Rachel's Precaution Reporter #128

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2008..........Printer-friendly version
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Featured stories in this issue...

Workers Harmed by Inhaling a Mist of Pig Brains. Who Knew?
  This is a test. In this story, please identify the moment when the
  precautionary principle was first invoked, and then consider when it
  should have been first invoked.
Pesticides Linked To Childhood Cancer, Local Physician Says
  "The province should invoke the precautionary principle and ban
  cosmetic pesticides, a local physician urged the standing committee on
  environment Thursday."
PBDE: The Health Costs of Fire Safety
  There is a price living organisms pay for the fire safety flame
  retardants provide. The precautionary principle warrants more
  investigation into the use of flame retardants. While the chance of a
  fire is slim, the chance of exposure to PBDEs is much greater.
Chemicals in Cosmetics Concern Some Consumers
  Professor Bonnie Spanier is pushing for governments to adopt the
  precautionary principle when it comes to chemicals, essentially
  preventing their use in personal products until proven safe.
George Mason University Hosts Global Warming Teach-in
  "There's something in environmental science and medicine called the
  precautionary principle, [which] says that basically if there's any
  chance that not acting will cause disaster, it is morally required for
  you to act. And, that is where I believe we stand as a university,"
  Storm said.
Face To Face with Toy Safety: Understanding An Unexpected Threat
  "The European Union, the state of California, and the city of San
  Francisco have banned 6 phthalates from toys largely on a
  precautionary basis."
Food Politics, Half-baked
  "What are the limits of modern society's precautionary principle?
  In other words, knowing that it is impossible to prove a negative,
  when should a society agree to accept a technology with proven
  benefits and potential dangers?"


From: The New York Times (pg. F1), Feb. 5, 2008
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By Denise Grady

AUSTIN, Minn. -- If you have to come down with a strange disease, this
town of 23,000 on the wide-open prairie in southeastern Minnesota is a
pretty good place to be. The Mayo Clinic, famous for diagnosing exotic
ailments, owns the local medical center and shares some staff with it.
Mayo itself is just 40 miles east in Rochester. And when it comes to
investigating mysterious outbreaks, Minnesota has one of the strongest
health departments and best-equipped laboratories in the country.

And the disease that confronted doctors at the Austin Medical Center
here last fall was strange indeed. Three patients had the same highly
unusual set of symptoms: fatigue, pain, weakness, numbness and
tingling in the legs and feet.

The patients had something else in common, too: all worked at Quality
Pork Processors, a local meatpacking plant.

The disorder seemed to involve nerve damage, but doctors had no idea
what was causing it.

At the plant, nurses in the medical department had also begun to
notice the same ominous pattern. The three workers had complained to
them of "heavy legs," and the nurses had urged them to see doctors.
The nurses knew of a fourth case, too, and they feared that more
workers would get sick, that a serious disease might be spreading
through the plant.

"We put our heads together and said, 'Something is out of sorts,' "
said Carole Bower, the department head.

Austin's biggest employer is Hormel Foods, maker of Spam, bacon and
other processed meats (Austin even has a Spam museum). Quality Pork
Processors, which backs onto the Hormel property, kills and butchers
19,000 hogs a day and sends most of them to Hormel. The complex,
emitting clouds of steam and a distinctive scent, is easy to find from
just about anywhere in town.

Quality Pork is the second biggest employer, with 1,300 employees.
Most work eight-hour shifts along a conveyor belt -- a disassembly
line, basically -- carving up a specific part of each carcass. Pay for
these line jobs starts at about $11 to $12 an hour. The work is
grueling, but the plant is exceptionally clean and the benefits are
good, said Richard Morgan, president of the union local. Many of the
workers are Hispanic immigrants. Quality Pork's owner does not allow
reporters to enter the plant.

A man whom doctors call the "index case" -- the first patient they
knew about -- got sick in December 2006 and was hospitalized at the
Mayo Clinic for about two weeks. His job at Quality Pork was to
extract the brains from swine heads.

"He was quite ill and severely affected neurologically, with
significant weakness in his legs and loss of function in the lower
part of his body," said Dr. Daniel H. Lachance, a neurologist at Mayo.

Tests showed that the man's spinal cord was markedly inflamed. The
cause seemed to be an autoimmune reaction: his immune system was
mistakenly attacking his own nerves as if they were a foreign body or
a germ. Doctors could not figure out why it had happened, but the
standard treatment for inflammation -- a steroid drug -- seemed to
help. (The patient was not available for interviews.)

Neurological illnesses sometimes defy understanding, Dr. Lachance
said, and this seemed to be one of them. At the time, it did not occur
to anyone that the problem might be related to the patient's

By spring, he went back to his job. But within weeks, he became ill
again. Once more, he recovered after a few months and returned to work
-- only to get sick all over again.

By then, November 2007, other cases had begun to turn up. Ultimately,
there were 12 -- 6 men and 6 women, ranging in age from 21 to 51.
Doctors and the plant owner, realizing they had an outbreak on their
hands, had already called in the Minnesota Department of Health,
which, in turn, sought help from the federal Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.

Though the outbreak seemed small, the investigation took on urgency
because the disease was serious, and health officials worried that it
might indicate a new risk to other workers in meatpacking.

"It is important to characterize this because it appears to be a new
syndrome, and we don't truly know how many people may be affected
throughout the U.S. or even the world," said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, a
veterinarian from the disease centers.

In early November, Dr. Aaron DeVries, a health department
epidemiologist, visited the plant and combed through medical records.
The disease bore no resemblance to mad cow disease or to trichinosis,
the notorious parasite infection that comes from eating raw or
undercooked pork. Nor did it spread person to person -- the workers'
relatives were unaffected -- or pose any threat to people who ate

A survey of the workers confirmed what the plant's nurses had
suspected: those who got sick were employed at or near the "head
table," where workers cut the meat off severed hog heads.

On Nov. 28, Dr. DeVries's boss, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state
epidemiologist, toured the plant. She and the owner, Kelly Wadding,
paid special attention to the head table. Dr. Lynfield became
transfixed by one procedure in particular, called "blowing brains."

As each head reached the end of the table, a worker would insert a
metal hose into the foramen magnum, the opening that the spinal cord
passes through. High-pressure blasts of compressed air then turned the
brain into a slurry that squirted out through the same hole in the
skull, often spraying brain tissue around and splattering the hose
operator in the process.

The brains were pooled, poured into 10-pound containers and shipped to
be sold as food -- mostly in China and Korea, where cooks stir-fry
them, but also in some parts of the American South, where people like
them scrambled up with eggs.

