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#37 -- Taking Action to Avoid Harm, 10-May-2006

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #37

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2006..............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Table of Contents...

The Precautionary Principle: A View from the Pacific Northwest
"In a world where perfection -- the weed-free farm, the blemish-
free apple, the giant strawberry -- has begun to look more scary than
beautiful, precaution is coming into its own."
The Heart of the Precautionary Principle Is Democracy
"The cornerstones of the precautionary principle -- transparency
and inclusiveness of decision-making, action in the face of
uncertainty, and accountability -- are fundamental, not only to the
practice and science of public health, but also to the success and
maintenance of democracy." -- Judith Kurland, Harvard School of Public
Health
Human Genes in Your Food?
The biotech industry is playing a reckless game of Russian roulette
-- but they've got the gun pointed at the public's heads, not their
own. If ever there was a technology needing a precautionary approach,
"biopharming" is it.
The Supreme Court of Thailand Is Poised to Adopt Precaution
"Mr Apichart said courts may put the burden of proof on defendants
[in environmental lawsuits] rather than the plaintiffs, as in normal
law suits. If this practice is adopted, it would be the first time
Thai courts agree to follow the so-called precautionary principle long
advocated by environmentalists, who argue it is too much of a burden
for damaged parties to prove wrongdoing by powerful offenders."

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From: Puget Consumer Co-op (PCC), May 1, 2006
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THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

The concept of taking action to avoid potential harm -- even in the
face of scientific uncertainty -- has gained considerable cachet.


By Carol Estes

May 2006 -- Imagine this: a chemical company plans to market a new
pesticide. A committee is convened of local citizens, including
farmers, consumers, healthcare practitioners, scientists, local
businesses and government representatives, to analyze the alleged
benefits and potential risks to the community.

After deliberation, the committee determines that in the absence of
scientific data ensuring the safety of the pesticide -- a compound
similar to one already banned -- the risks outweigh any potential
benefits. The pesticide is not approved by authorities who recommend
safer alternatives.

A far-fetched scenario? Perhaps not. The idea of precaution is not
new. Ancient folk wisdom tells us "A stitch in time saves nine,"
"Better safe than sorry," and "Look before you leap."

No doubt invention and taking chances always have been more popular --
and far more exciting -- than being cautious. But in an era when
technological prowess turns small mistakes into far-reaching problems,
a precautionary approach has begun to attract admirers.

In the last three decades, the concept of taking action to avoid
potential harm -- even in the face of scientific uncertainty -- has
gained considerable cachet among public health practitioners,
environmentalists, farmers, scientists and most of all, citizen-
consumers.

This idea, known as the Precautionary Principle, has been codified
around the world in ten or more protocols including the United Nations
Environment Programme, the Nordic Council's Conference, the third
North Sea Conference, the Bergen Declaration on Sustainable
Development, the second World Climate Conference, the Bamako
Convention, the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union and the Rio
Declaration on Environment and Development which the United States
signed.

A Precautionary Principle Working Group was started in Seattle in
2004, and already, it has gotten precautionary principle language
integrated into the city's Comprehensive Plan, the section on
environment. Next month, the first U.S. Conference on Precaution will
be held in Baltimore to build the movement nationwide.

(For more information, visit www.besafenet.com or call 703-237-2249,
ext. 11). A public debriefing of the national conference will be held
in Seattle on June 23 (see the May 2006 Your Community Web page and
visit).

Why this blossoming popularity? Precaution makes all kinds of sense.

Forward planning

The modern legal concept of precaution grew out of the German word,
"Vorsorge," which means "fore-caring." At the heart of the idea was
the belief that a nation should try to avoid environmental damage by
careful, forward planning, a process that would block potentially
harmful activities. The Vorsorgeprinzip became, during the 1970s, a
cornerstone of German environmental law, balanced with economic
impact.

More than 20 years later, in January 1998, a group of activists,
scholars, scientists and lawyers met in Racine, Wis., at Wingspread,
home of the Johnson Foundation, to formulate a precautionary approach
to everyday environmental and public health decision-making.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some
cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established
scientifically."

This rather tame, cautious statement is nothing short of
revolutionary. It completely upends our accepted system for dealing
with potential toxins and environmentally harmful practices.

Our current system assumes that a substance or activity (such as
spraying synthetic pesticides) is innocent until proven guilty. In
other words, a company doing something that is potentially harmful to
human health or the environment has the right to continue doing it
until someone files a complaint or lawsuit and succeeds in proving the
activity harmful.

This is a nasty problem. Because it's impossible to prove harm until
there is harm, the system cannot kick in until it's too late -- after
the harm is done. Furthermore, the victim and the public bear the
burden of proof rather than the proponent of the activity -- the one
who stands to profit from it.

The "burden of proof" is aptly named -- it's a heavy load. It means
that the victims and/or the public must hire expensive attorneys to
argue the matter, along with an assortment of scientists and experts
to run tests and experiments -- a prohibitively costly process.

Precaution advocate and attorney Carolyn Raffensperger points out,
furthermore, that to satisfy scientific standards of proof, evidence
must show with 95 percent accuracy that a particular substance or
activity -- and nothing else -- was the cause of harm. In a world with
82,000 manmade substances, proving a single cause with that kind of
accuracy often is beyond the capabilities of current technology.

In the past, scientific uncertainty has meant that proponents of an
activity were free to go ahead with it. But under the Precautionary
Principle, we acknowledge that we'll never have perfect information,
and as a result, we sometimes need to act before we have all the
evidence we'd like.

The Precautionary Principle also acknowledges that deciding how to
act, or not act, in the face of incomplete scientific evidence is not
a question that science or industry can answer. It's a judgment call,
and for that reason, it belongs in the hands of the public. You and I,
along with the neighbors, all have say in the decision.

Democratizing a process in which the public previously had little say
is one of the most revolutionary changes of the Precautionary
Principle. Instead of facing the simplistic, de-contextualized choices
that industry currently offers (Which detergent would you prefer, the
one with bleach or the one with the lemon scent?), we citizen-
consumers would have a chance to consider complex priorities and
tradeoffs.

Is cosmetically perfect fruit worth the environmental cost? Shall we
devote a significant portion of our farm acreage to producing
biofuels? At the expense of acres in food? If it means introducing
genetically modified plants? Shall we require testing new industrial
chemicals before they're introduced into the environment, even if it
has a chilling effect on the introduction of new chemicals?

If citizen panels or juries are given the chance to decide questions
like these, their verdicts undoubtedly would have a precautionary
flavor. That's why the Precautionary Principle has plenty of enemies.

