Table of Contents...
Precautionary Principle: Reasonable, Rational, and Responsible
Using examples from modern life (chemicals in breast milk, toxic
lead in paint, fetal alcohol syndrome, and toxic flame retardants),
toxicologist Steve Gilbert presents five common elements to a
precautionary approach. We successfully apply precaution in the
pharmaceutical industry, so why can't we apply it to industrial
chemicals that cause cancer, brain damage, a myriad of other health
effects, and environmental damage?
Biotech Crops: Sound Science vs. the Precautionary Principle
Some U.S. farmers argue that "sound science" should convince
Japanese and European consumers to buy genetically modified foods from
the U.S. Here Daryll E. Ray, professor of agricultural policy,
University of Tennessee, suggests that the precautionary approach may
be more scientific than the "sound science" approach.
Philippino Farmers Call for Ban On Genetically Modified Crops
Farmers in Mindanao, Philippines recently called for an end to
industrialized agriculture, a ban on genetically engineered crops, and
a return to organic growing techniques.
Let Them Eat Precaution
In this anonymous book review, the American Enterprise Institute
claims that the third world is being deprived of the benefits of
genetically modified crops because of the precautionary principle. We
have added links to offer alternative viewpoints on some of the issues
raised here. The real food problem in the third world is that millions
of people are too poor to pay for food that is already available.
Genetically engineered crops won't solve that problem.
From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #17, Dec. 21, 2005
PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: REASONABLE, RATIONAL, AND RESPONSIBLE
An Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary, Approach to Decision-making
By Steven G. Gilbert
The precautionary principle is a reasonable, rational, and responsible
approach to decision-making. It provides a framework for policy
making that promotes human health, a sustainable environment, and
ensures that future generations of all species have an opportunity to
But first, when you got in your car this morning did you think about
the relative benefits of driving your car to work, the store, or
errands as compared to the cost to the environment or risks to your
health should you get in an accident? Did you take the precautionary
action of wearing a seat belt to reduce the risk to your health and
safety? Did you think about walking or taking the bus, instead of
driving, to reduce air pollution?
Some readers may take prescription drugs, confident that the benefits
outweigh the risks of harm because you trust that the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has carefully reviewed the research and approved
the sale of those medications. The FDA takes a precautionary approach
when it approves drugs. It requires pharmaceutical companies to
demonstrate the efficacy and safety of their products before they are
put on the market. We expect that the companies that benefit from the
sale of their drugs should take on the responsibility for
demonstrating that the product meets certain standards of safety. From
tragic experience, we have learned that when this precautionary
process breaks down consumers suffer.
In contrast, we often do not take a precautionary approach to chemical
exposures to children. For example, while a nursing baby receives the
tremendous benefits of breast milk, they are often exposed to a number
of industrial chemicals that are present in the breast milk. Often
there is little information about potential for harmful development
effects of the industrial chemicals found in breast milk. This raises
a question: What is the equivalent seat belt for our children's health
-- is there a way to take precautionary measures to protect our
children's health and intellectual potential from the adverse affects
of industrial chemicals?
We often take a precautionary approach in our daily lives and we
legislated a mandatory precautionary approach for the sale of
prescription and over the counter drugs. The next evolution in the
use of a precautionary approach is in the management of the use of
industrial chemicals. One of the most critical questions is: what
policy approach should we use as a guideline in protecting future
generations -- our children's children? I believe it is reasonable,
rational, and responsible to use the precautionary principle, to learn
from our past experience and years of scientific developments, and
initiate a comprehensive and sustainable decision-making process.
Flavors of Precaution
The precautionary principle was defined at the Wingspread Conference
in 1998 as:
"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be take even if some cause
and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."
While the definitions of the precautionary principle come in a number
of flavors, all flavors have the same common elements. It is the same
with cars, some arrive at their destination more quickly, some are
more environmentally friendly, some might need more repair, but all
cars have basic identifiable elements, including seatbelts. There are
five elements that form the foundation of all versions of the
The first common element is to have established goals and objectives.
Often objectives are broad, such as ensuring the health and well being
of future generations. More specific goals also might be established,
such as a list of health indicators or targets for health in local
growth plans. For example: "by 2015 reduce the incidence of childhood
asthma by 50%" or "by 2015 reduce the number children with learning
disabilities by 10%" or "by 2015 reduce the rate of adult-onset
diabetes by 10% through weight loss programs."
The second common element is to take preventive action even in the
face of uncertainty. In the 1920's the European League of Nations
banned the use of lead paint based upon data indicating exposure to
lead based paint could cause harmful health effects. The United States
government was slow to acknowledge the harmful effects to children who
were exposed to lead paint and delayed action until 1971. Had the
U.S. government taken a more precautionary approach and banned lead
paint earlier, countless children could have been spared the
challenges of learning disabilities.
