Rachel's Precaution Reporter #102
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

From: Science ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 8, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "This might be a time for the application of the precautionary principle," said panel chair Robert Chapin of Pfizer Inc.]

By Jocelyn Kaiser

Alexandria, Va. -- A federal advisory panel meeting here today concluded that a hormonelike chemical found widely in food containers, bisphenol A, could potentially be causing neurological effects in fetuses and children. Although the group's conclusion, based on a wealth of animal and human studies, falls short of supporting any kind of ban, the panel expressed "some concern" about the chemical and noted that people may want to reduce their exposure. That conclusion didn't satisfy environmentalists and some scientists. The report "dramatically understates" the risks, claimed the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has accused the government, academic, and industry scientist-composed panel of a pro-industry bias.

Bisphenol A is a plastic ingredient found in many food containers, from baby bottles to the linings of food cans. Small amounts can leach out into food, and the chemical has been detected in the blood of most North Americans tested. The minuscule (parts per billion) levels are well below the safe exposure level set in the 1980s by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A decade ago, however, neurobiologist Frederick vom Saal's group at the University of Missouri, Columbia, reported that even very low levels of this so- called endocrine disruptor fed to pregnant mice could cause changes in the prostate glands of their male offspring. The study was controversial -- some industry-funded studies couldn't replicate it -- but an expert panel concluded the results were valid (Science, 27 October 2000, p. 695).

Since then, many other scientists have reported low-dose effects in rodents, and some epidemiology studies have suggested links between bisphenol A and health effects in people. To assess these risks, the National Toxicology Program's (NTP's) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) formed an expert panel that met in March and this week to assess more than 500 studies.

The reviewers rejected many of the low-dose animal studies because of design problems, such as injecting the chemical, which bypasses metabolic processes that detoxify much of it when it is ingested. But the panel found compelling about a half-dozen reports of neurological and behavioral effects in rodents exposed to bisphenol A in the womb, such as changes in brain structure and in how often mothers lick their offspring. The levels of bisphenol A that caused these changes in animals "are pretty close to where humans are exposed," said panel chair Robert Chapin of Pfizer Inc.

The panel wasn't asked to offer recommendations about what regulatory agencies should do. However, "this might be a time for the application of the precautionary principle," said Chapin. That is, explained CERHR director Michael Shelby, people may want to consider "alternatives" to containers made with bisphenol A.

Still, critics accused the panel of ignoring many other relevant studies. They point out that 38 bisphenol A experts and other scientists who met at a workshop last November concluded that people are exposed to doses that cause many other effects in animals, such as enlarged prostate and larger body size. The consensus statement of the November group, which is in press at Reproductive Toxicology, describes "a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans."

The NTP advisory panel's report will next go out for public comment. Then the NTP itself will issue a statement that will be peer-reviewed. It's unclear at this point how regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, might respond to the report.

Copyright 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science


From: St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.) ..................[This story printer-friendly]
August 3, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "Without any precautionary principle in effect, consumers had now unwittingly joined their pets as subjects in a massive food safety experiment."]

By John E. Peck (Madison, Wis.)

Back in early March when it was first revealed that pet food across the United States contained imported gluten with toxic melamine, many expected the White House to take swift action, ordering a national recall and implementing country of origin labeling as mandated in the last farm bill.

Alas, neither occurred. Instead, the Food and Drug Administration was swamped with more than 12,000 complaints as thousands of dogs and cats died from liver failure. Without the right to know where the food they bought came from, consumers fell victim to that old Latin adage: caveat emptor -- buyer beware.

By late April federal officials were doing a second round of damage control. As one might expect with corporate globalization, the same tainted gluten that had found its way into pet food also had been dumped into livestock feed in nine states.

More than 56,000 pigs were held in quarantine until May 15, when the government determined it was "safe" to release them for slaughter. Another 80,000 suspected chickens were also deemed "fit to eat" on May 18. Without any precautionary principle in effect, consumers had now unwittingly joined their pets as subjects in a massive food safety experiment.