Opposition to precaution

Most of the opposition to precaution comes from economic interests and
scientists. Julian Morris of London's Institute of Economic Affairs,
for example, is quoted as saying that "if someone had evaluated the
risk of fire right after it was invented [sic], they may well have
decided to eat their food raw."

And Marlo Lewis Jr., a conservative public policy analyst speaking in
defense of the Bush administration's refusal to support the Kyoto
climate change protocol, expressed a similar objection: "Inflating
'Safety First!' from a mere rule of thumb into a categorical
imperative -- an absolute overriding duty -- is a recipe for paralysis
and stagnation... Do the potential risks of climate change outweigh
those of climate change policy? Or do we have more to fear from Kyoto
than from climate change itself?"

These are serious charges. Would the Precautionary Principle
discourage innovation to the point of paralysis and stagnation? A
precautionary approach demands that we consider these objections
seriously.

Seattle toxicologist Steven Gilbert, author of "A Small Dose of
Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals," argues that we
needn't worry much about a precautionary approach causing economic
paralysis and stagnation because we already have proof that it works
just fine. Gilbert points to the example of the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and its precautionary testing of pharmaceuticals.

"The FDA requires that a company submit data," Gilbert says, "paid for
by the company, demonstrating the efficacy and safety of the proposed
product prior to approval." That process may sometimes slow things up
and does not always function smoothly, but it hasn't caused paralysis
or stagnation since the thriving pharmaceutical industry has been by
far the most profitable U.S. industry for more than two decades.

Furthermore, at the FDA, the precautionary approach works fairly well
at what it was designed to do: protect people from harmful
pharmaceuticals. "Thalidomide," Gilbert says, "is a classic example."
This drug was marketed widely in Europe and Australia, he says, as a
sedative and anti-nausea drug for woman before it was discovered that
it caused serious birth defects if taken at a certain time during
pregnancy.

"But the drug was not marketed in the U.S., thanks to the FDA's
precautionary approach." It seems that a woman in the FDA questioned
the drug's safety data and a great deal of harm was prevented.

Precaution in organics

Goldie Caughlan, nutrition education manager for PCC Natural Markets,
argues that the organic foods industry provides an even better example
of a successful marriage between precaution and economics.

"From the beginning, every aspect of the industry has been about
precaution," Caughlan says. "Precaution is why people wanted organic
in the first place. They were seeking to get away from the perceived
dangers of industrial agriculture. They wanted things to be natural.
The organic foods movement was a citizen definition of precaution in
action."

Lately, Caughlan says, consumers are especially worried about
genetically engineered foods. Soy, corn and canola -- what Caughlan
calls "the big three" -- are the foods most likely to be genetically
engineered. Currently, in these three cases, she says, if you are not
eating organic food, you are eating genetically modified food. That's
not OK with many consumers.

"I frequently hear concerns about genetically engineered foods," says
Caughlan. "And we're still in the dark, since the FDA does not require
labels to inform consumers if a food product includes genetically
engineered ingredients."

As consumers adopt more healthful lifestyles, Caughlan says, they
instinctively apply the precautionary approach. They look for fruits
and vegetables grown without synthetic pesticides and that are not
genetically modified. They want meats and dairy products from free-
grazing animals not injected with antibiotics or growth hormones.

"Even though the pesticides, antibiotics and genetically engineered
plants are approved by governmental agencies, health-conscious
consumers increasingly avoid those worrisome substances and practices.
They buy organic -- as a precaution. Organic is seen as a safe
harbor."

So, in a world where perfection -- the weed-free farm, the blemish-
free apple, the giant strawberry -- has begun to look more scary than
beautiful, precaution is coming into its own. Even though it's
traditional -- even conservative -- the Precautionary Principle has a
place at the organic supper table and is attracting new devotees to
its common sense beauty.

Copyright 2001-2006 PCC Natural Markets

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From: Public Health Reports, Dec. 1, 2002
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THE HEART OF THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE IS DEMOCRACY

[Judith Kurland is a member of the faculty of the Harvard School of
Public Health. Address correspondence to: Judith Kurland, 1272 Beacon
St., Brookline, MA 02446; e-mail judithkurland@earthlink.net.

The cornerstones of the precautionary principle -- transparency and
inclusiveness of decision-making, action in the face of uncertainty,
and accountability -- are fundamental, not only to the practice and
science of public health, but also to the success and maintenance of
democracy.

Both public health and democracy flourish when information is broadly
disseminated and understood, when principles, benefits, and costs are
publicly debated, when decision-making is shared by those affected by
the policies, and when public interest is seen as more valuable than
private gain. Both are diminished when information is withheld and
data twisted, when the terms of the argument predict its outcome, when
actions to protect and advance the health of the public are defeated
by small private interest groups, and when government gives equal
weight to corporate interests as to public well being. In the case of
the public health debate, the danger is increased with the deification
of a skewed view of science.

The precautionary principle, which says that action should be taken
when there is evidence that not to do so would cause harm, is being
used increasingly to shape policy in Europe and elsewhere. Decades --
sometimes centuries -- before the understanding of germs, bacteria,
viruses, infection, and immunology, leaders in public health improved
health by implementing policies that were later supported and
explained by an advanced understanding of basic science.

The precautionary principle is based in science, in the two branches
of science central to public health: epidemiology and bio-statistics.
It is no coincidence that so many contributors to this special topic
issue of Public Health Reports
have cited the model and experience of
John Snow. The branch of science that he established has laid the
foundation for the greatest improvements in health in mankind's
history. Now, instead of developing policy to improve health and
protect the public based on these proven scientific methodologies,
proponents of an activist public health are fighting a rear-guard
action to protect the cornerstones of public health. Where opponents
of an activist public health agenda, which includes the implementation
of the precautionary principle, have succeeded is in having health
science narrowly defined in terms of laboratory science, physiology,
and biochemistry. This limited definition ignores the breakthroughs in
occupational safety, environmental science, maternal and childcare,
infection control, sanitation, and behavioral health that preceded the
advanced developments in bacteriology, immunology, and genetics.

This is not to denigrate the more recent sciences or curative methods;
it is to remind us that we have many tools, many means at our
disposal. From Hippocrates to John Grisom to Henry Bowditch,
leaders in public health and medicine admonished their followers and
the public to look at environments and behavior, to construct
healthier housing and schools, to have clean water and air, to think
more about prevention than about cure. We should use all methods that
discern patterns, cause and effect, and determinants of health. To
ignore the evidence of epidemiology and bio-statistics is to compound
error through inaction. And inaction in the face of preventable
disease is unacceptable.

