Featured stories in this issue...
In this letter to the editor, Sharon Collinge offers a clear and
compelling explanation of the precautionary principle and why it
should guide the management of open space in the City of Boulder,
Colorado. If more people wrote letters to the editor like this one,
precaution could spread like the wind.
Synthetic Turf Raises Safety Issues
Replacing grass with synthetic turf on playing fields may harm the
environment and human health, according to recent studies, so a
precautionary approach is warranted, say Doug and Patti Wood of
Grassroots Environmental Education in Port Washington, N.Y.
Verizon and Precaution in Berkeley, Calif.
The city of Berkeley, California abandons its legal commitment to
the precautionary principle in order to avoid a lawsuit from an
aggressive (and very large) corporation.
Mothers-to-be 'Should Stop Drinking Altogether'
The British Public Health Minister says the UK should follow the
U.S. example and adopt a precautionary approach to drinking during
pregnancy: Just Don't Do It.
The safety of pesticide spraying should be demonstrated before
exposing children and pregnant women, says Amy Beddoe, a professor of
Yaaparra Flame Retardant -- Evaluated by Evolution
A British firm argues that its flame retardant (FR) product is
manufactured from foodstuffs, so is inherently safe and needs no
precautionary evaluation for potential harm. Is this so-called
"biomimetic" approach a valid substitute for precautionary scientific
Genetically Engineered Organisms, Are They Safe?
"Under the precautionary principle the onus is on industry to show
that these [four harmful] mechanisms are not occurring before GE
[genetically engineered] plants are released to the environment." --
Dr. Lorrin Pang, Hawaii State Department of Health
From: The Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) (pg. A14), Nov. 10, 2007
By Sharon K. Collinge
Ed Mills' recent letter criticizes the use of the precautionary
principle in management of Boulder's open space by stating that "this
'precaution' overrides science and data in favor of policies critical
of all possible human impacts."
Put simply, the precautionary principle is an approach that seeks to
avoid unintended consequences of particular actions. Rather than
"overriding" science and data, this principle explicitly acknowledges
the centrality of scientific data to decision-making. Most
importantly, it suggests a guiding strategy for managers faced with
the uncertainties and knowledge gaps that will always exist in our
understanding of a situation.
We all use this principle every day in our own lives. For instance,
many Boulderites purchase and consume organically grown foods because
of the perceived risk to their health of consuming foods produced with
the use of pesticides. Even though we don't know everything there is
to know about links between pesticide use and our health, we take
caution (buy organically grown food) to avoid unintended consequences
(potential negative health effects).
We will manage Boulder's open space most effectively with a similar
approach. Although we do not know everything there is to know about
human impacts on native grasslands, forests, and streams, there is
ample scientific evidence showing that increased human activities lead
to environmental degradation. This warrants a cautious approach to the
management of our local public lands.
To avoid unintended consequences, we must clearly state our intended
consequences by asking: what do we want open space lands to look like
in the future -- say 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now? What condition of
the natural environment is acceptable? How do we ensure that our
actions are sustainable? If we want the status of our open space to be
the same as it is or even better 20 years from now, then we must avoid
actions that fragment, degrade, and destroy the land and its species.
That's exactly why the precautionary principle is vital in managing
our valuable open space.
Copyright, 2007, The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.
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From: Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.), Nov. 14, 2007
SYNTHETIC TURF RAISES SAFETY ISSUES
Studies say that toxic chemicals, and the risk of injuries, abrasions
and illnesses, should make us wary of artificial turf on playing
By Doug and Patti Wood
[Doug and Patti Wood are principals of Grassroots Environmental
Education, a nonprofit environmental health organization based in Port
The increasing popularity of high school competitive sports programs
has brought with it an increased demand for playing fields that can
withstand heavy practice and game schedules.
With future scholarships riding on the successful performance of
student athletes, access to all-season, high-quality fields has become
a priority for parents and coaches across Long Island.
So it's easy to understand why so many schools and municipalities are
considering installation of synthetic turf fields. Although they can
be expensive, they have the lure of being virtually indestructible and
playable in inclement weather.
But what about environmental impact and health effects associated with
synthetic turf? Though the plastic blades of grass aren't a problem,
the ground-up tires that are used as infill to cushion these fields
raise concerns. Tires contain many hazardous chemicals, including
petrochemicals and heavy metals that are known to be harmful even in
small amounts. Some of them cause cancer in humans and exacerbate
asthmatic conditions; others have been implicated in the disruption of
endocrine systems or the impairment of neurological function.
