in the Republic, starting out
at a proposed new sub-station in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, running across
Monaghan and continuing for another 35 kilometres to Co Tyrone. The
second is a 400 kv power line that will run from Woodland, near
Dunboyne, Co Meath, and connect to Kingscourt. It will stretch across
58 kilometres of land, much of it heavily populated commuter belt
towns. Both lines will run overhead, suspended by pylons along their
respective routes.

The economic progress brings with it a downside -- the blight of
pylons, fears that the homes traversed by the power lines will plummet
in value, and more importantly to many, the disputed health risks.

EirGrid insisted this weekend that there are no health risks
associated with the power lines. Its confident position is at odds
with the broader scientific community which, at its most sceptical,
has broadly acknowledged the possibility of health risks.

The World Health Organisation believes that there is only a
possibility that electromagnetic fields may increase the risk of
childhood leukemia but has dismissed links to other illnesses.

Other research, including a key Californian study, suggest the
possible health risks are more widespread. They cite adult leukemia,
adult brain cancer, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis, breast cancer, depression, certain types of heart disease,
miscarriage and suicide.

A key British study -- the Draper report -- found that children living
within 200 metres of a power line were 69 per cent more likely to
develop leukaemia, and those living between 200 metres and 600 metres
away had a 23 per cent increased risk.

Earlier this year, a British government advisory group charged with
looking into the issue, reported that the best option for reducing
childhood leukemia was to ban the building of homes and schools within
60 metres of power lines.

The group -- which included industry representatives, academics and
health experts -- was so deeply divided on the health risks that they
failed to agree any recommendations other than on advising people on
how to manage the risk to electromagnetic exposure for themselves.

Denis Henshaw, a physics professor at Bristol University, was one of
the contributors to that report.

"Unfortunately, this is a really adversarial area. But make no
mistake. From my point of view, there are large numbers of health
effects," he said. "No one wants to turn the lights out. I don't want
to turn the lights out. But we are talking about a completely
unregulated industry here," he said.

In Ireland, the Department of the Environment, which takes the World
Health Organisation line on the debate, has responsibility for the
health effects of electromagnetic fields, but no official body has
been tasked with monitoring it. However, the Department is in the
process of extending that role to the Radiological Protection

There is no international standard on the safe distance from
electromagnetic fields.

In Ireland, there is nothing to prevent house-building right up to or
even beneath a power line.

EirGrid said its "design aim" is to place the power lines within 50
metres of buildings, while those who attended one of its public
meetings were told it would be 25 metres. A spokesman said the
distance was not for public health reasons, but rather for visual and
amenity reasons.

In the UK, the safe distance is now taken as the 60 metres suggested
in the Sage report. In Sweden, it is 150 metres.

For the protesters, the answer is simple. They want the cables laid

"When there is an issue like this and when you are not sure, and the
preponderance of statistical evidence would suggest that there is a
higher likelihood of risk, then you adopt a precautionary principle
and you do more research," said Jim Lennon.

"Either you shield people from it, in terms of houses and property
which would be prohibitively expensive, or alternatively you bury it.

"It is expensive but in a first world economy, how do the costs and
benefits bear out on this. Who bears all the costs and gets the

EirGrid claims the cost is prohibitive. It would be eight times more
expensive to lay them underground -- about €1.4bn for the cross-border
cable alone. There are technical considerations too. Repairs would
take days rather than hours, EirGrid says.

John Fitzgerald, research professor at the Economic and Social
Research Institute, agreed. "The inter-connector is very important in
economic terms. It will make it less likely for the lights to go off,
it will be cheaper for consumers and in the long run, there will be
more efficient electricity, and a more secure supply," he said.

"The cost of putting the power lines underground would be likely to
defeat the benefits of it, which could leave you with a less secure

It would appear that the onward march of the pylons is inevitable.

Because the power lines are part of the national infrastructure, the
State can compulsorily purchase the land it needs from those who
resist allowing the pylons on their property. Nor does the powerline
go through the ordinary planning process. As a national infrastructure
project, it will go straight to An Bord Pleanala.

EirGrid said it is engaging in extensive consultation with
communities. The three public meetings already held are "the first of
many". EirGrid will not decide which route the power lines will take
until early 2008.

According to a spokesman, the affected communities will not get any
advance notice. The route will be announced at the same time the
planning application is submitted. Then, those who wish to, can make
submissions through the planning process. The planning authority can
expect to be inundated.

"We are going to be a united front. We are all going to stand
together," said Ann Murray. "A mother is here to protect her children.
Not alone our own children, but we have to protect everyone else's
children too. The bottom line is if this is going our way, it is going

Copyright independent.ie

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From: Euractiv, Oct. 30, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


Amid persistent hostile European public opinion towards GM food, the
executive director of green biotechnology at EuropaBio, Nathalie
Moll, argues that GMOs should be authorised based on science and not
public perception, and that member states need to avoid mixing
authorisation [legalization] of a product and people's right to choose
whether or not to buy it.

Recent surveys show that majority of European public opinion still
rejects GM food. Why do you insist on green biotech?

I believe that we have a freedom of choice and if in all these studies
there is a percentage against, there is always a percentage for as
well. I think it would be fair to give those who want it access to
choice and for those who don't want it not to buy it.

I don't believe that the authorisation process should decide based on
public perception whether or not to put something on the market, they
should decide based on science. Public perception decides whether they
want to buy it or not based on choice.

Before giving the people the freedom of choice with regard GMOs,
public authorities are responsible for safeguarding the environment
and biodiversity. What is your stance on the current risk assessment
procedures? Are they reliable and GMOs safe?