Why are we at this apparent impasse and what can we do about it? We
must face several issues -- raised in these articles and elsewhere --
that appear to thwart the adoption of the precautionary principle for
public health. One is the misunderstanding about what is and what is
not science, and here public health must reclaim and reassert the
importance and worth of its basic sciences. But the other impediments
say as much about the beliefs of our society and the stage of our
democracy as they do about public health, and those battles must be
joined to others.

First is the issue of transparency, the information available to the
society as a whole, and the truth about the benefits of decisions to
act or to not act. There are many dilemmas here; often, the source of
facts and information are the very industries or interests who oppose
action. We have seen this with the tobacco, lead paint, petroleum,
pharmaceutical, and asbestos industries, whose control of information,
doctoring of studies, support for biased research, and suppression of
information have made it impossible for the public and independent
analysts to share in unbiased information. From the auto manufacturers
who, 40 years ago, knowingly and willfully produced cars that killed
to those manufacturers who, two years ago, utilized defective tires
that killed, the ability to withhold information is powerful. From
drug manufacturers who contract the right to suppress research studies
critical of their products to those who blatantly report false
findings, the ability to publish untruths and half-truths in peer-
reviewed journals is destructive of the public's capacity to make
informed judgments. But that control of information is exacerbated
when public bodies and the fourth estate abet the misinformation. The
dismissal, banishment, or even punishment of critics and whistle-
blowers within public agencies or government contractors makes it hard
for the public to gain access to dissenting views. When private
interests, such as the gun lobby, promote congressional bans on
gathering and publishing information, or when administrators "gag"
employees critical of pro-industry policies, it becomes virtually
impossible for the average citizen or even institutions to gather that
information themselves.

The lack of data and information is often an excuse for inaction in
the face of real harm. If one of the hallmarks of our democracy is
inclusiveness of decision-making, then the ability of a handful of
powerful interests to deny the existence of critical information, or
to hire apparently objective experts without revealing those
relationships, is destructive to the interests of both public health
and democracy. Inclusion also means the consideration and costs of a
full range of alternatives, which must also mean a full range of the
societal, long-term, and non-direct costs of inaction. In the face of
overriding evidence, not only of global warming, but also of the
health, environmental, and ecological costs of inaction, our society
still does close to nothing while opponents of action divert us with
both fantastic consequences of action, and self-serving and unique
theories on the nature of the universe. When three petrochemical
scientists, supported by the industry, are invited to appear before a
congressional committee to argue that global warming is a myth, and
the 300 leading, award-winning scientists urging our nation to take
strong, aggressive action on the issue are ignored, the entire notion
of transparency and inclusiveness is moot.

Action in the face of uncertainty -- a third element of the
precautionary principle -- is both its most vulnerable and
intellectually most important one. The other three may be morally more
important, but to admit that we do not have, and may never have, all
the evidence we would like is to engage in an intellectual quest that
underpins public health. To the modern observer, insisting that
doctors wash their hands between patients seems not just obvious, but
also benign. But without the "evidence" that was to come much later,
this request seemed to many baseless, and the opposition came from men
of science who wanted hard proof of cause and effect, not just an
accumulation of observation and relationships. Practice changed before
bacteriology would "prove" the reason for doing so, but the better our
laboratory and diagnostic science, the harder it seems to accept the
fact that we should act in the face of uncertainty. For example, the
relationship between air pollution and pulmonary disease seems so
clear to anyone working with communities subject to inordinate
pollution. But if we don't measure certain particulates, if we don't
yet see the physiological change, then lack of transparency and lack
of certainty can lead to inaction. However, if we take to heart the
requirement of doing no harm, also quoted widely in these articles, we
are moved to make the logical decision to act.

This brings us to the fourth cornerstone of the principle,
accountability. It is here that our society has the most to overcome.
Too much of our inaction in the past and the present is because we
have implicitly decided that some risks are easier for our society to
bear because they fall disproportionately on the poor, on workers, on
people of color, on our soldiers, and on the people of other
countries. Also, our inaction is because we have implicitly decided
that the costs are too much to bear when they fall on corporations,
the wealthy, and the politically powerful.

The articles in this issue, with case studies ranging from silica
and lead to tobacco and anthrax, from Agent Orange to the blood
supply, bear this out. For years, in the face of overwhelming evidence
from neutral sources, harmful products and practices were allowed to
continue while a great many people sickened and died. We need, as a
nation, to examine what it is that allows this to happen again and
again, but we also need to incorporate the elements of the
precautionary principle, whether or not we make it a national policy.

The courts in our nation are an important part of policy-making, but
to rely on them is to obviate our ability to make decisions in the
face of uncertainty. To rely on them is to relinquish responsibility
for including the public in the more meaningful way that is the basis
for democracy. If we had true transparency and inclusiveness in
decision-making, and true accountability and responsibility, we would
have the public understand the basis for decision-making and
participate in making decisions in the face of uncertainty. The series
of surgeon generals' reports on tobacco and smoking over the last four
decades is instructive. The evidence has been mounting for centuries
on the harm done by tobacco, but certainly by the first Surgeon
General's Report, it was overwhelming. Yet, other than increasingly
serious warnings on cigarette packages, restrictions on advertising
won through a lawsuit, and some restraint on sale to minors, not much
changed in 40 years. It took leaks of information, an incorruptible
whistle-blower, and indignant attorneys general from states whose
health care budgets were ballooning, to force a major change in
policy. As welcome as this was, it is a sorry and inefficient way to
make policy. And we must admit the changes in the tobacco industry are
not half of what could and should have been made if the health of the
nation were the guiding principle in decision-making.

Instead, as one of this issue's authors so clearly states, our
guiding principles are very different: industry has the right to
produce what it will; products are assumed safe until proven otherwise
under a system that makes it almost impossible to prove; private
profit is more of a right than the right of society as a whole to have
healthy conditions; and public health is a narrow interest while
private industry represents a broader public good.

These are dangerous principles -- dangerous to our health and
dangerous to our society. It is not a sin, nor is it surprising, that
private industry puts profits before health; it should not shock us
that they go to extraordinary lengths to protect their ability to
manufacture and sell, unfettered by any interference by government. We
have been shocked when they have lied, cheated, and broken the law; we
have been surprised when they have shown a total disregard for life or
health, but we would be naive to think that their interests lie with
society's as a whole. The recent outrage at corporate greed has not
been because they put profits before people; it has been because they
did not obey even the rules of corporate finance and reporting. To
correct the latter will not address the former. It is the role of
public health and of government to seek and protect the greater good.
That is at the heart of the precautionary principle, and at the center
of our democracy.