A third element includes shifting the burden of responsibility for
proving safety and efficacy to the proponents of an activity. This
suggests that those who benefit from the action have a obligation of
conducting the appropriate tests to ensure safety. For example,
pharmaceutical companies benefit from the development of new drugs by
making a profit when they sell a drug or medical device. Using a
precautionary approach the FDA requires that a company submit data,
paid for by the company, to demonstrate efficacy and safety of the
proposed product prior to marketing approval.
The needs and benefits of this precautionary approach are illustrated
by the drug thalidomide. In the 1950's thalidomide was marketed,
primarily in Europe and Australia, as a sedative and anti-nausea drug
for pregnant women. Tragically, thalidomide caused a rare birth defect
when consumed by women during a specific period in pregnancy.
Fortunately, thalidomide was not marketed in the United States because
a woman in the FDA questioned the safety data. The thalidomide
experience prompted Congress to increase the regulatory authority of
the FDA and require more testing of drugs prior to marketing approval.
The pharmaceutical companies assume the burden of responsibility to
demonstrate safety of their products in contrast to the limited
requirements placed on industrial chemical producers to demonstrate
the safety of their products.
A fourth element encourages the exploration of a wide range of
alternative actions when harmful outcomes are suspected. An initial
question might be: is the activity/chemical/procedure really
necessary? Or is a substitute as effective? A good example of
exploring alternative actions is the use of integrated pest management
instead of using pesticides. A number of schools systems are
implementing integrated pest management policies to reduce or
eliminate the use of pesticides around schools.
A final and fifth element common to definitions of the precautionary
principle encourages public participation in decision making. It is
essential that all stake holders have not only an opportunity to but
the means to participate in discussions and the decision making
process. The proponents of a product, process, or activity must
provide complete and accurate information and work with all parties to
ensure adequate understanding of its implications. While this may
seem costly and time consuming in the beginning it almost inevitably
saves time and money and always produces the best results.
A reasonable approach
The precautionary principle is reasonable: it provides a comprehensive
and inclusive approach to decision-making that incorporates a vision
of human and environmental health and quality of life. This vision of
human and environmental health strives to "ensure that all living
things have the best opportunity to reach and maintain their full
genetic potential." One might also consider this vision of human
and environmental health as supporting the achievement of our "God-
given potential" for "genetic potential" depending on one's
perspective. Part of being reasonable is encouraging a discussion and
consideration of our values. This definition of human health is
particularly relevant to our children, who need an environment free
from exposure to compounds that rob them of their intellectual
potential such as lead, mercury and PCBs. Furthermore, the salmon of
the world need clean and open streams in which to express their future
The precautionary principle is reasonable because it encourages
participation of a broad range of stakeholders including business,
government, non-profit organizations, health-affected groups, and most
importantly the general public. Providing a healthy environment for
humans and other species is best accomplished by a broad community of
stakeholders working together to seek solutions. This starts by
sharing information and respecting each other's values. All
stakeholders need access to technical information, and all need to be
helped to understand the issues.
The precautionary principle emphasizes prevention and consideration
for future generations. It is just common sense to prevent disease
and promote healthy conditions. Waiting to treat disease or cleaning
up toxic spills is more expensive, time consuming, and is often
disabling, and often does not even work.
A rational approach
The precautionary principle is rational and logical approach to
decision-making. We have considerable scientific knowledge and
experience that allow us to make good judgments even with uncertain or
incomplete information. We have enough information, in many cases, to
rationally consider alternatives, even when there may be some
uncertainty or incomplete information. As many CEOs know, there is
never enough information, but business doesn't stop. CEOs must and do
make good and rational decisions even with incomplete information.
There needs to be a shift in emphasis from increasing revenue and
profits to consideration of human and environmental health.