Questions about the safety of the crumb rubber infill in synthetic
turf have begun to percolate through communities where fields have
been installed or where they're being actively considered. As the
debate over these fields goes forward, it's important to consider what
we know and what we don't.
We know that young children and teenagers are more vulnerable to
exposure to environmental toxins than adults because of their rapidly
developing physiology. We also know that inhalation is a primary route
of exposure, and that participants in sports activities are breathing
in more air than bystanders. Accidental ingestion and skin absorption
are also possible.
Studies conducted this summer in New York and Connecticut confirmed
the presence of hazardous chemicals in the crumb rubber infill on
synthetic fields. Numerous chemicals were detected, including arsenic,
cadmium, lead, acetone and DEHP (a phthalate). Some measurements
exceeded federal and state guidelines.
Putting aside health concerns associated with crumb rubber infill,
there are other issues: unusual injuries and skin abrasions sustained
by athletes, handling body-fluid spills and eventual disposal of worn-
out fields. Cleaning synthetic turf requires harsh chemicals, and one
manufacturer reportedly recommends use of perchloroethylene -- the
dry- cleaning agent that's a common groundwater contaminant and human
carcinogen. Even the loss of environmentally beneficial natural turf,
which sequesters carbon dioxide, has been added to the debate.
What we don't know is precisely what effect these toxins will have on
people. Environmental toxicologists are just beginning to discover the
harmful effects of chronic, long-term exposure to chemical toxins,
even at low levels. Blanket assurances of safety by manufacturers
ignore this emerging science and raise the conflict-of-interest
concerns that are inherent when companies that stand to make huge
profits conduct research into their own products' safety.
To complicate matters, the health effects of exposure may not be
apparent for many years, and tracing an illness diagnosed in adulthood
back to exposures from elementary or high school would be virtually
Without independent testing, no one can say that the exposures from
the chemicals contained in the crumb rubber infill are harmless. Most
scientists agree that more research is required. Prudence suggests
that until we know more, we should employ the Precautionary Principle
- that in the face of possible harm, precautionary steps should be
taken to limit exposure, even if scientific proof has not yet been
Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has done just this by
introducing legislation to place a moratorium on the installation of
new fields until a public health study can be completed.
And at a leadership summit today co-sponsored by Adelphi University
and Grassroots Environmental Education, superintendents and school
board members in Nassau County will learn about turf pesticides and
the controversies surrounding synthetic turf.
It's worth noting that chemically maintained turf and synthetic turf
are not the only, or even the best, options. Many turf professionals
and several school districts on Long Island have been implementing
natural turf programs, creating dense and resilient playing surfaces
while at eliminating their use of toxic chemicals.
Although naturally maintained fields cannot be used year-round or in
heavy rain like synthetic turf, they offer the complete assurance to
parents that if their children are going to suffer because of their
participation in sports programs, it will be from disappointment or
sprained ankles, not from potentially toxic exposure.
Copyright (c) 2007 Newsday, Inc.
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From: The Berkeley Daily Planet, Nov. 9, 2007
COUNCIL OKS CONTROVERSIAL ANTENNAS
By Judith Scherr
Amidst jeers, catcalls and demands for the mayor's recall and Mayor
Tom Bates' threats to clear the rowdy public from the chambers, the
Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to allow two powerful
telecommunications companies to place antennas atop UC Storage, a
five-story building owned by developer Patrick Kennedy adjacent to the
neighborhood at Ward Street and Shattuck Avenue.
Voting to overturn a Zoning Adjustments Board decision to disallow the
antennas were Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli,
Linda Maio, Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak. Councilmember Max Anderson
voted to uphold the zoning board denial and Councilmembers Dona
Spring, Darryl Moore and Kriss Worthington abstained.
This reversed an Oct. 23 council action, where only Wozniak had voted
to overturn the zoning board decision. The council had a month from
the Oct. 23 vote to overturn the ZAB decision.
Anderson, who represents the Ward Street neighborhood and is a
registered nurse by profession, told the council that allowing the
antennas -- and their possible ill effects -- was tantamount to
disavowing a city resolution to follow the Precautionary Principle,
which states that if a city policy might cause severe harm to the
public, "lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect
shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the city to postpone
measures to... protect human health."