All risk assessment procedures are based on the OECD 1986 safety
assessment guidelines. So we all have the same criteria all around the
world and our risk assessment has been recognised as being the most
stringent in the world -- even by Greenpeace. So once you've gone
through that risk assessment you should feel pretty much secure and be
sure that everything has been taken into consideration.

There is a one European Commission study on the risk assessment and
safety of GMOs. It is a study over 15 years in 400 independent
research institutes, funded by the Commission's DG Research, that
found that GM crops approved in Europe are either as safe as, if not
safer, than their conventional counterparts. That statement was made
by Commissioner Philippe Busquin at the time he presented the study.

How can GM crops be potentially safer than their conventional

Because they've been tested for cancer, for mutagenetisme. GM crops
are the only plants, the only foods that have been tested regarding
their safety. So, for example, if you try to make a strawberry go
through the approval process of GMOs, it would not be approved,
because they are allergenic to some people -- the same for a kiwi or a

So GMOs are tested for cancer, for mutagenecity (if what you eat is
going to mutate your genes), allergenecity, toxicity to you, the
environment and to non-targeted organisms such as butterflies and
ladybirds etc. Whereas the food you buy at the supermarket does not
have these tests. So at least for the GM products, you can know -- for
the others, you can't have any idea.

Having said all this, how do you react to recent developments in
France and also to EU Environment Commissioner Dimas's stance with
regard to trying to ensure that rules for the authorisation and use of
GM crops respond to the concerns of citizens and protect

I think the situation in France is not clear yet because President
Sarkozy suggested the suspension that had to be in line with EU law
and Commissioner Dimas clearly told him that he was not in line with
European law unless he had scientific evidence, which Sarkozy said he
did not have. So, I would say that there is no suspension at the
moment in France until he can prove he has some scientific evidence. I
think he wants to create a body to assess that first and it is going
to take few months I imagine. So the French situation is something
that was said, but since then has been ruled out by the European

Dimas's alleged rejection of two cultivation dossiers comes two and
half years after these dossiers received a positive EFSA opinion,
which is maybe two years out of time. DG Environment has three months
as of the EFSA opinion to move that on to the regulatory committee, so
two and half years seems a long time. And we don't know what he is
basing his proposed, alleged rejection on because I have not seen any
text. So until we read what he is basing his rejection on, we can't
really say anything. Since he told Sarkozy that he needs scientific
evidence, we assume that he has some, but I don't know.

The majority of people are reluctant and some say that science is
still uncertain. How sustainable and economically profitable do you
think green biotech is on a long run?

I think the market should decide. I think it is shown to be
sustainable because it's been going on for ten years around the world
and there is an increase. In Europe there seems to be confusion
between authorisation and right to choose. Everybody seems to think
that once you authorise these products, you are going to have to buy
them, but you can still choose if you want to. And the best way to put
industry out of the business is to let the people choose and show that
they don't want it.

You also said that GMOs hold health benefits. Could you explain

When plants are damaged by insects or by other damage, they are more
prone to receive fungi or mushrooms to grow on where the plants have
been damaged. And some fungi or mushrooms produce toxins themselves
and some of these toxins have been recognised as causing cancer,
mycotoxins. So if you have a plant that has been damaged it is easier
for it to be attacked by fungi and have a high level of mycotoxins.
You actually have legal residue levels for mycotoxins in maze but also
in other products such as milk.

In Italy, they had to recently destroy 25% of the milk produced
because it contained too much mycotoxins and was considered as
dangerous. And that is because the cows had been eating maize that had
a high level of mycotoxins in it. Biotech crops do not allow any
damage to the product so you don't have any risk of being damage and
fungi growing on it. This is obviously an additional health benefit.
Mycotoxins exist everywhere except in GMOs.

Statistics show an increase of 77% in one year in hectares used for
GM maize cultivation in the EU. What's the prospect for the coming

The GM maize currently authorised in Europe is good for the farmer if
he has the European corn borer infestation, otherwise it is useless
because it does not increase one's seed production but just gives an
increased protection against this one pest. There's no point in using
it on the regions where there is no corn borer. Only 25% of the EU
maize has this problem and of that 25%, only one percent is biotech.

It would be great if all those farmers (25%) who have this problem had
access to it. So, this particular crop could go to 25%. But there are
lots of other products that are blocked in the approval process in
Europe that do other things that would be useful.

In the world there are 209 crops, and here in Europe we only have this
one. So the prospects for growth in Europe I'd see is that the other
products get approved and the farmers have a choice.

The farmers expressed serious frustration regarding the role of
media,and in particular television, accusing it of misinformation on
GMOs. How do you perceive the role of the media?

It is a very difficult dossier to explain. It is very technical and
there is a long history of uncomfortableness and scaremongering by
pressure groups so I think there is a lot of "terrain" to recover, you
have to make up a lot of things. It would be great if the media could
help in giving the facts but everybody can't be an expert on
everything and I think it is understandable that it is very difficult.

What do you expect from the EU member states?

I hope that member states don't give up cultivation in Europe, because
there are already eight countries cultivating and some of them have
done fpr ten years. So it would be really unfair to farmers in Europe
if we just become importers of GM and don't allow them to
competitively produce GM -- because we are importing massively and our
farmers should be allowed to produce the same thing that they have to
import. It is just not fair otherwise. It is pretending that we don't
have a European farming industry -- and we do.

I think it is important to make the distinction between public
perception and the precautionary principle. The precautionary
principle is good and it should be used and it is used in Europe but
it should not be mixed up with public perception. Public perception is
another step. Once things have been approved, the public can choose
whether they want it or they don't want it. Before the governments
just need to assess the safety of something, not whether the public
wants it.

Copyright EurActiv.com PLC

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