In the fields of biological and toxicological sciences we have seen
rapid advances that provide much of the knowledge we need to prevent
harm. A rational person or community takes action based on an
assessment of the facts combined with knowledge and experience to
support the greatest good for that community. True, we must
constantly review new information and update our decisions, but we
should not wait for perfect information. What we do know from
toxicological sciences is that the developing organism is very
sensitive to the effects of environmental contaminants and adverse
effects are discovered at lower and lower levels of exposure. Here
are a few examples documenting the lessons learned where the rational
application of the precautionary principle would have benefited human
Fetal alcohol syndrome is characterized by facial deformities and
severe learning disabilities that result from alcohol consumption
during pregnancy. This condition and the sensitivity of the
developing organism were well described by researchers in the early
1970s. It took almost 10 years after this scientific information was
available for the U.S. Surgeon General to advise women to avoid
consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Several more years passed before
warning labels were required on alcohol beverages. Scientists
continue to learn about the fetal affects of maternal alcohol
consumption and recognize that even small amounts during pregnancy can
result in milder forms of learning disabilities, or Fetal Alcohol
Effect. But despite the new evidence, it was rational to act before
this latest information was available. Prevention is a reasoned
Two thousand years ago it was known that "Lead makes the mind give
way." Despite this knowledge lead was added to paint and, in the
1920s, to gasoline. As early as the 1920s the European League of
Nations, despite some uncertainty about the health effects of lead
exposure, chose to ban lead-based paint. Unfortunately the United
States did not ban lead-based paint until 1971, resulting in the
contamination of countless homes. Millions of children were exposed to
harmful levels of lead because of this delay in action. In addition,
the cost of demonstrating that low levels of lead exposure result in
reduced IQ and learning deficits was borne by the taxpayers not by the
industries that benefited from the sale of lead-based paint.
Continued research on the health effects of lead has demonstrated that
there are no safe levels of lead exposure for the developing infant.
We have enough scientific information to make a rational and reasoned
decision that lead exposure is harmful and must be eliminated. The
U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has failed to act
on this information and lower the acceptable blood lead level from 10
mcg/deciliter to 2 mcg/deciliter.
A more recent example of a failure to have a rational approach to
prevent unnecessary exposure of children to potentially harmful
chemicals involves brominated flame retardants (PBDEs). These
chemicals are widely used in consumer products to prevent or retard
fire, clearly a desirable action. PBDEs are used in foam rubber
cushions and mattress, so you are probably sleeping on several pounds
of PBDEs. The problem is that these compounds do not stay in the
product, but show up in household dust and ultimately the food supply.
PBDEs have been found in women's breast milk and result in unintended
exposures to their babies. The PBDE manufacturers and distributors
have not demonstrated that these chemicals will not harm the
environment or cause adverse health effects. In contrast to the
precautionary measure taken when introducing new medicines, we take
few precautionary measures when introducing and using industrial
These brief examples illustrate that knowledge is available to make
rational decisions with regard to exposure to harmful chemicals. The
challenge is to act on that information. Even when there is some
uncertainty about the potential effects, we know from experience that
even small amounts of chemicals can be harmful and that a
precautionary approach is a rational approach.
A responsible approach
Our ethical responsibility to our children, the offspring of other
species, and to future generations requires a precautionary approach.
It is the strategy that will be most likely to help ensure an
environment that will help them reach and maintain their full
potential. Part of being responsible is encouraging consideration
of our personal and national values.
America's first bioethicist Aldo Leopold wrote in 1949: "A thing is
right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty
of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Exposing our children to the harmful effects of industrial chemicals
reduces their integrity, stability, and beauty as well as their
potential to succeed and live healthy, fruitful lives. Leopold went
on to say: "An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of
action in the struggle for existence". Leopold recognized that
certain constrains on our freedom may be necessary to achieve a
healthy outcome for the society. Laws requiring the use of seatbelts
or limits on fishing restrict our freedoms but were enacted to promote
a greater community good.
Garrett Hardin in his 1968 paper, The Tragedy of the Commons,
recognized that many problems of society have no technical solutions,
but must be managed to achieve the desired outcome. There is no
technical solution to fetal alcohol syndrome once the child is
affected. The only solution is the elimination of alcohol during
pregnancy -- or prevention. Technological advances have lead to over-
fishing the oceans; the most responsible way to control over fishing
is to restrict unlimited freedom to fish -- or prevention. The idea
that there are "no technical" solutions does not mean that technology
is not necessary but rather that we often know what to do but for a
variety of reasons to not take action. For example, we know what to
do about lead based paint but do not employ the resources.
An important element of the precautionary principle is that the
proponents of an activity must take responsibility to demonstrate that
their chemical or product is safe and effective. Those who benefit
from the activity must assume responsibility for the harm their
product might cause. We have applied this concept successfully in
drug development and we could easily apply this experience to
The precautionary principle is a reasonable, rational, and responsible
approach to protecting the health and potential of our children. The
most critical question is -- What policy approach do we adapt to
protect future generations -- our children's children? The current
system of evaluating the safety of industrial chemicals is clearly not
working. The precautionary principle offers a more comprehensive
approach to ensuring quality human and environmental health by
employing a series of elements that engage all stakeholders. The
precautionary principle is an evolutionary not a revolutionary
approach to our decision-making processes.