Copyright 2002 Association of Schools of Public Health

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From: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (pg. B24), Feb. 24, 2006
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HUMAN GENES IN YOUR FOOD?

By Trudy Bialic

Ask the people around you if they want experimental drugs and
industrial chemicals in their food or beer -- without their knowledge
or consent. Chances are they'll say no. Then tell them experiments
that could make that happen are occurring right here in Washington
state.

As you read this, a professor at Washington State University and a
private Canadian company, SemBioSys, have applied for permits to turn
two common food crops -- barley and safflower -- into virtual
factories for synthetic drugs or chemicals.

On its Web site, SemBioSys declares its plan to inject safflower with
human genes to produce experimental insulin and a drug for heart
attacks and strokes. WSU confirms that it plans to grow barley,
injected with human genes, to produce artificial proteins with
pharmaceutical properties. Where these fields will be is secret;
nearby farmers and residents won't be notified.

Proponents say that injecting human genes into plants (or animals)
will provide cheaper drugs -- someday. But this so-called
"biopharming" has met with considerable opposition.

In California and Missouri, farmers protested and effectively stopped
outdoor cultivation of "pharma rice," concerned that the drug-plants
would contaminate their food-grade crops and make them unmarketable.
Food companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Kraft Foods, as well as the
Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Products Association,
concur. The risks are more than hypothetical. Several cases of cross-
contamination from GE crops have cost farmers and the food industry
more than a billion dollars in recalls and lost export markets.

The National Academy of Sciences, a nongovernmental body of scientists
and professionals, has warned in two reports that it's virtually
impossible to keep biopharms out of the food supply if food crops are
used to grow them. Insects, birds, animals, wind, storms, trucks,
trains and human error see to that.

Pharma crops are supposed to be rigorously regulated. But the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) does not review biopharmaceutical crops
before planting, even though many of them have toxic or anti-
nutritional effects on human health or the environment.

A recent audit by the US Department of Agriculture's Inspector General
found the USDA failed to inspect field trial sites as promised and
didn't even know where some experiments were planted. The Inspector
General also found that USDA didn't follow up to find out what
happened to the biopharm harvests. Two tons of a drug-laden crop was
stored for more than a year at two sites without USDA's knowledge or
inspection.

What's the risk of cross-contamination from these experiments? State
legislators at least should order a thorough risk assessment and allow
public comment.

Washington's Barley Commission is aware that WSU is biopharming barley
and is strongly opposed. Administrator Mary Sullivan says, "Once those
genetically altered genes are out there, there'll be GMOs in the
beer."

No one's opposed to less expensive and effective drugs, but
biopharming in food crops in open fields is a bad financial risk.
Several leading biopharm companies have gone bankrupt. When Large
Scale Biology went bankrupt -- it was the first to conduct a field
trial in 1991 -- even biotech movers and shakers contemplated the
demise of the biopharming concept.

Agriculture and the food industry are the largest employers and the
greatest source of revenue in Washington state -- more than Microsoft
and Boeing combined. WSU and SemBioSys should not be mixing drugs and
food. They should cancel these risky experiments immediately.

If they want to produce plant-based drugs, they should follow the lead
of Dow AgroScience, which just announced approval of a vaccine for
chickens produced by tobacco cell cultures in a contained steel tank.
Cell cultures are a proven way to generate pharmaceuticals under
controlled laboratory conditions -- without the risk of untested drugs
in our food.

Trudy Bialic is editor of Sound Consumer, a publication of PCC Natural
Markets -- the largest, consumer-owned natural foods retailer in the
United States.

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From: Bankok (Thailand) Post, May 9, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

SPECIAL COURT RULES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Sweeping reforms to speed up cases

By Bhanravee Tansubhapol

The Supreme Court is poised to make sweeping procedural changes to
speed up handling of environmental cases. This includes placing the
burden of proof on defendants, broadening the court ruling to cover
all damaged parties and cutting court fees for poor plaintiffs, a high
court official said yesterday.

"We would like environmental cases to be special cases because they
affect the life, health and well-being of the public. If the court
deliberation is slow or has to wait for any side-effects to emerge it
may be too late for the environment or people's lives," said Apichart
Sukhagganond, president of the environmental division of the Supreme
Court.

Mr Apichart said each case affecting the environment should take no
more than three years to resolve instead of more than five years now
in most cases.

More than 1,000 environmental cases currently await Supreme Court
judgments. Most are handled by the 10 Appeals Courts around the
country but only four of them have an environmental division attached.

The green light has now been given to the Criminal Court in each
province to set up an environmental division to help speed up
environmental cases.

"Environmental cases should be concluded as quickly as possible," he
said. To expedite the process, the court is considering moving
environmental cases only through the Criminal Court and the Supreme
Court, skipping the Appeals Court.

The court fee for poor plaintiffs could be lowered or waived to enable
poor people to file legal action against industrial offenders, said Mr
Apichart.

Normally, plaintiffs must post as much as 200,000 baht to cover court
fees if they demand large compensation. This means legal action is out
of reach of many who claim to suffer consequences from environmental
damage.

Mr Apichart said courts may put the burden of proof on defendants
rather than the plaintiffs, as in normal law suits.

If this practice is adopted, it would be the first time Thai courts
agree to follow the so-called precautionary principle long advocated
by environmentalists, who argue it is too much of a burden for damaged
parties to prove wrongdoing by powerful offenders.

Another change that will have a major impact on offenders is the
broadening of the court ruling on a single case to cover all damaged
parties.

"This will help minimise the number of cases coming to court and all
damaged parties will get the same level of compensation, as in
bankruptcy cases," said Mr Apichart. Only the plaintiffs now benefit
from court rulings in their favour, he said.

The case of damage to Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Lei caused by the making
of the Hollywood film The Beach would be a good case study for all
criminal court judges, most of whom have little experience in
environmental cases.

In that case, local administrations and environmentalists in Krabi
filed suits against senior environmental officials, 20th Century Fox
Studios, which produced the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the
studio's Thai agent for altering the bay's environment to fit the
movie's script.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a final verdict this year.

Mr Apichart said environmental law should be a compulsory subject for
all university law students.

"We still lack a lot of environmental judges. One reason we set up
the environmental division is to let all judges see the importance of
this subject and let them learn from it," said Mr Apichart.