The person blowing brains was separated from the other workers by a
plexiglass shield that had enough space under it to allow the heads to
ride through on a conveyor belt. There was also enough space for brain
tissue to splatter nearby employees.

"You could see aerosolization of brain tissue," Dr. Lynfield said.

The workers wore hard hats, gloves, lab coats and safety glasses, but
many had bare arms, and none had masks or face shields to prevent
swallowing or inhaling the mist of brain tissue.

Dr. Lynfield asked Mr. Wadding, "Kelly, what do you think is going

The plant owner watched for a while and said, "Let's stop harvesting

Quality Pork halted the procedure that day and ordered face shields
for workers at the head table.

Epidemiologists contacted 25 swine slaughterhouses in the United
States, and found that only two others used compressed air to extract
brains. One, a plant in Nebraska owned by Hormel, has reported no
cases. But the other, Indiana Packers in Delphi, Ind., has several
possible cases that are being investigated. Both of the other plants,
like Quality Pork, have stopped using compressed air.

But why should exposure to hog brains cause illness? And why now, when
the compressed air system had been in use in Minnesota since 1998?

At first, health officials thought perhaps the pigs had some new
infection that was being transmitted to people by the brain tissue.
Sometimes, infections can ignite an immune response in humans that
flares out of control, like the condition in the workers. But so far,
scores of tests for viruses, bacteria and parasites have found no
signs of infection.

As a result, Dr. Lynfield said the investigators had begun leaning
toward a seemingly bizarre theory: that exposure to the hog brain
itself might have touched off an intense reaction by the immune
system, something akin to a giant, out-of-control allergic reaction.
Some people might be more susceptible than others, perhaps because of
their genetic makeup or their past exposures to animal tissue. The
aerosolized brain matter might have been inhaled or swallowed, or
might have entered through the eyes, the mucous membranes of the nose
or mouth, or breaks in the skin.

"It's something no one would have anticipated or thought about," said
Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who is working as a
consultant for Hormel and Quality Pork. Dr. Osterholm, a professor of
public health at the University of Minnesota and the former state
epidemiologist, said that no standard for this kind of workplace
exposure had ever been set by the government.

But that would still not explain why the condition should suddenly
develop now. Investigators are trying to find out whether something
changed recently -- the air pressure level, for instance -- and also
whether there actually were cases in the past that just went

"Clearly, all the answers aren't in yet," Dr. Osterholm said. "But it
makes biologic sense that what you have here is an inhalation of brain
material from these pigs that is eliciting an immunologic reaction."
What may be happening, he said, is "immune mimicry," meaning that the
immune system makes antibodies to fight a foreign substance --
something in the hog brains -- but the antibodies also attack the
person's nerve tissue because it is so similar to some molecule in hog

"That's the beauty and the beast of the immune system," Dr. Osterholm
said. "It's so efficient at keeping foreign objects away, but anytime
there's a close match it turns against us, too."

Anatomically, pigs are a lot like people. But it is not clear how
close a biochemical match there is between pig brain and human nerve

To find out, the Minnesota health department has asked for help from
Dr. Ian Lipkin, an expert at Columbia University on the role of the
immune system in neurological diseases. Dr. Lipkin has begun testing
blood serum from the Minnesota patients to look for signs of an immune
reaction to components of pig brain. And he expects also to study the
pig gene for myelin, to see how similar it is to the human one.

"It's an interesting problem," Dr. Lipkin said. "I think we can solve

Susan Kruse, who lives in Austin, was stunned by news reports about
the outbreak in early December. Ms. Kruse, 37, worked at Quality Pork
for 15 years. But for the past year, she has been too sick to work.
She had no idea that anyone else from the plant was ill. Nor did she
know that her illness might be related to her job.

Her most recent job was "backing heads," scraping meat from between
the vertebrae. Three people per shift did that task, and together
would process 9,500 heads in eight or nine hours. Ms. Kruse
(pronounced KROO-zee) stood next to the person who used compressed air
to blow out the brains. She was often splattered, especially when
trainees were learning to operate the air hose.

"I always had brains on my arms," she said.

She never had trouble with her health until November 2006, when she
began having pains in her legs. By February 2007, she could not stand
up long enough to do her job. She needed a walker to get around and
was being treated at the Mayo Clinic.

"I had no strength to do anything I used to do," she said. "I just
felt like I was being drained out."

Her immune system had gone haywire and attacked her nerves, primarily
in two places: at the points where the nerves emerge from the spinal
cord, and in the extremities. The same thing, to varying degrees, was
happening to the other patients. Ms. Kruse and the index case -- the
man who extracted brains -- probably had the most severe symptoms, Dr.
Lachance said.

Steroids did nothing for Ms. Kruse, so doctors began to treat her
every two weeks with IVIG, intravenous immunoglobulin, a blood product
that contains antibodies. "It's kind of like hitting the condition
over the head with a sledgehammer," Dr. Lachance said. "It overwhelms
the immune system and neutralizes whatever it is that's causing the

The treatments seem to help, Ms. Kruse said. She feels stronger after
each one, but the effects wear off. Her doctors expect she will need
the therapy at least until September.

Most of the other workers are recovering and some have returned to
their jobs, but others, including the index case, are still unable to
work. So far, there have been no new cases.

"I cannot say that anyone is completely back to normal," Dr. Lachance
said. "I expect it will take several more months to get a true sense
of the course of this illness."

Dr. Lynfield hopes to find the cause. But she said: "I don't know that
we will have the definitive answer. I suspect we will be able to rule
some things out, and will have a sense of whether it seems like it may
be due to an autoimmune response. I think we'll learn a lot, but it
may take us a while. It's a great detective story."

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From: The Guardian (Charlottetown, PE, Canada), Feb. 2, 2008
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By Teresa Wright, The Guardian

The province should invoke the precautionary principle and ban
cosmetic pesticides, a local physician urged the standing committee on
environment Thursday.

Pesticides have been linked to childhood cancer, said Dr. John DeMarsh
in a submitted video presentation to the legislative committee.

He submitted two recent medical reviews of pesticides, both of which
looked in detail at numerous studies.

One of them in particular, performed by McGill University and
published in 2007 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental
Health, found strong associations with cancer in children, he said.

"Their conclusion," he said to the committee from the review, "At this
point in time, we can confidently state that there is at least some
association between pesticide exposure and childhood cancer."