* * *
(Able to discourse or discuss matters; ready of tongue or
speech; sensible; common sense; sound judgment):
** Comprehensive and inclusive decision making approach
** Brings stakeholders together
** Emphasizes prevention rather than treatment
** Encourages sharing of information
** Considers future generations of humans and other species
(Having the faculty of reasoning; endowed with reason;
** Decisions based on scientific knowledge and experience
** We have the knowledge and experience to prevent harm to future
** Uncertainty is not a reason to delay action to ensure human and
(Morally accountable for one's actions; capable of
rational conduct; answerable):
** Ethical responsibility and duty to prevent harm
** Responsibility to promote human and environmental health
** The proponents of an action are responsible for demonstrating
Steven G. Gilbert, Ph.D., can be reached at the Institute of
Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders, 8232 14th Ave NE Seattle, WA
98115; Tel. 206-527-0926; Fax: 206-525-5102; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web: www.asmalldoseof.org ("A Small Dose of Toxicology")
 This essay was originally presented in part at the Washington
Health Legislative Conference, Seattle, WA, December 6, 2005.
 Carolyn Raffensperger and Joel Tickner (Eds.), (1999), Protecting
Public Health & the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary
Principle. Washington, DC: Island Press.
 Steven G. Gilbert, Ethical, legal, and social issues: our
children's future. Neurotoxicology, Vol. 26/4 pp 521-530, 2005. (doi
 Aldo Leopold, (1949), A Sand County Almanac.
 Garrett Hardin, (1968), The tragedy of the commons. The population
problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension
in morality. Science, 162(859), 1243-1248.
 Oxford English Dictionary.
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From: Western Farm Press, Dec. 21, 2005
PRODUCERS ARGUE FOR SOUND SCIENCE
By Daryll E. Ray
U.S. agricultural and trade negotiators had been pressuring the
Japanese to reopen their market which had been closed to U.S. beef
since BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad cow disease) was
first detected in the U.S. herd at the end of 2003.
The U.S. is also in a trade dispute with the EU (European Union) over
the EU's restrictions on the importation of GMO (genetically modified
organism) crops. In both cases the U.S. has argued that, on the basis
of "sound science," both of these trade restrictions ought to be
On the face of it, it would seem that the U.S. argument is very
strong. After all how could and why would one argue against sound
For their part the Europeans and the Japanese defend their actions on
the basis of the "precautionary principle." The precautionary
principle is what our mothers were talking about when they told us
that it is better to be safe than sorry.
As long-term readers of this column know, we have written about these
issues before. Our analysis of these two trade disagreements has been
based on two ideas. The first is couched in economic terms arguing
that the "customer is always right." If the Japanese are willing to
pay for the BSE testing of every head of beef, the idea that the
customer is always right would suggest that we would agree to the
testing. Likewise, if the Europeans want non-GMO grain, then U.S.
farmers ought to be working to provide them with non-GMO grain.
Our second idea has been to identify why customers might assess the
risk of GMO grains differently than the producers. After all, growing
GMO crops makes it easier for producers to control weeds and insects.
While producers receive the benefits, customers take the risks if at a
later time it were to be shown that GMO crops posed some health risk.
It makes no difference how low the probability of that event is, the
probability is nonzero and therefore important in minds of some
This past summer we read a paper presented by Priya Om Verma and
William R. Freudenburg at the 2005 Rural Sociological Society Annual
Meeting that took a different look at the conflict between those
advocating for the use of sound science and those advocating for the
use of the precautionary principle in decision making. Verma and
Freudenburg of the University of California, Santa Barbara argue that
"the precautionary principle may be the more scientific of the two
The core of their analysis reduces the two arguments to their
essentials. Those using the sound science as the justification for
their policies -- pressuring Europeans to buy GMOs or Japanese to
purchase U.S. beef -- are arguing that something is safe unless it is
proven to be hazardous. Thus, declaring something is safe runs the
statistical risk that it is not.
Those supporting the precautionary principle are arguing that when
there is a potential risk to life and safety, the prudent course of
action is to err on the side of caution, risking the chance that one
may reject an action or product as unsafe when in fact it may be safe.
Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans provide us with a
chance to apply these concepts to a situation most of us are familiar
Those officials who supported cutting back on levee repairs were
arguing that the likelihood of a Category 3 hurricane that would cause
a breach in the levees was very small and that the money would be
better spent elsewhere. This is the sound science argument which takes
the risk assuming the levees will hold when in fact they won't.