Copyright Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006

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

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

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

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

Editors:
Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org

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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #37 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, May 10, 2006..............Printer-friendly version www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Table of Contents...

The Precautionary Principle: A View from the Pacific Northwest
"In a world where perfection -- the weed-free farm, the blemish-
free apple, the giant strawberry -- has begun to look more scary than
beautiful, precaution is coming into its own."
The Heart of the Precautionary Principle Is Democracy
"The cornerstones of the precautionary principle -- transparency
and inclusiveness of decision-making, action in the face of
uncertainty, and accountability -- are fundamental, not only to the
practice and science of public health, but also to the success and
maintenance of democracy." -- Judith Kurland, Harvard School of Public
Health
Human Genes in Your Food?
The biotech industry is playing a reckless game of Russian roulette
-- but they've got the gun pointed at the public's heads, not their
own. If ever there was a technology needing a precautionary approach,
"biopharming" is it.
The Supreme Court of Thailand Is Poised to Adopt Precaution
"Mr Apichart said courts may put the burden of proof on defendants
[in environmental lawsuits] rather than the plaintiffs, as in normal
law suits. If this practice is adopted, it would be the first time
Thai courts agree to follow the so-called precautionary principle long
advocated by environmentalists, who argue it is too much of a burden
for damaged parties to prove wrongdoing by powerful offenders."

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From: Puget Consumer Co-op (PCC), May 1, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

The concept of taking action to avoid potential harm -- even in the
face of scientific uncertainty -- has gained considerable cachet.


By Carol Estes

May 2006 -- Imagine this: a chemical company plans to market a new
pesticide. A committee is convened of local citizens, including
farmers, consumers, healthcare practitioners, scientists, local
businesses and government representatives, to analyze the alleged
benefits and potential risks to the community.

After deliberation, the committee determines that in the absence of
scientific data ensuring the safety of the pesticide -- a compound
similar to one already banned -- the risks outweigh any potential
benefits. The pesticide is not approved by authorities who recommend
safer alternatives.

A far-fetched scenario? Perhaps not. The idea of precaution is not
new. Ancient folk wisdom tells us "A stitch in time saves nine,"
"Better safe than sorry," and "Look before you leap."

No doubt invention and taking chances always have been more popular --
and far more exciting -- than being cautious. But in an era when
technological prowess turns small mistakes into far-reaching problems,
a precautionary approach has begun to attract admirers.

In the last three decades, the concept of taking action to avoid
potential harm -- even in the face of scientific uncertainty -- has
gained considerable cachet among public health practitioners,
environmentalists, farmers, scientists and most of all, citizen-
consumers.

This idea, known as the Precautionary Principle, has been codified
around the world in ten or more protocols including the United Nations
Environment Programme, the Nordic Council's Conference, the third
North Sea Conference, the Bergen Declaration on Sustainable
Development, the second World Climate Conference, the Bamako
Convention, the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union and the Rio
Declaration on Environment and Development which the United States
signed.

A Precautionary Principle Working Group was started in Seattle in
2004, and already, it has gotten precautionary principle language
integrated into the city's Comprehensive Plan, the section on
environment. Next month, the first U.S. Conference on Precaution will
be held in Baltimore to build the movement nationwide.

(For more information, visit www.besafenet.com or call 703-237-2249,
ext. 11). A public debriefing of the national conference will be held
in Seattle on June 23 (see the May 2006 Your Community Web page and
visit).

Why this blossoming popularity? Precaution makes all kinds of sense.

Forward planning

The modern legal concept of precaution grew out of the German word,
"Vorsorge," which means "fore-caring." At the heart of the idea was
the belief that a nation should try to avoid environmental damage by
careful, forward planning, a process that would block potentially
harmful activities. The Vorsorgeprinzip became, during the 1970s, a
cornerstone of German environmental law, balanced with economic
impact.

More than 20 years later, in January 1998, a group of activists,
scholars, scientists and lawyers met in Racine, Wis., at Wingspread,
home of the Johnson Foundation, to formulate a precautionary approach
to everyday environmental and public health decision-making.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some
cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established
scientifically."

This rather tame, cautious statement is nothing short of
revolutionary. It completely upends our accepted system for dealing
with potential toxins and environmentally harmful practices.

Our current system assumes that a substance or activity (such as
spraying synthetic pesticides) is innocent until proven guilty. In
other words, a company doing something that is potentially harmful to
human health or the environment has the right to continue doing it
until someone files a complaint or lawsuit and succeeds in proving the
activity harmful.

This is a nasty problem. Because it's impossible to prove harm until
there is harm, the system cannot kick in until it's too late -- after
the harm is done. Furthermore, the victim and the public bear the
burden of proof rather than the proponent of the activity -- the one
who stands to profit from it.

The "burden of proof" is aptly named -- it's a heavy load. It means
that the victims and/or the public must hire expensive attorneys to
argue the matter, along with an assortment of scientists and experts
to run tests and experiments -- a prohibitively costly process.

Precaution advocate and attorney Carolyn Raffensperger points out,
furthermore, that to satisfy scientific standards of proof, evidence
must show with 95 percent accuracy that a particular substance or
activity -- and nothing else -- was the cause of harm. In a world with
82,000 manmade substances, proving a single cause with that kind of
accuracy often is beyond the capabilities of current technology.

In the past, scientific uncertainty has meant that proponents of an
activity were free to go ahead with it. But under the Precautionary
Principle, we acknowledge that we'll never have perfect information,
and as a result, we sometimes need to act before we have all the
evidence we'd like.

The Precautionary Principle also acknowledges that deciding how to
act, or not act, in the face of incomplete scientific evidence is not
a question that science or industry can answer. It's a judgment call,
and for that reason, it belongs in the hands of the public. You and I,
along with the neighbors, all have say in the decision.

Democratizing a process in which the public previously had little say
is one of the most revolutionary changes of the Precautionary
Principle. Instead of facing the simplistic, de-contextualized choices
that industry currently offers (Which detergent would you prefer, the
one with bleach or the one with the lemon scent?), we citizen-
consumers would have a chance to consider complex priorities and
tradeoffs.

Is cosmetically perfect fruit worth the environmental cost? Shall we
devote a significant portion of our farm acreage to producing
biofuels? At the expense of acres in food? If it means introducing
genetically modified plants? Shall we require testing new industrial
chemicals before they're introduced into the environment, even if it
has a chilling effect on the introduction of new chemicals?

If citizen panels or juries are given the chance to decide questions
like these, their verdicts undoubtedly would have a precautionary
flavor. That's why the Precautionary Principle has plenty of enemies.