In accepting that policy, the city "accepted the responsibility of
safeguarding us against technologies, environmental threats, other
kinds of health threats that potentially exist," Anderson said.
The vote came after Kirk Trost, attorney with Sacramento-based Miller
Owen & Trost, hired as outside counsel by the city, said publicly what
he had been telling the council in closed-door sessions: given the
federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the city could not win its
case in court against Verizon.
Based on the Zoning Adjustment Board's denial of the right for Nextel
and Verizon to place telecommunications antennas on the roof at 2721
Shattuck Ave., Verizon filed a lawsuit in federal court in August,
saying the zoning board decision unlawfully restricts the company.
Trost said he agreed with Verizon and Nextel that the zoning board
decision was flawed. There was no evidence in the record to support
ZAB's claim that there was a problem with the information provided by
the companies concerning their need for the antennas in order to
provide adequate capacity, Trost said, noting, "Instead the record in
fact contains substantial evidence to support the need for the
Trost further underscored that the Telecommunications Act rules out
consideration of adverse health impacts.
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque told the public at the meeting
Tuesday that in addition to her office looking at the question, the
city engaged three different outside attorneys, all of whom agreed
that Berkeley could not win its case in court.
Maio, who voted with the majority, pointed out that the courts have
consistently sided with the telecommunications industry and that the
Supreme Court refused to address the question when a case was
submitted to it.
Bates, who lives among those protesting the antennas, voted with the
majority to support the Nextel/Verizon appeal, reversing his Oct. 23
vote to support the zoning board.
"We need to back up and strengthen our ordinance [on locating
antennas]. Our ordinance is terrible," Bates said. "We have made
mistake after mistake in trying to appease an angry, upset
constituency. We've made mistakes by bouncing it back and forth
[between the zoning board and the council] -- we probably shouldn't
have done that."
Bates went on to say that if the council went to court, "We're headed
for a loss and attorneys' fees. I can't in good faith go in to lose."
The mayor denied the audience time to speak, saying the public hearing
on the question had been closed Oct 23. Audience placards, however,
sent the massage: "Local control over antennas," "Uphold the ZAB
decision," and "People's voice; supreme law."
Spring, who voted with Bates and Anderson on Oct. 23 to uphold the
zoning board denial, abstained Tuesday, saying the city didn't have
options. "Right now, we don't have an attorney that will even take
this case for us," she said.
Capitelli agreed: "We will lose in court. We will lose quickly and
cleanly," he said.
Wozniak, who consistently voted to overturn the zoning board decision,
said the city could not change the Telecommunications Act. "The right
way is to go to Congress and change it," he said.
Anderson stood with his constituents: "Sometimes even when you don't
think you can win, you need to fight," he said.
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From: Daily Mail (London, UK), Nov. 9, 2007
MOTHERS-TO-BE 'SHOULD STOP DRINKING ALTOGETHER'
By James Chapman and Ian Drury
Women who are pregnant or trying for a baby should give up all
alcohol, the Public Health Minister suggested yesterday.
Dawn Primarolo said the best way to end confusion could be to adopt
the approach taken in the U.S. and tell expectant mothers to avoid
She told the Commons Health Select Committee: "Maybe we should go to a
precautionary principle with recommendations to women who are pregnant
or trying to conceive -- which the Americans do -- which is to just say,
Her intervention contradicts the latest advice from the National
Institute for Clinical Excellence, which draws up public health
guidance for the Government.
Last month it issued draft guidelines which said enjoying a small
glass of wine a day during pregnancy is safe.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists backed the
stance, saying there was no clear evidence that small amounts of
alcohol could harm the unborn foetus.
But Miss Primarolo pointed to the advice of the Government's chief
medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, who said in May that pregnant
women and those trying to conceive should not drink.
Kevin Barron, the Labour chairman-of the select committee, protested
that women were being sent confusing messages.
But Miss Primarolo said NICE would soon issue further advice based on
the latest studies.
Some doctors say there is evidence that even very small amounts of
alcohol can damage the health of the unborn child.
Dangers include foetal alcohol syndrome, which affects around 100
babies a year, causing low birth weight, flattened features, heart and
kidney abnormalities, deafness and brain damage.