Melamine is a plastic coal derivative used in fertilizer manufacture that has never been tested for animal or human consumption, yet -- as reported in The New York Times on April 30 -- there is a massive underground market in China selling melamine scrap for livestock feed as a cheap "filler" replacement for urea, creating the appearance of higher protein content.

Unknown to many, the United States has been a food deficit nation for years now. The average U.S. consumer eats 260 pounds of imported food annually -- about 13 percent of the total diet. As regulatory barriers crumbled under free trade regimes such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and imports skyrocketed, corporate agribusiness raked in unprecedented profits.

U.S. food supply

Most people in the United States still have some faith -- perhaps misguided -- in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's capacity to safeguard our nation's food supply, but the reality is that the USDA deals only with about 20 percent of what we consume -- meat, eggs and milk.

The FDA is responsible for the other 80 percent: fruits, vegetables, baked goods, snack foods, candies, beverages and other processed foods -- such as gluten.

While the USDA has 7,400 inspectors and 300,000 plants at home and abroad to regulate, the FDA has only 650 inspectors to cover 60,000 plants, plus 420 ports. The upshot is that barely 1 percent of food imports is monitored.

China, which is already notorious for its sweatshop production, forced eviction of peasant farmers, dumping of toxic wastes and other export- friendly cost-saving measures, is now ranked No. 3 (after Canada and Mexico) when it comes to provisioning an increasingly hungry U.S. population. China's food exports to the United States topped $2.26 billion in 2006.

On July 10, China went so far as to execute its former State Food and Drug Administration chief on corruption charges, but no heads rolled in Washington, D.C. In fact, agribusiness lobbyists are now working overtime to make sure that "country of origin labeling" is not part of this year's farm bill debate.

Consumer ignorance

Mandated in the 2002 farm bill, "country of origin labeling" has been stonewalled by the White House ever since. The only food item that now has mandated labeling is seafood.

Imposed consumer ignorance means greater profit, which is why groups such as the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, along with major retail chains such as Wal- Mart and Whole Foods, continue to oppose "country of origin labeling."

Even U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has proposed hamstringing "country of origin labeling" in his latest farm bill proposal by linking it to a federally mandated National Animal Identification System.

Consumers should have the right to know where their food comes from, which is why "country of origin labeling" needs to be fully implemented as part of this year's farm bill with no strings attached.

Whether it is last year's E. coli-contaminated spinach or this year's melamine-tainted gluten, the solution to our food crisis is better consumer labeling, more diligent government regulation and broader domestic support for sustainable food self-sufficiency -- not less.

This is the opinion of John E. Peck, originally from the St. Cloud area, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, a national grass- roots organization based in Madison, Wis.

Copyright 2007 St. Cloud Times


From: Eyes on Trade .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 7, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "So, our movement has made real progress when things like Chapter 11, Fast Track and the precautionary principle are even being discussed by politicians and academics in the context of trade policy debates. And hopefully [John] Edwards' raising of these issues will put pressure on the other candidates to follow suit."]

By Todd Tucker, Eyes on Trade

Once, many of the issues we talk about on this blog were discussed mostly among Rust Belt labor unions or in street demonstrations. But tough questions are increasingly being asked in a variety of places, from the ivory tower to the campaign stump... and in both instances, the focus is on a change in the rules of globalization, rather than perpetuating the stale debate about whether "yes" or whether "no" on globalization. Witness Harvard's Dani Rodrik's new paper, articulating what he says is now the "new orthodoxy" on trade:

"We can talk of a new conventional wisdom that has begun to emerge within multilateral institutions and among Northern academics. This new orthodoxy emphasizes that reaping the benefits of trade and financial globalization requires better domestic institutions, essentially improved safety nets in rich countries and improved governance in the poor countries."