Opposition to precaution

Most of the opposition to precaution comes from economic interests and
scientists. Julian Morris of London's Institute of Economic Affairs,
for example, is quoted as saying that "if someone had evaluated the
risk of fire right after it was invented [sic], they may well have
decided to eat their food raw."

And Marlo Lewis Jr., a conservative public policy analyst speaking in
defense of the Bush administration's refusal to support the Kyoto
climate change protocol, expressed a similar objection: "Inflating
'Safety First!' from a mere rule of thumb into a categorical
imperative -- an absolute overriding duty -- is a recipe for paralysis
and stagnation... Do the potential risks of climate change outweigh
those of climate change policy? Or do we have more to fear from Kyoto
than from climate change itself?"

These are serious charges. Would the Precautionary Principle
discourage innovation to the point of paralysis and stagnation? A
precautionary approach demands that we consider these objections
seriously.

Seattle toxicologist Steven Gilbert, author of "A Small Dose of
Toxicology: The Health Effects of Common Chemicals," argues that we
needn't worry much about a precautionary approach causing economic
paralysis and stagnation because we already have proof that it works
just fine. Gilbert points to the example of the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and its precautionary testing of pharmaceuticals.

"The FDA requires that a company submit data," Gilbert says, "paid for
by the company, demonstrating the efficacy and safety of the proposed
product prior to approval." That process may sometimes slow things up
and does not always function smoothly, but it hasn't caused paralysis
or stagnation since the thriving pharmaceutical industry has been by
far the most profitable U.S. industry for more than two decades.

Furthermore, at the FDA, the precautionary approach works fairly well
at what it was designed to do: protect people from harmful
pharmaceuticals. "Thalidomide," Gilbert says, "is a classic example."
This drug was marketed widely in Europe and Australia, he says, as a
sedative and anti-nausea drug for woman before it was discovered that
it caused serious birth defects if taken at a certain time during
pregnancy.

"But the drug was not marketed in the U.S., thanks to the FDA's
precautionary approach." It seems that a woman in the FDA questioned
the drug's safety data and a great deal of harm was prevented.

Precaution in organics

Goldie Caughlan, nutrition education manager for PCC Natural Markets,
argues that the organic foods industry provides an even better example
of a successful marriage between precaution and economics.

"From the beginning, every aspect of the industry has been about
precaution," Caughlan says. "Precaution is why people wanted organic
in the first place. They were seeking to get away from the perceived
dangers of industrial agriculture. They wanted things to be natural.
The organic foods movement was a citizen definition of precaution in
action."

Lately, Caughlan says, consumers are especially worried about
genetically engineered foods. Soy, corn and canola -- what Caughlan
calls "the big three" -- are the foods most likely to be genetically
engineered. Currently, in these three cases, she says, if you are not
eating organic food, you are eating genetically modified food. That's
not OK with many consumers.

"I frequently hear concerns about genetically engineered foods," says
Caughlan. "And we're still in the dark, since the FDA does not require
labels to inform consumers if a food product includes genetically
engineered ingredients."

As consumers adopt more healthful lifestyles, Caughlan says, they
instinctively apply the precautionary approach. They look for fruits
and vegetables grown without synthetic pesticides and that are not
genetically modified. They want meats and dairy products from free-
grazing animals not injected with antibiotics or growth hormones.

"Even though the pesticides, antibiotics and genetically engineered
plants are approved by governmental agencies, health-conscious
consumers increasingly avoid those worrisome substances and practices.
They buy organic -- as a precaution. Organic is seen as a safe
harbor."

So, in a world where perfection -- the weed-free farm, the blemish-
free apple, the giant strawberry -- has begun to look more scary than
beautiful, precaution is coming into its own. Even though it's
traditional -- even conservative -- the Precautionary Principle has a
place at the organic supper table and is attracting new devotees to
its common sense beauty.

Copyright 2001-2006 PCC Natural Markets

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From: Public Health Reports, Dec. 1, 2002
[Printer-friendly version]

THE HEART OF THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE IS DEMOCRACY

[Judith Kurland is a member of the faculty of the Harvard School of
Public Health. Address correspondence to: Judith Kurland, 1272 Beacon
St., Brookline, MA 02446; e-mail judithkurland@earthlink.net.

The cornerstones of the precautionary principle -- transparency and
inclusiveness of decision-making, action in the face of uncertainty,
and accountability -- are fundamental, not only to the practice and
science of public health, but also to the success and maintenance of
democracy.

Both public health and democracy flourish when information is broadly
disseminated and understood, when principles, benefits, and costs are
publicly debated, when decision-making is shared by those affected by
the policies, and when public interest is seen as more valuable than
private gain. Both are diminished when information is withheld and
data twisted, when the terms of the argument predict its outcome, when
actions to protect and advance the health of the public are defeated
by small private interest groups, and when government gives equal
weight to corporate interests as to public well being. In the case of
the public health debate, the danger is increased with the deification
of a skewed view of science.

The precautionary principle, which says that action should be taken
when there is evidence that not to do so would cause harm, is being
used increasingly to shape policy in Europe and elsewhere. Decades --
sometimes centuries -- before the understanding of germs, bacteria,
viruses, infection, and immunology, leaders in public health improved
health by implementing policies that were later supported and
explained by an advanced understanding of basic science.

The precautionary principle is based in science, in the two branches
of science central to public health: epidemiology and bio-statistics.
It is no coincidence that so many contributors to this special topic
issue of Public Health Reports
have cited the model and experience of
John Snow. The branch of science that he established has laid the
foundation for the greatest improvements in health in mankind's
history. Now, instead of developing policy to improve health and
protect the public based on these proven scientific methodologies,
proponents of an activist public health are fighting a rear-guard
action to protect the cornerstones of public health. Where opponents
of an activist public health agenda, which includes the implementation
of the precautionary principle, have succeeded is in having health
science narrowly defined in terms of laboratory science, physiology,
and biochemistry. This limited definition ignores the breakthroughs in
occupational safety, environmental science, maternal and childcare,
infection control, sanitation, and behavioral health that preceded the
advanced developments in bacteriology, immunology, and genetics.

This is not to denigrate the more recent sciences or curative methods;
it is to remind us that we have many tools, many means at our
disposal. From Hippocrates to John Grisom to Henry Bowditch,
leaders in public health and medicine admonished their followers and
the public to look at environments and behavior, to construct
healthier housing and schools, to have clean water and air, to think
more about prevention than about cure. We should use all methods that
discern patterns, cause and effect, and determinants of health. To
ignore the evidence of epidemiology and bio-statistics is to compound
error through inaction. And inaction in the face of preventable
disease is unacceptable.