DeMarsh said there has been too much emphasis on toxicology when
looking at the effects of pesticides on human health. Not enough has
been done to look at the epidemiology -- which is a branch of medicine
that studies the cause of a disease in large populations.

"Epidemiology is the single most important tool we have in our quest
for the truth involving cosmetic pesticides," he said.

DeMarsh strongly urged the committee to invite an epidemiologist with
an interest in this area to make a presentation.

On the opposing side of the issue, Robert Gallant -- who owns and
operates Atlantic Graduate Lawn Care Pest Control Services -- also
presented his arguments to the committee.

He said the word pesticides is a general term that needs to be

"There are no pesticides registered out there that are for cosmetic
purposes only."

Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides all fall into that category, he

"We need to actively define what is a cosmetic pesticide -- because
these products are being used for many, many different things, not
just for controlling weeds on a lawn."

In his own lawn care and pest control business, he needs certain
pesticides and uses them responsibly, he said. And although some may
say there are alternatives out there, he said he's already using them.

"We do use the alternatives -- they are the rest of the toolbox, but
the rest of the toolbox is no good to me without the pesticide tool."

Stratford MLA Cynthia Dunsford, who sits on
the committee, said she agrees with Gallant the term cosmetic
pesticide needs to be defined.

"It really isn't an accurate term, it's true," she said. "I think one
of the first steps in putting forward any recommendations is to
clearly define what those parametres are. I know in other
jurisdictions there are even lists."

The committee will hear more speakers on this issue next Thursday as
they further examine the potential impact of a provincewide ban on the
use of cosmetic lawn pesticides.

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From: American Chronicle, Feb. 1, 2008
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By Lourdes Salvador

Most people are led to believe that flame retardants are good, that
they protect us from harm by reducing the chance of fire. However on
deeper investigation, information published in the Lancet indicates
there is more to fire retardants than meets the eye.

There is a price living organisms pay for the fire safety flame
retardants provide. The precautionary principle warrants more
investigation into the use of flame retardants, particularly
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). While the chance of a fire is
slim, the chance of exposure to PBDEs is much greater.

PBDEs are a group of brominated compounds used as flame retardants
since the 1970s. PBDEs are added to furniture, textiles, and
electronic equipment as a flame retardant when these goods are

Some PBDEs are in the process of being phased out in the United
States, however many consumer goods remain in homes and workplaces
that contain these PBDEs.

Human Exposure Pathways

Studies have found increasing PBDE concentrations in breast milk,
showing that it not only enters the human body, but is passed on to
infants through feeding. PBDEs concentrations in infants are often
greater than in adults, indicating PBDE bioaccumulates and passes from
mother to child.

Research has shown a strong positive correlation between the
concentration of PBDEs in breast milk and that of household dust. This
indicates that PBDEs from products within our homes are contaminating
dust, and likely airspace as well.

Children are much more vulnerable to this exposure for two reasons.
First, they have a smaller body size and the same exposure is more
concentrated for their size. Second, children have an increased
frequency of hand-to-mouth contact. The risk of averse affects is
greater during the early stages of childhood development.

Adverse Effects

Though data is still lacking, scientists do know that PBDE toxicity
affects thyroid function. It also alters neurotransmitter function in
the brain, leading to cognitive and neurological deficits.

Juhasz and his colleagues concluded their review of PBDEs in the
Lancet by summarizing that "the challenge for environmental health
professionals is to enhance the understanding of factors that affect
the fate, transport, and bioavailability of PBDEs in indoor
environments, to develop biomarkers for the assessment of exposure to
PBDEs, and to elucidate the effect of such exposure in susceptible
populations." In the meantime, doesn't common sense indicate we should
avoid PBDEs?


Juhasz, AL, Smith, E, & Weber, J. Brominated flame retardants-safety
at what cost? The Lancet. December 1, 2007 -- December 7,

Lourdes Salvador volunteers as a writer and social advocate for the
recognition of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). She was a
passionate advocate for the homeless and worked with her local
governor to provide services to the homeless through a new approach
she created to end homelessness. That passion soon turned to advocacy
and activism for people with MCS and the medical professionals who
serve them. She co-founded MCS Awareness in 2005 and went on to found
MCS America in 2006. She serves as a partner for Environmental
Education Week, a partner for the Collaborative on Health and the
Environment (CHE), and a supporter for the American Cancer Society:
Campaign for Smokefree Air.

Copyrighted 2008 MCS America

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From: Kansas City Star, Feb. 4, 2008
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By Stephanie Earl, Albany (N.Y.) Times Union

Like their counterparts in elementary and middle schools everywhere
(and Egyptians 5,000 years ago), sisters Kylie and Katherine Small
loved their lip products. Especially lip gloss... the flavored kind
that tastes like dessert.

Put it on, lick it off. Repeat. Yum.

One day about a year ago, though, Katherine checked out the
ingredients listed on the packaging. Chemicals, preservatives,
numbered dyes and things she couldn't even begin to pronounce. It
scared her.

"I thought, 'I can't believe I put this stuff into my body,' " said
the 12-year-old Alplaus, N.Y., resident.

On any given day, the average woman uses as many as 25 products,
containing hundreds of chemical compounds.

After World War II, a boom in synthetics production (fueled by the
pin-up and Hollywood culture) made self-care products -- makeup,
perfumes, lotions -- ubiquitous, said Bonnie Spanier, associate
professor in women's studies at the State University of New York at

And while the Food and Drug Administration was charged with cracking
down on companies that sell poisonous, unsafe or dangerous products,
or those falsely marketed, the federal agency does not routinely test
or approve makeup before it hits the market.

A fact, say chemical-free cosmetics advocates, that opens wide the
door for industries to use the newest chemicals, preservatives and
colors. Spanier pointed to research that shows some of the popular
chemical ingredients in personal care products -- including
which make plastics flexible; toluene, a solvent used in nail polish;
and paraben, a preservative -- have been shown to cause birth defects
or increase cancer risks. Hysteria du jour?

Very much so, according to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance
Association. According to its Web site, the trade group contends that
its products are among the nation's safest available to consumers. It
dismisses arguments to the contrary, namely the ones coming from the
Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health and
environmental consumer group (ewg.org). The industry is self-
regulated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, established by the CTFA
and funded by cosmetics research companies.

The industry group contends that "no credible research has ever shown
that any cosmetic or personal care products cause cancer or
reproductive toxicity. We don't use ingredients that would be harmful
for use in cosmetics or personal care products. Ingredients and
products must be substantiated for safety before they are marketed."