Rodrik goes on to push this new orthodoxy further, articulating what he calls his "policy space" approach, allowing countries to negotiate around opting-in and opting-out more easily of international rules and schemes as their development and domestic needs merit. Citing the controversy around NAFTA's investor-state mechanism and the WTO's challenge of Europe's precautionary approach in consumer affairs, Rodrik poses the following challenge to the orthodoxy:

"Globalization is a hot button issue in the advanced countries not just because it hits some people in their pocket book; it is controversial because it raises difficult questions about whether its outcomes are "right" or "fair." That is why addressing the globalization backlash purely through compensation and income transfers is likely to fall short. Globalization also needs new rules that are more consistent with prevailing conceptions of procedural fairness."

And this focus on a change of rules hit the political arena today, with a major policy speech by former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). See here. Among the important points, that thus far are only being articulated by Edwards among the top candidates:

** For years now, Washington has been passing trade deal after trade deal that works great for multinational corporations, but not for working Americans. For example, NAFTA and the WTO provide unique rights for foreign companies whose profits are allegedly hurt by environmental and health regulations. These foreign companies have used them to demand compensation for laws against toxins, mad cow disease, and gambling -- they have even sued the Canadian postal service for being a monopoly. Domestic companies would get laughed out of court if they tried this, but foreign investors can assert these special rights in secretive panels that operate outside our system of laws.

** The trade policies of President Bush have devastated towns and communities all across America. But let's be clear about something - this isn't just his doing. For far too long, presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements, agreements like NAFTA, promising that they would create millions of new jobs and enrich communities. Instead, too many of these agreements have cost us jobs and devastated many of our towns.

** NAFTA was written by insiders in all three countries, and it served their interests -- not the interests of regular workers. It included unprecedented rights for corporate investors, but no labor or environmental protections in its core text. And over the past 15 years, we have seen growing income inequality in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

** Today, our trade agreements are negotiated behind closed doors. The multinationals get their say, but when one goes to Congress it gets an up or down vote -- no amendments are allowed. No wonder that corporations get unique protections, while workers don't benefit. That's wrong.

So, our movement has made real progress when things like Chapter 11, Fast Track and the precautionary principle are even being discussed by politicians and academics in the context of trade policy debates. And hopefully Edwards' raising of these issues will put pressure on the other candidates to follow suit. In the meantime, you can help turn the nice words into action by clicking here.


From: E-Wire .............................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 2, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: On October 6, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 405 sponsored by California Safe Schools, which was founded by Robina Suwol. This law closes a loophole protecting more than 6 million California K-12 public school students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and school employees from exposure to experimental pesticides whose health effects are unknown.]

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA -- On July 26, Arnie Morton's, The Steakhouse in downtown Los Angeles partnered with the American Red Cross and Denise Shurtleff, Winemaker at Cambria Winery, to honor America's "Women of Spirit." This event was part of Morton's The Steakhouse's exclusive "Women of Spirit" wine dinners being held at Morton's restaurants in 38 cities from coast to coast.

Denise Shurtleff oversees all aspects of winemaking at the Cambria Winery estate, which has a reputation for producing lush, tropical Chardonnay, velvety-textured Pinot Noir and rich, spicy Syrah. In addition to spotlighting Denise Shurtleff, this event honored Robina Suwol, a local woman from the Los Angeles area who has shown exceptional commitment to volunteerism and service.

Robina Suwol is the Founder and Executive Director of California Safe Schools (CSS), a nationally celebrated children's environmental health non-profit coalition of over fifty organizations located in Southern California committed to the health and safety of children, staff and community members who reside near school sites.

CSS is nationally and internationally recognized for spearheading the most stringent pesticide policy in the nation at Los Angeles Unified School District (the second largest in the nation). This policy called Integrated Pest Management Policy (IPM), uses low risk methods to eliminate pest and weeds. The policy was the first in the United States to embrace the Precautionary Principle and Parents Right to Know about pesticides used on school campuses. Today it has become the model for school districts internationally.

On October 6, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 405 (Montanez) sponsored by California Safe Schools. This law closes a loophole protecting more than 6 million California K-12 public school students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and school employees from exposure to experimental pesticides whose health effects are unknown. Since founding CSS, Suwol has achieved national prominence as an environmental and children's health activist. An articulate and compelling speaker, Suwol gives frequent presentations on safety to parents, students, school officials and legislators.