Why are we at this apparent impasse and what can we do about it? We
must face several issues -- raised in these articles and elsewhere --
that appear to thwart the adoption of the precautionary principle for
public health. One is the misunderstanding about what is and what is
not science, and here public health must reclaim and reassert the
importance and worth of its basic sciences. But the other impediments
say as much about the beliefs of our society and the stage of our
democracy as they do about public health, and those battles must be
joined to others.

First is the issue of transparency, the information available to the
society as a whole, and the truth about the benefits of decisions to
act or to not act. There are many dilemmas here; often, the source of
facts and information are the very industries or interests who oppose
action. We have seen this with the tobacco, lead paint, petroleum,
pharmaceutical, and asbestos industries, whose control of information,
doctoring of studies, support for biased research, and suppression of
information have made it impossible for the public and independent
analysts to share in unbiased information. From the auto manufacturers
who, 40 years ago, knowingly and willfully produced cars that killed
to those manufacturers who, two years ago, utilized defective tires
that killed, the ability to withhold information is powerful. From
drug manufacturers who contract the right to suppress research studies
critical of their products to those who blatantly report false
findings, the ability to publish untruths and half-truths in peer-
reviewed journals is destructive of the public's capacity to make
informed judgments. But that control of information is exacerbated
when public bodies and the fourth estate abet the misinformation. The
dismissal, banishment, or even punishment of critics and whistle-
blowers within public agencies or government contractors makes it hard
for the public to gain access to dissenting views. When private
interests, such as the gun lobby, promote congressional bans on
gathering and publishing information, or when administrators "gag"
employees critical of pro-industry policies, it becomes virtually
impossible for the average citizen or even institutions to gather that
information themselves.

The lack of data and information is often an excuse for inaction in
the face of real harm. If one of the hallmarks of our democracy is
inclusiveness of decision-making, then the ability of a handful of
powerful interests to deny the existence of critical information, or
to hire apparently objective experts without revealing those
relationships, is destructive to the interests of both public health
and democracy. Inclusion also means the consideration and costs of a
full range of alternatives, which must also mean a full range of the
societal, long-term, and non-direct costs of inaction. In the face of
overriding evidence, not only of global warming, but also of the
health, environmental, and ecological costs of inaction, our society
still does close to nothing while opponents of action divert us with
both fantastic consequences of action, and self-serving and unique
theories on the nature of the universe. When three petrochemical
scientists, supported by the industry, are invited to appear before a
congressional committee to argue that global warming is a myth, and
the 300 leading, award-winning scientists urging our nation to take
strong, aggressive action on the issue are ignored, the entire notion
of transparency and inclusiveness is moot.

Action in the face of uncertainty -- a third element of the
precautionary principle -- is both its most vulnerable and
intellectually most important one. The other three may be morally more
important, but to admit that we do not have, and may never have, all
the evidence we would like is to engage in an intellectual quest that
underpins public health. To the modern observer, insisting that
doctors wash their hands between patients seems not just obvious, but
also benign. But without the "evidence" that was to come much later,
this request seemed to many baseless, and the opposition came from men
of science who wanted hard proof of cause and effect, not just an
accumulation of observation and relationships. Practice changed before
bacteriology would "prove" the reason for doing so, but the better our
laboratory and diagnostic science, the harder it seems to accept the
fact that we should act in the face of uncertainty. For example, the
relationship between air pollution and pulmonary disease seems so
clear to anyone working with communities subject to inordinate
pollution. But if we don't measure certain particulates, if we don't
yet see the physiological change, then lack of transparency and lack
of certainty can lead to inaction. However, if we take to heart the
requirement of doing no harm, also quoted widely in these articles, we
are moved to make the logical decision to act.

This brings us to the fourth cornerstone of the principle,
accountability. It is here that our society has the most to overcome.
Too much of our inaction in the past and the present is because we
have implicitly decided that some risks are easier for our society to
bear because they fall disproportionately on the poor, on workers, on
people of color, on our soldiers, and on the people of other
countries. Also, our inaction is because we have implicitly decided
that the costs are too much to bear when they fall on corporations,
the wealthy, and the politically powerful.

The articles in this issue, with case studies ranging from silica
and lead to tobacco and anthrax, from Agent Orange to the blood
supply, bear this out. For years, in the face of overwhelming evidence
from neutral sources, harmful products and practices were allowed to
continue while a great many people sickened and died. We need, as a
nation, to examine what it is that allows this to happen again and
again, but we also need to incorporate the elements of the
precautionary principle, whether or not we make it a national policy.

The courts in our nation are an important part of policy-making, but
to rely on them is to obviate our ability to make decisions in the
face of uncertainty. To rely on them is to relinquish responsibility
for including the public in the more meaningful way that is the basis
for democracy. If we had true transparency and inclusiveness in
decision-making, and true accountability and responsibility, we would
have the public understand the basis for decision-making and
participate in making decisions in the face of uncertainty. The series
of surgeon generals' reports on tobacco and smoking over the last four
decades is instructive. The evidence has been mounting for centuries
on the harm done by tobacco, but certainly by the first Surgeon
General's Report, it was overwhelming. Yet, other than increasingly
serious warnings on cigarette packages, restrictions on advertising
won through a lawsuit, and some restraint on sale to minors, not much
changed in 40 years. It took leaks of information, an incorruptible
whistle-blower, and indignant attorneys general from states whose
health care budgets were ballooning, to force a major change in
policy. As welcome as this was, it is a sorry and inefficient way to
make policy. And we must admit the changes in the tobacco industry are
not half of what could and should have been made if the health of the
nation were the guiding principle in decision-making.

Instead, as one of this issue's authors so clearly states, our
guiding principles are very different: industry has the right to
produce what it will; products are assumed safe until proven otherwise
under a system that makes it almost impossible to prove; private
profit is more of a right than the right of society as a whole to have
healthy conditions; and public health is a narrow interest while
private industry represents a broader public good.

These are dangerous principles -- dangerous to our health and
dangerous to our society. It is not a sin, nor is it surprising, that
private industry puts profits before health; it should not shock us
that they go to extraordinary lengths to protect their ability to
manufacture and sell, unfettered by any interference by government. We
have been shocked when they have lied, cheated, and broken the law; we
have been surprised when they have shown a total disregard for life or
health, but we would be naive to think that their interests lie with
society's as a whole. The recent outrage at corporate greed has not
been because they put profits before people; it has been because they
did not obey even the rules of corporate finance and reporting. To
correct the latter will not address the former. It is the role of
public health and of government to seek and protect the greater good.
That is at the heart of the precautionary principle, and at the center
of our democracy.