Organic advocates, however, say cosmetics companies are baby feeding
carcinogens to the general public mostly unchecked, a tiny poison at a

"Technically," Spanier said, "what they're saying may be valid, but
not because there's no evidence pointing to the toxicity of thousands
of these chemicals. The claim may be valid, but it's misleading."

Some popular chemicals work as "endocrine-disruptors," which are
structurally similar to the body's natural hormones, Spanier said. The
body can mistake these imitation hormones for the real thing, which
can lead to a range of abnormal responses, including cancer.

Spanier is pushing for governments to adopt a "precautionary
principle" when it comes to chemicals, essentially preventing their
use in personal products until proven safe.

Julie Ann Price, 36, founder of Beauty With a Cause, was spurred by a
traditional makeup epiphany. The former nail technician took a closer
look at what she was putting on her face. She turned to the Web site
cosmeticdatabase.com, which provides a "hazard score" for thousands
of products. Price was appalled with what she found.

Turned off by the prices of true organic products, she was determined
to find and offer an alternative for those like herself who wanted
healthy, affordable products and one-stop shopping. Price makes some
of her own products; others she buys and resells from companies she
has researched and verified. Her products are available at
beautywithacause .com.

For Kylie and Katherine Small, after discovering the ingredients in
their lip gloss, the siblings also went in search of affordable all-
natural alternatives.

The girls began experimenting in the kitchen with organic bases:
canola oil, organic soy wax, fractionated coconut oil. By last fall
they'd perfected, bottled and packaged their own organic creations.
With some help from mom Sharon, they'd also started their own company,
Aphrodite's Elements, and set up a Web site, organic-girls.com.


For two often opposing looks at cosmetics and ingredients see the
industry Web site cosmeticsinfo.org and the Environmental Working
Group's cosmeticdatabase.com.

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From: Crosswalk.com, Feb. 2, 2008
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By Evan Moore, Correspondent

Fairfax, Va. -- George Mason University hosted a teach-in on global
warming Tuesday, where school officials pledged to do their part to
mitigate carbon emission and instructed students that humanity is
responsible for warming the earth.

The "Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions" was sponsored by Focus the
Nation, an environmental advocacy group, which, as Cybercast News
Service previously reported, was set to sponsor similar teach-ins at a
thousand U.S. colleges on Jan. 31.

Lenna Storm, coordinator of GMU's Sustainability Office, said that we
are living in a "critical time which requires decisive action and
commitment" to confront global warming.

The Sustainability Office was formed after GMU President Alan Merten
signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate

Universities signing this pledge commit to conducting an inventory of
greenhouse gases that they produce, devise an action plan to reduce or
offset their emissions, and then achieve "climate neutrality," meaning
the university will make no net contribution to greenhouse gases.

Storm told Cybercast News Service that GMU would achieve "climate
neutrality" by reducing emissions as much as financially feasible, and
then offset the remainder through carbon and renewable energy credits.

The Sustainability Office will also continue to educate and engage the
GMU community on environmental issues and measures to improve GMU's
impact on the planet.

Storm said the office was considering programs to reduce the
university's paper use, increasing the amount of material recycled and
reducing material that is thrown away, reducing water waste, and the
use of "green buildings" to be more energy-efficient.

Regarding criticism from segments of the general public and scientific
community that the warming of the earth may be a product of natural
processes, Storm said, "Being a scientist means that you do need to be
skeptical, so I understand where people are coming from. Actually, our
[university] president is very emphatic about making sure that the
debates continue and that George Mason contributes to that act of

"I don't think that anything can be discounted," she said. "All the
scientific evidence and perspectives have to be taken into

"There's something in environmental science and medicine called the
precautionary principle, [which] says that basically if there's any
chance that not acting will cause disaster, it is morally required for
you to act. And, that is where I believe we stand as a university,"
Storm said.

Storm concluded, "I want to just be clear that we intend to encourage
a continuing dialogue about these issues, but it's important that the
precautionary principle is taken into consideration. We know enough to
know that if we take no action, we're as culpable as anyone else for
potential disaster, and we want to try to mitigate that."

Barry Klinger, an associate professor in GMU's Department of Climate
Dynamics, presented the scientific case for human activity causing
global warming in the day's first event.

Saying that humanity had a "fist order effect" on the chemistry of the
atmosphere, he showed data indicating that the earth's mean surface
temperature has increased, the net mass of polar ice has decreased,
sea levels are rising, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere has dramatically increased since the Industrial Revolution.

"In a democracy," he said, "we have a tension on complex issues, where
you need experts to give you information on, and the fact that in the
end, it's not the experts who are going to decide what to do about it.

"So, I think... the experts have to have the humility that even when
we are talking about something that we're an expert on, we entertain
the possibility that occasionally we could be wrong, and generally the
public has to have the humility that, when they entertain opinions on
something, you might want to actually listen to the experts before
they come to a conclusion."

Campus reacts

Some GMU students were skeptical of the claim that global warming is
real and man-made.

Monica Block, chairman of the GMU College Republicans told Cybercast
News Service that her organization believed "that the 'global warming
crisis' is a hot fashion trend in the academic world and should be
ignored as such."

Katie Bowen, communications director for the GMU College Democrats
told Cybercast News Service: "We believe that global climate change is
caused in part by human activity but also in part by a natural cycle
of the environment. It seems as though human activity is speeding up
the process through industrialization, etc. I do not believe that the
scientific evidence is incorrect, but perhaps it is incomplete."

Rob Piston, a libertarian GMU undergraduate alumnus and current
graduate student, concurred with Block and Bowen, telling Cybercast
News Service, "I don't believe that the entire scientific community
believes that 'man' caused global climate change. I believe warming is
occurring but that we still don't know why."

Piston saw a constructive purpose to the teach-in. "I believe in order
to have a free and open forum, you must explore all sides of the issue
... not just [say] 'this is truth,' when the truth is yet to be
decided," he said. "I believe GMU to be a great academic institution
and, as such, issues of the day should be discussed, but both sides
should be presented."

Bridgett Graham, a sophomore, said global warming was "real" and
"probably man-made," and that the event was "a good thing." She was
told by her English professor to attend and did not know why the
teacher asked his students to attend an event outside the class's

Mark, a junior who asked not to be identified by his last name, was
also told by a public relations professor to attend the event. In lieu
of class, Mark said, the professor told students to analyze the event
from a communications perspective and determine how effective GMU and
Focus the Nation were in advancing their position.