In addition, as many as 7,000 British babies a year are affected by
the less serious foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes
attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and poor co-ordination.
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From: Monterey (Calif.) County Herald, Nov. 13, 2007
By Amy E. Beddoe
I am a professor in the school of nursing at San Jose State
University. I am very concerned about the aerial spraying of the light
brown apple moth in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
One of my areas of research interest is the study of the effects of
the environment on unborn fetuses. The proposed spraying seems
irresponsible in light of data on the effects of a variety of chemical
substances on developing humans' nervous and endocrine systems.
We should use the precautionary principle where it would be requisite
for industry scientists to prove a product's safety amidst children,
pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. We, the public,
should not be in a position to demonstrate harmful effects of chemical
products decades later through the process of being unwilling human
subjects in research on chemicals.
Chemical compounds are complex, reactions and interactions occur
across time, and are potentially multidimensional so they will be
difficult to track.
I refer you to:
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From: IT News, Nov. 8, 2007
YAAPARRA FR -- EVALUATED BY EVOLUTION
GOOLE, England -- The UK based company Yaaparra Ltd claims their fire
retardant (FR) chemical is 'evaluated by evolution'. Inspired by the
citric acid cycle (Krebs cycle) in human metabolism, the Yaaparra Ltd.
fire retardant is made of 'E- classified foodstuffs', thus inherently
adapted to human chemistry.
This evolutionary risk analysis suits low-cost substances like FR
chemicals. Cost is what makes the much discussed 'precautionary
principle' more complex in practise than in theory. For example new
medical drugs are tested for many years before they are allowed on the
market -- a precaution far too expensive and cumbersome for other
chemicals affecting human health and environment on a daily basis.
The bio mimetic approach is a shortcut to long evaluations. By
emulating processes used by nature generation after generation new
substances can 'inherit' long term testing results.
About Yaaparra Ltd.
Fire retardant (FR) chemicals are added into tens of thousands of
inherently flammable industrial products like upholstered furniture,
carpets, vehicle and building interiors and components. Hundreds of
different chemical FR combinations are competing on this multi billion
US dollar global market -- some are banned and many others questioned
from the perspectives of human health and product end-of-life issues.
Just search the web for "flame retardants" or "fire retardants" to see
the scope of the FR issue.
This is why the Molecular Heat Eater (MHE) has been created. MHE is
the first FR system developed from the perspective of human
metabolism. MHE is made of foodstuffs eaten by humans for generations
-- hence the ingredients in MHE are 'evaluated by evolution'. The bio
mimetic MHE enables 'future proof fire safety'.
More info at http://www.yaaparra.co.uk
Contact: Goran Ulin, executive director Yaaparra Limited, Mobile
+44-(0)-7717-476-071, Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright: 2007 PR Newswire Europe
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From: Molokai Dispatch (Kaunakakai, Hawaii), Nov. 13, 2007
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED ORGANISMS, ARE THEY SAFE?
Leading experts representing both sides of the issue shed light on the
By Leo Azambuja
The presence of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops on Molokai has been
a controversial topic for some time. Earlier this year Monsanto, the
leading GE company worldwide, expanded its operations on Molokai to
include 1,650 acres, raising concerns amongst those who believe GE
farming might irreversibly affect the environment. But there are also
those who believe GE crops are beneficial and do not pose
environmental or health threats.
The Molokai Dispatch has engaged leading scientists and professionals
in health and agricultural fields to weigh in on the GE farming issues
which could affect Molokai. To be fair, a set of five questions was
sent to opposite sides of the opinion field. Last week we present the
first set of two questions and their respective answers. In this
issue, the Dispatch published the remaining three sets of questions.
Challenging the benefits of GE crops are: Bill Freese, a Science
Policy Analyst at the Center for Food Service [sic] in Washington
D.C.; and Dr. Lorrin Pang, who works for the Hawaii State Department
of Health as a Maui District officer.
Representing the defense of GE crops is: Dr. Ania M Wieczorek, from
the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the University
of Hawaii at Manoa
Please be aware that the professionals participating in this forum do
not, in any way, represent the views of their respective employers or
GE and Hawaii's endangered species -- A U.S. District Judge recently
ruled that GE farming could pose a threat to Hawaii's hundreds of
endangered species. Is there any scientific evidence supporting or
discrediting this threat?