To date, the "Women of Spirit" wine dinners have raised more than $100,000 for American Red Cross chapters nationwide. The 38-city "Women of Spirit" wine dinner tour will conclude in late September with an "all-star" gala event honoring America's "Women of Spirit" and the American Red Cross, to be held in Washington, DC, at the Morton's in Georgetown, which will also be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

This culmination event promises to attract an RSVP list of nationally known political, entertainment and media personalities. Contact Info: Julia Layman Murphy O'Brien Tel : 310-586-7137 E-mail : jlayman@murphyobrien.com

Copyright ewire.com 1993 -- 2007.


From: Cape Argus (Capetown, South Africa) ................[This story printer-friendly]
August 7, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "Given the critically endangered status of this habitat, the fact that the majority of the plant communities are found in the Cape Flats nature reserve does not justify its loss and goes against the precautionary principle."]

By John Yeld

The University of the Western Cape has been given permission to build a new Life Science Center on a piece of property containing critically endangered indigenous vegetation, against the recommendation of conservation authorities and to the dismay of several fynbos botanists.

The go-ahead by the provincial government, which is still subject to an appeal process, will destroy close to one hectare of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos -- one of South Africa's most critically endangered vegetation types of which just 1% is formally conserved.

The proposed complex will support research in bioinformatics, biotechnology, water studies and indigenous herbal medicine.

The property is currently managed as part of the university's proclaimed Cape Flats Nature Reserve.

The province's approval, granted last week, states that mitigation and rehabilitation measures must be applied, including the transfer of another part of the UWC property -- 29115 hectares -- to the nature reserve as an "offset", and the removal of topsoil to a depth of 20cm from the development site to degraded areas in the reserve.

Also, there must be a "search-and-rescue" operation for plants before any development starts.

But these conditions do not satisfy the critics.

In its submission, Cape-Nature pointed out that the site -- known as the "dog's leg" -- contained the critically endangered vegetation type, most of which had been destroyed and many of the remaining patches of which were "fragmented and/or degraded".

"Given the critically endangered status of this habitat, the fact that the majority of the plant communities are found in the Cape Flats nature reserve does not justify its loss and goes against the precautionary principle."

Saying it could not support the proposed development, CapeNature also said that while it "might" be possible to "offset" the impacts by securing another area for conservation purposes, "it is generally agreed that it is not realistically possible to offset impacts in irreplaceable habitats".

The botanical assessment report, done by Dr Dave McDonald, noted that sand fynbos had been heavily impacted by development.

It stated that the "dog's leg" had been extracted from the nature reserve as part of a campus development land swap in 1988, although always managed as part of the reserve.

McDonald acknowledged that "every fragment" of land on the Cape Flats harbouring natural vegetation was important, "and should be seen as vital in the patchwork of conservation areas necessary to ensure the continued survival of the vegetation types and the plant species they contain".

"The dog's leg section has a high conservation value... This site is essentially irreplaceable ..."

However, the southern portion of the development site has been disturbed by bulldozing in the past and an electricity cable has been laid across it.

"Based on information collected in this survey, it is concluded that there are no areas that are considered as 'no go' zones from a plant species perspective and there are also no areas that should be set aside from the development proposal.

"No obvious constraints can be placed on the development as proposed."

Botanist Barrie Low, a former curator of the nature reserve, said the "dog's leg" was a transition zone.

"It's an extremely rare habitat on the Cape Flats and quite unprotected elsewhere, with the possible exception of Rondevlei. So if this development goes ahead, we will lose that transition and the impact will be quite severe," he said.

Mark Botha, the Botanical Society's director of conservation, said: "We shouldn't be using offsets in a critically endangered vegetation type -- that's going to set a really bad precedent..."

Copyright 2007 Cape Argus


From: News Wales ..........................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 3, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In Wales, the National Trust, an independent charity, is part of a coalition opposing a plan to dredge the Gower coast. The coalition is urging the Assembly to apply the precautionary principle because coastal processes including sedimentation, erosion and deposition are complex and not fully understood.]