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From: Foodconsumer.org, Feb. 2, 2008
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By Charles W. Schmidt

Until March 2007, thousands of kids around the country could be found
playing with toy trucks, helicopters, and soldiers sold under the
"Elite Operations" brand name. The toys were fun, and they looked
great with their thick coat of glossy paint. Trouble was, that paint
was loaded with 5,000 ppm lead, a potent developmental neurotoxicant
with no known safe exposure level.

When the high lead levels were detected during a routine inspection,
the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a recall, the
first for a lead-contaminated toy in 2007. Lead-triggered toy recalls
were rare, but not unheard of in the United States, with just a
handful issued in the last decade. Eventually, nearly 130,000 Elite
Operations units -- made by a Hong Kong company called Toy Century
Industrial and imported by Toys R Us -- would be recalled.

The $22 billion U.S. toy industry sells about 3 billion toys each
year. In 2007 there were 81 toy recalls for a variety of reasons. Half
of these, involving nearly 6 million toys, were related to lead paint.

In a typical year, the recall would have barely ruffled the $22
billion U.S. toy industry, which sells 3 billion units annually. But
2007 was far from typical as far as import recalls were concerned.
Contaminated pet food, cough syrup, toothpaste, and other products --
mostly made in China -- were being yanked off store shelves under the
full glare of the media. Given that most of its wares are made in
China, the toy industry ramped up its inspections for lead, and found
that high levels were a lot more common than they had assumed. By
year's end, 42 recalls involving nearly 6 million toys had been issued
because of excessive lead levels.

Lead-contaminated toys became one of the biggest environmental health
stories of recent times. It was shocking to think of children being
poisoned while playing, and by lead no less, a toxic metal that
consumers assumed had been purged from products long ago. Now lead was
back, sparking a furor over toy safety.

Looking for Answers

"The 'toxic toy' issue really exposed holes in safety testing
procedures," says Sally Edwards, a researcher with the Lowell Center
for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
"The CPSC has responsibility for over fifteen thousand products, but
it's underfunded, understaffed, and dependent on voluntary testing by
industry. What's more, the toy industry is highly competitive;
consumers expect low prices, and that forces manufacturers to look for
low-cost materials. When you externalize the cost of production,
you're going to pay the price somewhere."

Who can you trust? Ramped-up safety inspections in recent months
revealed that even trusted brands of toys could contain potentially
unsafe levels of lead. Many experts cite the shifting of manufacturing
overseas -- which makes monitoring more difficult -- as a reason why
hazardous materials are turning up in consumer products.

Years ago, most toys sold in the United States were produced
domestically. Now, 87% are produced abroad, according to Santa's
Sweatshop: "Made in D.C." with Bad Trade Policy, a December 2007
report issued by the nonprofit Public Citizen, and of those, 74% are
manufactured in China, where it would seem lead paint is used
plentifully. A study led by Scott Clark, a professor of environmental
health at the University of Cincinnati, found that 50% of the paint
sold in China, India, and Malaysia had lead concentrations 30 times
higher than the CPSC standard. That finding was published in
Environmental Research in September 2006.

With manufacturing shifting overseas, U.S. toy importers have come to
rely increasingly on test results from foreign suppliers. But overseas
testing has been problematic for companies to monitor, and growing
evidence suggests it's more sporadic than one might assume. In
congressional testimony given on 19 September 2007, Mattel's chairman
and chief executive officer, Robert A. Eckert, conceded that "a few
[overseas] vendors, either deliberately or out of carelessness,
circumvented our long-established [testing] standards and procedures."
As a result, Mattel wound up with 3 lead paint-triggered toy recalls
in 2007.

Jeff Gearhart, campaign director for the Ecology Center, a nonprofit
environmental group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, emphasizes that Chinese
toys are not the only culprits. The center's investigations have shown
lead-containing toys originate from numerous countries in addition to
China, including Canada, Mexico, Thailand, and the United States.
"There's nothing pristine about the U.S.'s regulatory structure or its
production practices that would prevent toxic toys from being produced
here," Gearhart says.

The Ecology Center recently completed the most far-reaching analysis
of chemical hazards in toys yet. Their results, published 5 December
2007 on the Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys website
(www.healthytoys.org), found lead in 35% of 1,200 children's products
tested. Smaller numbers of toys -- numbering less than 5% of the total
number evaluated -- also contained trace amounts of arsenic and/or
cadmium. The site now hosts what the Ecology Center says is the most
comprehensive public database of toxic hazards in toys in existence,
which includes both its own test results and those of other
researchers [for more information, see "Consumer Action Guide to Toxic
Chemicals in Toys," p. A69 this issue].

High-risk adornment. This child's bracelet was found by the California
Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substances
Control laboratory to contain unsafe levels of lead. One-third of the
children's jewelry tested so far by the California Department of Toxic
Substances Control contained excessive levels of lead. Moreover,
studies by the Ecology Center have shown jewelry to contain some of
the highest lead content of all children's products tested.

Unregulated Lead Sources

Among the toys tested by the Ecology Center, 17% had lead
concentrations exceeding the CPSC paint standard of 600 ppm. Lead
levels in these toys typically ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 ppm. Some of
the highest levels weren't in paint, however, but in vinyl and
jewelry, which aren't regulated by the CPSC. A vinyl Hannah Montana
Pop Star Card Game, for instance, contained 3,056 ppm lead.

CPSC spokesperson Julie Vallese says the agency would recall a vinyl
toy on account of lead only if children were found to interact with it
in ways that could lead to an oral lead dose of at least 175
micrograms/day. That's the amount that, according to the agency's
investigations, could cause blood levels to exceed 10 micrograms/dL,
the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
advises medical intervention. Vallese says that because children
typically don't chew or "mouth" vinyl, the toys aren't likely to raise
blood levels to that concentration, however. Hence, the Hannah Montana
Pop Star Card Game can be sold legally, even though its lead content
is more than 5 times higher than the enforceable paint standard.

This raises some obvious questions: Are children really less likely to
mouth vinyl toys than painted ones? And if they do, will lead leach
from vinyl into children's bodies at rates any different from that at
which it leaches from paint? "We don't find that lead leaches from
vinyl," responds Vallese, adding that the CPSC's legal mandate -- as
articulated in the Federal Hazardous Substances Act -- requires it to
consider exposure in addition to toxicity when evaluating risk; in
other words, manufacturers can sell potentially toxic products as long
as the exposure pathway is unlikely to be completed.