Dr. Ania M Wieczorek: First, I would like to clarify that the law suit
was filed against USDA on Plant-made Pharmaceuticals permitting which
are very different to GE crops for agricultural use.
Regarding the question about the GE farming posing a threat to
Hawaii's endangered species, a key point that needs to be made is that
gene flow occurs widely in nature. This gene flow is independent of
whether transgenic crops are involved. Pollen from agricultural crops
often reaches wild plants growing nearby, and when the wild species
are closely related to the crops, hybridization can ensue.
Hybridization in plants in this way depends on a variety of factors
like relatedness and environmental factors; it is likely to be very
rare between Hawaiian endangered species and agricultural crops. For
cross pollination to happen, the crops and Hawaiian species would have
to be very closely related.
A study published in 2006 in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems &
Environment, looked at potential cross pollination between different
agricultural crops and Hawaiian species. It is unlikely that
hybridization will occur naturally between the cultivated crop plants
discussed in this report and native Hawaiian plant species (with the
exception of G. tomentosum), native cotton. To decrease the
possibility of gene flow for cotton, USDA-APHIS requires an isolation
distance, currently suggested to be~12 m, between cultivated
transgenic cotton and wild or non-transgenic species.
The important point is that indigenous Hawaiian species and
agricultural crops are quite unlikely to hybridize, with adequate
isolation distances, and most crops are not grown in close proximity
to indigenous endangered species.
Dr. Lorrin Pang: In my opinion there are four theoretical ways that
GMO's could threaten endangered species. First, as with any large
scale crop, there is competition for habitat and resources. For
example, stream diversions to water GMO crops on large plantations may
affect many stream species -- and in Hawaii there are ongoing suits to
restore stream flow. A very aggressive GE crop which escapes and
outgrows native species could compete for limited habitat. There are
many examples of this even with non-GE crops in Hawaii
Next there may be the transfer of the mutation construct
(promoter+mutant-gene+marker) from GE crops to related species. It is
easy to imagine that the transfer could occur by a conventional route
(wind/insect pollination) and would "take" in the host species
according to standard rules of cross pollination between related
species. For example GE cotton may be closely enough related to native
hibiscus to share genes via conventional routes. If contamination does
occur the issue then becomes whether or not there is a selective
(survival) advantage of the mutation. If there is an advantage (say,
mutation for producing endogenous pesticide against insects) the
species will eventually become entirely "contaminated" under insect
pressure. It will survive but no longer be "pure". If there is a
disadvantage the genetic mutation will eventually "die out" within the
native strains. Unfortunately, if there is not a large initial reserve
of native plants (as is often the case with endangered species), the
mutation may contaminate the entire pool then die out when conditions
are unfavorable -- leading to more rapid extinction.
The next scenario has somewhat similar consequences to the above
paragraph but the mechanism of mutation spread may be through non-
traditional routes among different species (horizontal gene transfer).
The mechanism may be by direct transfer (say, insect inoculation) or
more likely by viral and bacterial infections. Laboratory experiments
have shown transfer of mutational sequences through soil microbes. As
we study the genomes of organisms we see a lot of shared gene
sequences, probably transferred over the millennia by a host of
viruses. These mutations have had millennia to select advantageous
changes (the dangerous ones died out) and their behavior is now
somewhat predictable. Many mutations may be "silent" (no protein
activity that we know of). On the other hand viruses spreading new GE
mutations among different species will have unpredictable
consequences. The mutation will express since it is tied to a very
active promoter ("on switch") It is like throwing a violin player into
a football game: he does not know the plays, he takes the place of one
of the original players, and you force him to carry the ball. In
nature viral assisted mutational transfer has occurred but over the
millennia the disruptive ones, the losers, have died out. If this
occurs with GE contamination, as in the previous paragraph the losers
will die out -- but in the case of horizontal gene transfer the "die
out" may cross species. As above, if the scenario is contamination
followed by die out when unfavorable conditions occur, the small
number of plants of endangered species will not have the reserve to
survive the die out (resulting in more rapid extinction).