Copyright 2002 Association of Schools of Public Health

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From: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (pg. B24), Feb. 24, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

HUMAN GENES IN YOUR FOOD?

By Trudy Bialic

Ask the people around you if they want experimental drugs and
industrial chemicals in their food or beer -- without their knowledge
or consent. Chances are they'll say no. Then tell them experiments
that could make that happen are occurring right here in Washington
state.

As you read this, a professor at Washington State University and a
private Canadian company, SemBioSys, have applied for permits to turn
two common food crops -- barley and safflower -- into virtual
factories for synthetic drugs or chemicals.

On its Web site, SemBioSys declares its plan to inject safflower with
human genes to produce experimental insulin and a drug for heart
attacks and strokes. WSU confirms that it plans to grow barley,
injected with human genes, to produce artificial proteins with
pharmaceutical properties. Where these fields will be is secret;
nearby farmers and residents won't be notified.

Proponents say that injecting human genes into plants (or animals)
will provide cheaper drugs -- someday. But this so-called
"biopharming" has met with considerable opposition.

In California and Missouri, farmers protested and effectively stopped
outdoor cultivation of "pharma rice," concerned that the drug-plants
would contaminate their food-grade crops and make them unmarketable.
Food companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Kraft Foods, as well as the
Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Products Association,
concur. The risks are more than hypothetical. Several cases of cross-
contamination from GE crops have cost farmers and the food industry
more than a billion dollars in recalls and lost export markets.

The National Academy of Sciences, a nongovernmental body of scientists
and professionals, has warned in two reports that it's virtually
impossible to keep biopharms out of the food supply if food crops are
used to grow them. Insects, birds, animals, wind, storms, trucks,
trains and human error see to that.

Pharma crops are supposed to be rigorously regulated. But the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) does not review biopharmaceutical crops
before planting, even though many of them have toxic or anti-
nutritional effects on human health or the environment.

A recent audit by the US Department of Agriculture's Inspector General
found the USDA failed to inspect field trial sites as promised and
didn't even know where some experiments were planted. The Inspector
General also found that USDA didn't follow up to find out what
happened to the biopharm harvests. Two tons of a drug-laden crop was
stored for more than a year at two sites without USDA's knowledge or
inspection.

What's the risk of cross-contamination from these experiments? State
legislators at least should order a thorough risk assessment and allow
public comment.

Washington's Barley Commission is aware that WSU is biopharming barley
and is strongly opposed. Administrator Mary Sullivan says, "Once those
genetically altered genes are out there, there'll be GMOs in the
beer."

No one's opposed to less expensive and effective drugs, but
biopharming in food crops in open fields is a bad financial risk.
Several leading biopharm companies have gone bankrupt. When Large
Scale Biology went bankrupt -- it was the first to conduct a field
trial in 1991 -- even biotech movers and shakers contemplated the
demise of the biopharming concept.

Agriculture and the food industry are the largest employers and the
greatest source of revenue in Washington state -- more than Microsoft
and Boeing combined. WSU and SemBioSys should not be mixing drugs and
food. They should cancel these risky experiments immediately.

If they want to produce plant-based drugs, they should follow the lead
of Dow AgroScience, which just announced approval of a vaccine for
chickens produced by tobacco cell cultures in a contained steel tank.
Cell cultures are a proven way to generate pharmaceuticals under
controlled laboratory conditions -- without the risk of untested drugs
in our food.

Trudy Bialic is editor of Sound Consumer, a publication of PCC Natural
Markets -- the largest, consumer-owned natural foods retailer in the
United States.

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From: Bankok (Thailand) Post, May 9, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

SPECIAL COURT RULES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Sweeping reforms to speed up cases

By Bhanravee Tansubhapol

The Supreme Court is poised to make sweeping procedural changes to
speed up handling of environmental cases. This includes placing the
burden of proof on defendants, broadening the court ruling to cover
all damaged parties and cutting court fees for poor plaintiffs, a high
court official said yesterday.

"We would like environmental cases to be special cases because they
affect the life, health and well-being of the public. If the court
deliberation is slow or has to wait for any side-effects to emerge it
may be too late for the environment or people's lives," said Apichart
Sukhagganond, president of the environmental division of the Supreme
Court.

Mr Apichart said each case affecting the environment should take no
more than three years to resolve instead of more than five years now
in most cases.

More than 1,000 environmental cases currently await Supreme Court
judgments. Most are handled by the 10 Appeals Courts around the
country but only four of them have an environmental division attached.

The green light has now been given to the Criminal Court in each
province to set up an environmental division to help speed up
environmental cases.

"Environmental cases should be concluded as quickly as possible," he
said. To expedite the process, the court is considering moving
environmental cases only through the Criminal Court and the Supreme
Court, skipping the Appeals Court.

The court fee for poor plaintiffs could be lowered or waived to enable
poor people to file legal action against industrial offenders, said Mr
Apichart.

Normally, plaintiffs must post as much as 200,000 baht to cover court
fees if they demand large compensation. This means legal action is out
of reach of many who claim to suffer consequences from environmental
damage.

Mr Apichart said courts may put the burden of proof on defendants
rather than the plaintiffs, as in normal law suits.

If this practice is adopted, it would be the first time Thai courts
agree to follow the so-called precautionary principle long advocated
by environmentalists, who argue it is too much of a burden for damaged
parties to prove wrongdoing by powerful offenders.

Another change that will have a major impact on offenders is the
broadening of the court ruling on a single case to cover all damaged
parties.

"This will help minimise the number of cases coming to court and all
damaged parties will get the same level of compensation, as in
bankruptcy cases," said Mr Apichart. Only the plaintiffs now benefit
from court rulings in their favour, he said.

The case of damage to Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Lei caused by the making
of the Hollywood film The Beach would be a good case study for all
criminal court judges, most of whom have little experience in
environmental cases.

In that case, local administrations and environmentalists in Krabi
filed suits against senior environmental officials, 20th Century Fox
Studios, which produced the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the
studio's Thai agent for altering the bay's environment to fit the
movie's script.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a final verdict this year.

Mr Apichart said environmental law should be a compulsory subject for
all university law students.

"We still lack a lot of environmental judges. One reason we set up
the environmental division is to let all judges see the importance of
this subject and let them learn from it," said Mr Apichart.

Copyright Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006

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

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