But Ted Schettler, science director with the Science and Environmental
Health Network, a nonprofit group in Ames, Iowa, counters that lead
actually can leach from vinyl under conditions that include higher
temperatures and low pH. "If a small vinyl toy were swallowed, you can
bet the lead would come out; stomach acids would extract it," he says.
Schettler also points to a 25 June 1993 MMWR Weekly Report article
documenting lead poisoning in a man whose only known exposure was
through habitually chewing on lead-impregnated vinyl -- in this case,
the coating on electrical wires.

Meanwhile, some vinyl toy parts are small enough to swallow. The
Chicago Tribune on 18 November 2007 reported that vinyl shoes from a
Jammin' Jenna doll made by Ty had lead content averaging 1,980 ppm
(however, there is no known case of one of these shoes being

Vallese responds that an item like a lead-contaminated vinyl shoe,
which could possibly be harmful if swallowed, might be subject to
additional risk analysis. "We're working with the Ecology Center now,
trying to find out more about the products they analyzed," Vallese
says. "But [apart from paint levels above 600 ppm, which do trigger
recalls] we aren't required to take enforcement action unless the
exposure justifies such a measure. We enforce laws, and that's how the
law is written."

According to Vallese, the CPSC may change its regulations concerning
children's jewelry, which was found by the Ecology Center to contain
the highest lead levels of any children's product on the market.
According to the Ecology Center's investigations, some charms,
bracelets, earrings, key chains, rings, and other inexpensive jewelry
marketed to children are made entirely of lead. The New York Times
reported on 29 September 2007 on 2 cases involving children who had
swallowed jewelry containing lead. In one, a 4-year-old boy died with
blood lead levels of 180 micrograms/dL after swallowing a heart-shaped
charm that came with a pair of Reebok children's shoes. In another, a
5- year-old girl who ate part of an ankle bracelet was saved by
treatment, but not before her blood lead reached 79 micrograms/dL.

The CPSC acknowledges that children's jewelry is a problem. "The
agency has made it a priority to deal with this issue," Vallese
asserts. "I know kids will put these things in their mouths. We're
trying to get manufacturers to use nonhazardous metals. There's an
exposure risk here that we want to address through the rule-making

Yet even as CPSC's regulations aim to keep blood lead levels under 10
micrograms/dL, growing evidence suggests far lower concentrations can
produce cognitive problems in children. An investigation by Bruce
Lanphear, director of the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health
Center, which pooled results from 7 studies around the world, found no
evidence of a threshold for lead toxicity; IQ impairments that
persisted were identified at blood lead levels below 5 micrograms/dL.
Those results were published in the July 2005 issue of EHP. "Since
then, several studies have confirmed these results," Lanphear says.
"They all found proportionately larger decrements at the lowest levels
[of exposure]."

On the basis of these data, the American Academy of Pediatrics
recently concluded that the CPSC's enforceable standard for lead in
paint should be dropped from 600 ppm to 40 ppm, which is the upper
limit for lead in uncontaminated soil, according to congressional
testimony given on 20 September 2007 by Dana Best, an assistant
professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of

Vallese says the CPSC is currently bound by law to its existing
standard, but pending legislation could change that. A bill passed on
19 December 2007 by the House of Representatives -- HR 4040, the
Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act, sponsored by Bobby Rush (D-
IL) -- proposes to gradually reduce the CPSC standard to 100 ppm over
4 years, a level Vallese says would be the strictest in the world.

Not Just Lead

The lead debacle stunned a toy industry already smarting from ongoing
efforts to ban its use of phthalates, vinyl-softening chemicals added
to rubber bath toys and teething rings, as well as to cosmetics and
medical devices. After more than 50 years of industrial use,
phthalates -- which cause hormonal changes and reproductive effects in
rodents at high doses -- can be found in almost all human blood
samples from industrialized countries.

Both the toy industry and the CPSC say that phthalates in toys do not
put children at risk, but skeptics counter that children's mouthing
behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from these chemicals.
The European Union, the state of California, and the city of San
Francisco have banned 6 phthalates from toys largely on a
precautionary basis.

Both the toy industry and the CPSC say that phthalates in toys do not
put children at risk, claiming that the amounts absorbed by exposure
to commercial products are too low to be harmful. Skeptics of that
view counter that children's mouthing behaviors, and also their
comparatively more sensitive developing bodies, make them uniquely
vulnerable to harm from phthalates and other chemicals. Spurred by
activist campaigning, the European Union (EU), the city of San
Francisco, and most recently California banned 6 phthalates from
children's products. Both the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and the
American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- trade groups based in New York and
Virginia, respectively -- have appealed the San Francisco ban, which
is already in effect (the statewide California ban, set to go into
effect in 2009, has not been challenged).

It's not clear how many toys contain phthalates, in part because
manufacturers aren't required to disclose the chemical contents of
their products to the public. Sarah Janssen, a scientist at the
Natural Resources Defense Council, says soft, flexible bath toys and
cosmetics contain some of the highest concentrations and therefore the
greatest potential for exposure. Marian Stanley, a senior director at
the ACC, says phthalates typically make up 15-20% of the toy's entire
composition. "That's the amount required for phthalates to do what
they do, which is make vinyl soft," she explains.

According to TIA spokesperson Frank Clarke, toy manufacturers use a
single member of this class of chemicals, a compound called di-
isononyl phthalate (DINP). Still, studies have found trace amounts of
other phthalates in toys. In its own investigation, published on 19
November 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle had 16 toys analyzed and
found di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) -- a suspected human
carcinogen and reproductive toxicant -- in a rubber bath toy sold at
Walgreens. Other phthalates were also detected, all of them at levels
of less than 2%.

Children's advocates and industry disagree over where the non-DINP
phthalates came from. Stanley suggests the reagents and test equipment
used during the analysis may have been contaminated with DEHP. Andrew
Igrejas, a campaign director with the National Environmental Trust, a
Washington, DC-based environmental group, dismisses that view, and
insists other phthalates wind up in toys "by mistake" during
manufacturing. "It isn't too farfetched to assume that what this
testing reveals is that DEHP continues to be used for some toy
applications," Janssen says. "The source [of the DEHP] should be

In any case, DINP toxicity is heavily debated. Echoing industry
conclusions, the CPSC insists the human risks are nonexistent. In 2002
the agency issued what many cite as the definitive DINP risk
assessment. Following that effort, the CPSC performed an extensive
exposure assessment, during which mouthing behavior among 169 children
aged 3-36 months was recorded by trained observers. DINP "migration"
(i.e., leaching) rates from soft plastic toys also were quantified.
These measures were used to estimate a maximum daily dose of 2.4
micrograms of DINP per kg body weight per day. By comparison, the
CPSC's Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel set an acceptable daily intake of
120 micrograms/kg/day on the basis of histological liver changes in
rats, which was the first effect noted.