The fourth mechanism I will call the "unknown". The importance of
unexpected, unintended events is not to be taken lightly. We are now
only beginning to describe genome structures and really have no idea
of their complex functions or interactions. Trying to extend our
predictions of genomic interactions to something as complicated as the
human body or to the environment adds another unimaginable level of
uncertainty. Nonetheless we are beginning to observe "unexplainable
events". A very pertinent example occurred in the last couple of years
with extensive contamination of commercial long grain rice by Bayer's
experimental GE strain. The mechanism of contamination remains unknown
and has been referred to as an "Act of God". Unfortunately this term
usually refers to specific, known events (such as earthquakes,
cancers, hurricanes) which are beyond man's control. Defenders of GE
crops hope to use the "Act of God" argument to imply events were
beyond human control (and therefore avoid liability) -- but this
defense cannot be made until the mechanism of contamination is known.
How can one plan for or try to prevent events which are unknown? In
the category of "unknown" I will include secondary/indirect effects.
Consider wide scale use of pesticides (plant produced (BT) or applied
Round-up) to be used in conjunction with GE crops. Might the constant
use breed super weeds or super insects which put much greater pressure
on endangered species?
Finally, under the precautionary principle the onus is on industry to
show that these mechanism are not occurring (for each mutation) before
GE plants are released to the environment. The only time their
argument that "we have not seen any of the above" is valid is if they
have done extensive studies to monitor for these consequences. And
like the health issues such studies are already are too little/too
Bill Freese: In August 2006, the Federal District Court of Hawaii
ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) by allowing drug-producing, genetically
engineered (GE) "pharma crops" to be grown in Hawaii without even
considering whether they might harm Hawaii's many threatened and
endangered species. The judge ruled that USDA acted "in utter
disregard" of the ESA, and also violated the National Environmental
Policy Act by not conducting any environmental or human health review
According to an article on pharma crops in Nature Biotechnology:
"Biopharmaceuticals usually elicit responses at low concentrations,
and may be toxic at higher ones. Many have physiochemical properties
that might cause them to persist in the environment or bio-accumulate
in living organisms, possibly damaging non-target organisms..."
The field trial permits primarily at issue in this case authorized
cultivation of 800 acres of pharma crops at various sites on Kauai,
Oahu, Molokai, and Maui from 2001 to 2003. These included corn
engineered to contain experimental vaccines for AIDS and hepatitis B,
and corn containing a blood-clotting drug (aprotinin) that is also an
insecticidal compound known to increase mortality in honeybees at very
low levels. A fourth field trial involved sugarcane engineered with a
potent immune-stimulatory hormone, GM-CSF. At least three dozen pharma
crop field trials have been conducted in Hawaii. Numerous scientists
offered testimony on the potential harm to humans and wildlife from
inadvertent exposure to these pharma crop compounds.
Biopharming is widely regarded by scientists, public interest groups
and the food industry as posing unacceptable risks to the food supply
and the environment. And since hundreds of pharma crop field trials
nationally since 1991 have not yielded even one FDA-approved drug, the
risks are not balanced by any benefits. Since there is no way to
control all the possible avenues of contamination -- pollen drift,
human error, seed dispersal -- or prevent animals from consuming these
plants in the field, the only acceptable solution is a ban on the
outdoor cultivation of pharma crops.
GE and legal issues -- Is accidental cross-pollination between GE
crops and non-GE crops common? What has happened, legally, in cases
where cross-pollination has occurred?
Dr. Ania M Wieczorek: By law there is no substantial difference
between GE and non GE crops in terms of the constitution of the crops,
GE crops are as safe as conventional crops, and no risk to human
health and environment has been shown for GE crops. So in legal terms,
this is probably not an issue.
One exception is organic agriculture. The USDA Organic standards for
organic production allows for small amount of cross pollination, as
long as the farmer can show that all reasonable precautions have been
taken to avoid it. Of course we understand that some farmers would
like to have 0 % cross pollination, but 100% purity is very hard to
achieve, not only in terms of pollen flow, but also things like purity
of seed that is certified for any condition. It is also true that this
is not solely a GE issue, because cross pollination is a purity issue
that is impacted by all kinds of crop breeding aspects.
For there to be coexistence between different types of agriculture,
the various parties involved must want to coexist -- there is some
degree of compromise required by all parties.
Dr. Lorrin Pang: We don't know how common cross pollination is because
it is not often monitored. However, the GE industry goes to such
extensive measures (say, bagging corn tassels, buffer zones, etc) to
prevent internal contamination among different mutant strains, that
cross pollination must be quite easy. Obviously cross-pollination will
depend on the species of plant itself and whether one intends to use
the seed or other parts of the plant. Let us use the more general term
of "contamination" -- of which cross pollination is but one route.