A Welsh Assembly decision to continue dredging off the Gower coast has angered the National Trust.

The Trust said today that altering the dynamics of the coast by activities such as dredging is ill-advised as we cannot accurately predict what the impacts on Gower will be.

It is estimated that over two million people visit Gower annually to enjoy its beauty and tranquillity. This represents an estimated income of 255 million pounds a year (in 2006) making Gower's environment significant to the economy of Wales and underlines the urgent need to protect it.

"This uncertainty is only exacerbated by the impacts of climate change which will alter the pace and extent of coastal change," the Trust said in a statement.

"The coastline of Gower is a highly dynamic environment. The impacts of climate change are already evident on the coast as grapgically illustrated in The National Trust Study of the Wales coastline, Shifting Shores. This is likely to become a greater factor in future.

"This case illustrates the urgent need for a system of marine spatial planning to guide the use of off-shore resources and ensure that use of the seas is sustainable.

"Additionally The National Trust believes that further dredging could have a detrimental impact on the local economy which is heavily reliant on the quality of the environment. "

In the summer of 2006, The National Trust gave evidence as part of a coalition to a Public Inquiry into the Helwick Bank application to express its concerns as to the potential impact on the coastline of Gower.

The coalition urged the Assembly to apply the precautionary principle given that coastal processes including sedimentation, erosion and deposition are complex and not fully understood.

The Trust will carefully analyse the decision letter and Inspectors Report and, with others, will be holding the developers to account on all the conditions should the Crown Estate permit further dredging.

News Wales is published by GoHolidays.net copyright 1999-2006


From: Salisbury (England) Journal .........................[This story printer-friendly]
August 2, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Cell phone towers (masts) continue to stir debate over safety in England: "In the face of real health risks, we should adopt the precautionary principle and stop allowing masts on sites close to residential areas."]

By Journal Reporter

Mobile phone company, TMobile UK, has applied to put up a 13 metre- high mast in a residential part of Ringwood.

The mast, along with equipment cabinets, is planned for a site at the junction of Eastfield Lane and Gorley Road.

But those plans have upset some residents on Eastfield Lane, who claim heavy goods vehicles are already using the road as a "rat run" and a mast would pose "more danger" to motorists and walkers.

advertisementAnd Ringwood Town Council's planning committee is recommending refusal for the mast, claiming its location would have an "adverse" affect on traffic safety.

Eight residents attended the planning meeting, citing safety fears and some concern over radiation emissions.

One of them said he had lived opposite this site for 37 years, and vehemently opposed the plan on safety grounds.

"There have been at least ten cases where vehicles have left the road and come to rest exactly where it is proposed to install the pole and cabinets," he said.

"Any accidents will be much more serious once these structures are in place."

Ringwood town councillor, Christine Ford, referred to a specific instance where a friend had been involved in an accident through no fault of her own at, what she described as, this "inherently dangerous junction".

Ringwood's mayor, Brian Terry, told the Forest Journal he opposed the plan because "once one is approved we could see lots of them springing up."

Member of the European Parliament environment committee, Caroline Lucas, said: "Research for the European Parliament has showed safety guidelines governing the exposure of radiation to the public from mobile phone base stations is inadequate.

"In the face of real health risks, we should adopt the precautionary principle and stop allowing masts on sites close to residential areas."

New Forest District Council planning officer, Ian Rayner, told the Journal the plan was a prior notification application, but a decision was due before August 9.

"We have made no decision but we always consider people's comments," he added.

The first Government-funded research into potential dangers caused by exposure to signals from masts concluded they are "harmless".

But campaigners and individuals pointed to, what they said were, serious flaws in the research -- such as many of those who took part and reported symptoms being excluded from the £500,000 study, and participants only being exposed for short periods.

Professor Elaine Fox, a psychologist from the University of Essex who led the research, said the study concluded short-term exposure to mobile phone mast signals is not related to levels of well-being or physical symptoms in individuals.

She added: "Some people did drop out feeling ill, but I don't think that undermines the study."

Copyright Copyright 2001-2007 Newsquest Media Group, A Gannett Company


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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