Lack of Human Data Breeds Uncertainty

Unfortunately, no comparable data are available on the effect of DINP
in humans. Children's advocates and others who favor phthalate bans
typically point to research published in the August 2005 issue of EHP
by Shanna Swan, a University of Rochester professor of obstetics and
gynecology who has shown that phthalate exposure in utero is
associated with a shortened anogenital distance (the distance from the
anus to the base of the penis) in boys aged 2-36 months. These results
support findings in male rodents, which show that high-dose phthalate
exposures limit the anogenital distance, reduce sperm counts,
interfere with testosterone regulation, and impair genital
development. However, these findings were based on 9 phthalate
metabolites (measured in maternal urine during pregnancy) that Swan
concedes are chemically and toxicologically different from DINP.

The whole issue of phthalate toxicity is further complicated by
questions surrounding cumulative exposure. Janssen asserts the CPSC's
risk assessment was issued before new evidence of phthalate additivity
came to light. Generated in part by Earl Gray, a research biologist at
the Environmental Protection Agency, these findings imply that
different phthalates act on the same biological pathways such that
their effects build on each other. The National Academy of Sciences
recently launched a cumulative risk assessment for phthalates,
coordinated by project director Ellen Mantus, which is expected to
yield a report within 15 months.

In Janssen's view, the possibility that phthalates may be
toxicologically additive further justifies banning them from
children's products. But others insist that doing so will make little
or no difference in terms of children's real-life exposure. Phthalates
-- produced globally at annual volumes of more than 1 billion pounds
-- are ubiquitous; indeed the largest source of human exposure is
food, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease

Two of the most common alternatives to phthalates are acetyl tributyl
citrate and DINCH, which is derived from DINP and has a very similar
chemical structure. But Stanley counters that while 50 years of use
show phthalates to be a relatively sure bet in terms of safety, the
alternatives are a roll of the dice. "We don't know enough about these
new plasticizers," she says. "There still isn't much data available on
them." To support that position, Stanley cites a 20 April 2000 memo
from the CPSC to David Miller, president of the Toy Manufacturers of
America (now the TIA), which states that CPSC staff "are concerned
that manufacturers not substitute for DINP in children's products... .
[E]xisting data are insufficient to determine if acetyl tributyl
citrate has any chronic toxic effects that may be relevant to humans."
Stanley confirms the CPSC has no current information on DINP

Meanwhile, phthalates have yet to produce a single documented human
illness. Schettler concedes we may never know if, or how, early
phthalate exposures affect human health. "I don't know how we could
figure that out," he says. "Animal studies suggest links with
reproductive health, but that only becomes manifest when people reach
child-bearing age. We'd have to quantify exposures during fetal and
early childhood years, and we'd also have to account for other known
environmental factors that influence reproductive health -- for
instance, nutrition."

Schettler dismisses critics who say it's unreasonable to remove
phthalates from toys if ongoing exposures will still occur from other
sources. "My own view is that if you have the opportunity to reduce
exposures, then why not do it," he says. "We do not need vinyl toys
that kids will mouth." Ultimately, says Schettler, the decision to
avoid phthalates is a precautionary one, based on the notion that it's
better to be safe now than sorry later.

Proposed Solutions

The European Union invoked the precautionary principle in 2005, when
it banned 6 phthalates from children's products despite objections
from its own scientific advisory panel, which felt the documented
risks weren't high enough. In addition to California, 5 other states
-- Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Maryland -- have
introduced legislation to remove phthalates from toys and other
children's products.

With respect to the lead issue, a number of pending bills now aim to
boost the CPSC's power to regulate product testing. Like HR 4040, a
Senate bill -- SB 2045, sponsored by Mark Pryor (D-AR) -- proposes
mandatory safety testing (for all relevant elements, not just lead) by
third- party inspectors, a measure the CPSC wholeheartedly supports.

Just how the bills will fare in the coming year remains to be seen.
President Bush has signaled his support for CPSC reforms, but both he
and the agency reject SB 2045's proposal to make safety violations
punishable by a fine of up to $100 million. Vallese emphasizes that a
fine of that magnitude would saturate the process with lawyers and
inundate the CPSC with paperwork from companies trying to document
safety during manufacturing. "We need more safety inspectors, not more
attorneys," Vallese says. The House version proposes a fine of $10
million, which appears to be more palatable to the agency and industry

The CPSC has also begun to address lead paint hazards from imported
toys. Whether the amounts in Asian paint have dropped since the toy
recalls started last year is unknown. According to Vallese, the CPSC
is addressing that issue now. "We need to deal with the problem at its
source," she asserts. "So we've entered into agreements with the
Chinese government to address safety in production; we signed those
agreements in September [2007]." [For more information on these
agreements, see box insert this page.]

For parents, lead and phthalate avoidance is easier said than done,
given that the chemical components of toys are not usually made
publicly known. Gearhart emphasizes that cheap jewelry should be
avoided at all cost. Parents can search healthytoys.org, where test
results on specific toys are posted as they emerge. Toys made with
nontoxic paints and materials present another increasingly widespread
option. Ultimately, though, the toy recalls of 2007 are in some ways
more a wakeup call for industry and federal regulation than a trigger
for excessive parental anxiety. Over time, they are certain to spur
some beneficial changes.

CPSC: In Search of Safety

The extraordinary number of lead-contaminated toy recalls in 2007 has
put the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) under growing public
scrutiny. The CPSC's primary mandate is to help industry develop
voluntary safety standards and to issue mandatory standards when the
agency deems those produced voluntarily by industry to be
insufficiently protective. But the CPSC is also directed by Congress
to conduct routine product inspections to ensure that harmful wares
don't reach the marketplace.

Don Mays, senior director for product safety at the Consumers Union
(CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, says there are just
15 CPSC inspectors monitoring all 300 ports in the United States (the
agency has traditionally rotated from port to port, making its
presence at any given location intermittent). The CPSC has
traditionally not measured for chemical exceedances at the borders,
leaving that responsibility with importers, who are liable for any
harm caused by products they sell.