Contamination of food supplies could mean that it occurred from the
laboratory, in the field or in silos. Often we don't know how
contamination occurs. When the US long grain rice supply got
contaminated Industry resorted to the defense that it was an "Act of
God". The number of times that contamination occurs may not be known
but when it does occur it can be extensive (the native corn strains of
Mexico, volunteer papaya plants on the Big Island, Cannola in Canada,
Starlink Corn, and long grain rice), contentious and expensive.
When contamination has occurred we see the two legal extremes. In the
case of Percy Schmeiser and GE canola in Canada he was sued by
Industry for patent infringement. On the other hand the US long grain
rice farmers are suing Industry and regulatory agencies for economic
losses associated with their contamination. Besides the important
legal ramifications the "clean-up" itself may be expensive and in some
cases not technically feasible. After clean-up contamination may
recur, especially when we don't know how the initial event occurred.
Even replanting with non-contaminated seeds may be problematic if the
seed stock has been contaminated (GE papaya and long grain rice).
Because contamination may have serious economic, health, environmental
and legal consequences, all of these issues must be addressed on a
case by case basis -- PRIOR to field release. In general, I feel that
he who holds the patent bears the liability. Industry on the other
hand will argue that if the contamination is beyond their best control
efforts (Act of God) then they are not liable. They will also argue
that until harm has been shown they are liable for no damages (no
harm, no fault). However Federal Judge Seabright ruled on this
argument as "absurd" relying on "after-the-fact justification (and
good fortune). Regardless of our positions these issues must be
settled beforehand under the framework of a formal EIS.
Hawaii has been in the news lately when Superferry was blocked in the
courts for lack of an EIS. Regulatory agencies failed to regulate. The
extensive arguments now in court whether or not an EIS is needed are
almost as extensive as an EIS itself. Courts have become the de facto
EIS regulators with the AG's office appearing to argue on behalf of
Industry. The Hawaii public may not know that in the past few years
some GE crops (biopharm crops and algae) have had a similar fate as
the Superferry. They were challenged/blocked in court for ignoring EIS
requirements. Unlike the Superferry which can be "recalled" if unkown
environmental effects are seen. The damage from contamination with
life forms may be beyond recall (Coqui frog, Miconia, Wiliwili gall
Bill Freese: It is very common for genetically engineered (GE) crops
to contaminate conventional and organic crops. Although such episodes
can present environmental and human health risks, and have caused huge
financial losses to farmers and food companies, the U.S. government
has refused to establish rules making biotech firms liable. In some
cases, those victimized by GE contamination have even been sued for
the alleged presence of patented GE seeds in their conventional or
The uncontrolled planting of GE herbicide-tolerant canola in Canada
has led to weedy "volunteer" canola resistant to two and even three
herbicides, presenting a serious "superweed" threat. It has also
destroyed Canada's nascent organic canola industry, since organic food
companies often reject GE-contaminated supplies. Hawaiian papaya
farmers have experienced similar losses (discussed in the next
GE StarLink corn illegally contaminated conventional corn in the U.S.,
triggering massive recalls of over 300 food products, reports of life-
threatening allergic reactions, and losses estimated at $1 billion.
Pharmaceutical corn contamination of soy necessitated the seizure and
destruction of 1/2 million bushels of soybeans one step away from use
to make soy infant formula and veggie burgers. Last year, widespread
contamination of rice supplies with two unapproved GE rice varieties
led to rejected exports, lower rice prices, and an estimated $150
million in losses to US rice farmers. Bayer CropScience, which
developed the GE rice, blamed "an act of God." USDA has yet to explain
whether God or perhaps Bayer was culpable.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has found that certified seed stocks
of (supposedly) conventional soy, corn and canola are routinely
contaminated with low levels of GE content.
Meanwhile, USDA has been harshly criticized by the National Academy of
Sciences and its own Inspector General for fundamental flaws in its
oversight, such as ignorance of GE crop field trial locations and
failure to conduct inspections.
The Center for Food Safety supports a moratorium on GE crops until the
U.S. government requires stringent, independent safety testing and
isolation measures; liability rules making biotech firms responsible
for contamination; and labeling of foods with GE content. See
www.centerforfoodsafety.org for more.
GE and the future of farming in Hawaii -- In your opinion, what is the
future of GE farming in Hawaii?
Dr. Ania M Wieczorek: At CTAHR our mission is to support tropical
agricultural systems that foster viable communities, a diversified
economy, and a healthy environment. We use different tools to help our
farmers... classical breeding, organic farming and genetic
engineering. We believe that we should always keep our options open
and it would be unwise to turn our backs on the advantages of this new
technology. At the same time we should proceed carefully, minimizing
and managing risks. As we develop this new technology we must also
continue our efforts to improve conventional farming, organic farming,
and integrated pest management. We are here to help all our clients,
and we encourage the coexistence of all forms of agriculture. In my
opinion the future of GE crops in Hawaii will depend on two facts; 1)
if farmers decide that they want to use this technology and 2) if the
consumer wants to buy these products.
Dr. Lorrin Pang: In Hawaii the GE crops will probably take a turn
towards GE fuel crops in addition to food crops. Industry will pursue
what is profitable -- based on what is patentable. Buzz words for
Hawaii planning agencies now are to make our State "self sufficient"
and "sustainable". Basically regarding food and fuel we grow enough to
feed ourselves and for our own energy needs. Any excess that we grow
(for export) is a lower priority. This principle is correct not only
for the sake of sustaining ourselves in times of crisis -- but from
the principle of "fairness". If a fuel crop is very damaging to the
environment it will be too tempting for us to have the crop grown
elsewhere. This is the case of palm oil in many third world countries.
The poorer nations will take the risk and ruin their own ecologies for
foreign exchange -- no matter how small the returns. If there are
countries poorer than us, then for money they will take the risks.
However the converse is true -- if we decide to grow our own (food and
fuel) then we and only we have the ultimate say in the EIS process
which allows the crop in Hawaii. It is absolutely wrong for a federal
agency to attempt to pre-empt local input. It is questionable for
wealthy global corporations to entice poor local communities with
jobs, albeit high paying ones, without a full understanding of the
risks and alternatives involved. We are the ones risking our health
and environment and it is only right that we make our own decisions -
and be very be clear to delineate risks, benefits and enticements.
Bill Freese: Plantation agriculture is rapidly becoming a thing of the
past on the Islands, as sugarcane and pineapple growers seek cheaper
land and labor overseas. What can Hawaii do to rejuvenate its ailing
ag sector? Some state officials put their faith and taxpayer dollars
in biotechnology research. Do these "faith-based" investments in
biotech make sense?Hawaii's experience with commercial GE crops is
limited to the virus-resistant papaya. Introduced by the University of
Hawaii (UH) in 1998, the GE papaya has propelled Hawaii's papaya
industry to the verge of collapse. From 1998 to 2005, papaya acreage
declined 32%, production of fresh papaya fell by 15%, the value of
fresh papaya dropped 24%, while papaya exports to Japan fell by more
than one-half, as Japan shunned GE papayas. UH has consistently
refused to consider organic methods and intercropping to control the
papaya ringspot virus.
Every GE crop intended primarily for human food use has been
resoundingly rejected. Pesticide-producing potatoes were killed by
McDonald's and Burger-King; Del-Monte rejected pesticide-producing
sweet corn; Frito-Lay shuns GE corn for its chips; wheat growers
killed GE wheat; and no one in the world wants GE rice. The very first
GE crop, the "Flavr-Savr" tomato, was rejected by consumers as
tasteless. Today's GE soybeans and corn primarily feed animals or cars
(biofuels) in wealthy countries, or produce fiber (GE cotton).
True, Hawaii is ground-zero for experimental GE corn, with more field
trials than any state in the nation. Yet the seed corn industry
provides limited, low-wage jobs and does not feed anyone.Instead of
pursuing failed biotechnology, Hawaii should promote organic
production, both for domestic consumption to increase food security,
and for high-value exports. Mau'i Land & Pineapple is pursuing both
strategies. Hawaii coffee growers proudly produce the world's finest
coffee, and have supported a moratorium on GE coffee to guard against
market-destroying contamination.The organic food market is worth $14
billion annually, is growing by 17-22% a year, and offers growers
substantial premiums over conventional produce. It's time for state ag
officials to get over their prejudice against organic -- it's not just
hippies anymore, it's the future.
Copyright 2006 THE MOLOKAI DISPATCH
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