Thanks in part to a dwindling budget -- which has not kept pace with
annual inflation -- the CPSC's full-time staff has fallen from a high
of 890 in 1973 to roughly 400 today, according to Martin Bennett, a
retired CPSC inspector. Martin says the number of field inspectors has
fallen due to staff attrition, a point that CPSC spokesperson Julie
Vallese affirms is true. Advocacy groups assert that staff losses have
severely diminished the CPSC's ability to keep up with rising imports
from global trade. "They just don't have the resources they need to
keep up with screening," says CU spokesperson Ami Gadhia.

For fiscal year 2008, Congress added $17 million to the CPSC's 2007
budget of $63 million, the first real increase since 1981, Vallese
says. Some of that money will be used to hire border inspectors and to
purchase 10 handheld X-ray fluorescence devices at roughly $30,000
apiece. These devices are used to analyze the chemical content of

The CPSC has also initiated new measures to boost port inspections. A
newly expanded Import Surveillance Division, announced on 7 January
2008, will establish a tracking system at ports of entry throughout
the United States. The system will generate real-time information
about U.S.-bound shipments even before they leave foreign ports.
Although the system will bolster efforts to ensure product safety,
Mays points out that full-time staff will be posted at only 2 ports
(Long Beach and Seattle). Moreover, the tracking system will not be
operational until 2011, he says.

Vallese emphasizes the real thrust of the CPSC's expanded efforts to
block hazardous toys from the market won't take place at the borders
or the ports. "We have to go to the source," she says. Along those
lines, the CPSC has been holding ongoing meetings with representatives
from the Chinese government. In agreements signed in September 2007,
the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and
Quarantine of the People's Republic of China, which is the CPSC's
regulatory counterpart in China, agreed to ensure that Chinese
manufacturers adhere to U.S. safety standards, Vallese says. They also
created a paint certification system that guarantees paint lead levels
meet CPSC safety standards and agreed that manufacturers who violate
safety standards will be stripped of their export licenses.

Mays says the CPSC has signed similar agreements with at least 10
other countries. Most of these agreements were signed before the
dramatic rise in lead paint-related recalls began during 2007. "The
bottom line is that the CPSC needs more port inspectors," he says.
"And they have to start levying fines against violators." As it
currently stands, the CPSC is authorized to fine those who violate
safety standards up to $1.8 million. According to Mays, none of the
toy importers subjected to lead-related recalls were fined.

Copyright 2004-2008 by foodconsumer.org

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From: New York Times, Feb. 5, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]


By James E. Mcwilliams

Last month the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to
food made from cloned cows, pigs and goats, with the agency's top
food-safety expert, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, declaring, "It is beyond our
imagination to even have a theory for why the food is unsafe."
Opponents of biotechnology immediately let out a collective groan of
disapproval -- among them Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's ice cream
(who has called cloning "just weird"). Cloning, after all, will now
join genetically modified crops as yet another threat to organic
agriculture. I, too, let out a groan, but for a different reason.

It was because of the tone. "It is beyond our imagination to even find
a theory ...." The hubris here highlights the saddest aspect of our
perennial food wars. Like abortion and capital punishment,
biotechnology inspires knee-jerk rhetorical passion rather than
rational debate. Dr. Sundlof's remark was the equivalent of an
uppercut to the anti-biotech camp, one offering an open invitation to
fight back.

One need look no further than the battle over genetically modified
crops starting in the 1990s to understand how this language undermines
the qualified benefits of biotech innovation. Without a hint of doubt,
pro-biotech forces insisted that genetically modified crops would end
hunger and eliminate the need for pesticides. Genetic modification was
supposedly a harmless panacea that would save the planet. Industry not
only promoted this fiction, but it scoffed at the prospects of product
labeling, insisting that it was the product, not the process, that

This arrogant attitude spurred the anti-biotech forces to promote
their own distortions. "Frankenfoods" became the term of choice for
genetically modified crops. Chemical companies engaged in "biopiracy";
they were killers of monarch butterflies, engineers of future
"superweeds," and according to Jeremy Rifkin, the prominent biotech
opponent, monopolizers of an insidious technology that posed "as
serious a threat to the existence of life on the planet as the bomb

Lost in this rhetorical battle was a quiet middle ground where the
benefits and drawbacks of genetically engineered crops were
responsibly considered. What emerged from this investigation --
undertaken by population experts, plant biologists, farmers,
conservationists, nonprofit foundations and agricultural scientists --
was cautious optimism for a new technology. These specialists
recognized that such crops could reduce deforestation by increasing
crop yields on less land, moderate overuse of synthetic insecticides,
decrease dependence on irrigation through drought-resistant crops, and
greatly reduce soil erosion through no-till farming. They also looked
at the hundreds of studies finding that this technology was relatively

But the middle ground also confronted the dangers that could arise
through genetically modified crops. Indeed, it is possible for cross-
pollination to "contaminate" wild varieties of food, decreasing
biodiversity. Likewise, it is possible (if very unlikely) that animals
fed modified crops could pass genes to humans that render antibiotics

That patents of transgenic methods are controlled by a few deep-
pocketed corporations is also unsettling. One need not be an anti-
biotech radical to have problems with a "terminator gene" that
prevents crops from producing second-generation seed. Rather than
dismiss these concerns (as Monsanto does) or grossly overstate them
(as Greenpeace and Mr. Rifkin do), people like Per Pinstrup-Andersen,
the former director general of the International Food Policy Research
Institute, have asked a profoundly productive question: what are the
limits of modern society's precautionary principle? In other words,
knowing that it is impossible to prove a negative, when should a
society agree to accept a technology with proven benefits and
potential dangers?

Dr. Pinstrup-Andersen, for one, decided that the benefits of modified
crops outweigh the drawbacks. The public, however, was distracted by
the rhetorical crossfire, which had no use for this reasoned, and
necessarily imperfect, response to a complex technology.

I hope that the same situation does not play out on cloning. After
all, our collective failure to grapple with genetic modification on
its own terms been accompanied by the equally unfortunate failure to
bring its benefits to cultures that might gain the most from it --
insect-resistant cassava or drought-tolerant maize could be a boon to
subsistence farmers in Africa. Cloning technology, too, has many
possible benefits. It has the potential to produce products that are
safer, healthier and tastier -- bacon that has heart-protective Omega
3's, say, or milk produced by cows that are stronger and thus need
fewer antibiotics. It might seem "just weird," but cloning deserves a
fair hearing, one in which impassioned language yields the floor to
responsible discourse.

James E. McWilliams, a history professor at Texas State University at
San Marcos, is the author of the forthcoming "American Pests: The
Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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