Those who were arguing for the levee expenditures and protecting the
wetlands surrounding New Orleans were basing their argument on the
precautionary principle. As we have seen the sound science argument
favors short-term economic gain over the potential of catastrophic
long-term costs. In this case we can see that an ounce of prevention
would have been worth more than a pound of cure.
Applying this back to the case of GMO sales to the Europeans, the U.S.
is arguing in favor of immediate economic gains from increased trade
over and against long-term health and/or safety problems that may
arise if it were to turn out that GMOs pose a risk that does not show
up for 10, 20, or 30 years. Similarly, in the case of the sale of beef
to the Japanese, the U.S. is arguing that the extra cost of testing
each head of beef sold to the Japanese is unnecessary, given the low
chance that any one animal would have BSE. The Japanese are arguing
that given the long-term risks -- if one imports enough untested beef,
sooner or later a BSE positive animal will slip through -- the cost of
testing is a small price to pay for increased long-term safety.
As Verma and Freudenburg note, statistics teaches us that these two
risks are closely related. As one reduces the chance of making a
short-term error -- rejecting a product as unsafe when it is in fact
safe -- one increases the chance of making a long-term error. There is
a tradeoff between these two types of errors. We cannot have our cake
and eat it too.
Their argument that the "precautionary principle may be the more
scientific of the two approaches is based on their contention that
"the precautionary principle recognizes the reality of scientific
unknowns and acknowledges... scientific uncertainty." They go on to
say, "Under conditions of scientific uncertainty, judging what is an
acceptable level of risk for society is an inherently political
responsibility... These are value-laden processes that reflect
differing perspectives regarding what ought to be 'society's'
preferences for short-term economic risks versus longer-term risks to
health and the environment."
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural
Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the
director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). (865)
974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; email@example.com; http://www.agpolicy.org.
Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance of
Harwood D. Schaffer, research associate with APAC.
Copyright 2005, PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc.
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From: Minda News (Mindanao,Philippines), Dec. 14, 2005
MINDANAO FORUM: PHASE OUT SYNTHETIC AGRI INPUTS IN RP BY 2015
By Walter I. Balane
DAVAO CITY -- Around 200 Mindanawons from different sectors sought a
total phaseout of synthetic commercial inputs in any farming systems
in the country by 2015 and also a ban on field releases of all
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture.
They signed this on a covenant Tuesday at the end of the "Go Organic
Mindanao" forum on safe food and food security.
"Thus, we encourage men and women farmers to produce natural inputs
(and their creativity be respected) leading to the total phaseout in
The group also included in their action agenda that "even logging,
monocrop plantation expansion, mining and other resource-extractive
activities should be done away with such that in its stead will
flourish sustainable organic agriculture initiatives that contribute
to farmer health and economic well-being."
The forum, a sequel to an earlier conference in Manila on December
9-10, gathered Mindanao's farmers, religious, civil society groups,
members of the academe, students, government officials and personnel,
and private individuals from different provinces of Mindanao.
The Coalition for GMO-free Mindanao, a broad coalition of NGOs around
Mindanao, including Food Sovereignty Watch, convened the forum in
cooperation with the Malaysia-based Third World Network. The
discussions were focused on promoting sustainable organic agriculture
as an emerging and viable alternative to genetically engineered farm
inputs and chemical-based farming.
They also expressed support to the mandatory labeling of products of
genetic engineering technologies in respect to the rights of consumers
to information and choice. At the moment, synthetic products like
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not labeled as such in the
They expressed preference for sustainable organic agriculture using
natural inputs as well as for the diversification in farming system.
"We believe in the inherent capacity of men and women farmers to
develop, conserve and utilize plant and animal genetic resources that
sustain and enhance biodiversity and food security," they said.
The group also called for the implementation of the precautionary
principle in dealing with synthetic technology. Also, the immediate
ratification by the Senate of the Cartagena Protocol, a protective
instrument against the damaging effects of genetic engineering (GE)
and GMOs, already signed by 120 countries in 2003.
The group aimed to make bio-safety regulations strict, stringent,
transparent and linked to sustainable agriculture and other
Around 11 "principles of unity" were adopted in the covenant. The
other principles expressed the group's preferences for holistic health
and the belief in the security of tenure of men and women farmers to
their land as crucial in local livelihoods and food security.
The participants affirmed that sustainable organic agriculture is
critical in promoting farmers' empowerment. They said that farmers
"must have political voice and capacity to stand up against corporate
agriculture, whose operations are becoming a regular part of day-to-
day reality in Mindanao."
Sustainable organic agriculture, they said, is the only viable
emerging alternative to the unrelenting advance of commercial
plantations in key provinces in Mindanao. They added that the main
impact of which is to further push the farmers and their families to
more deprivation and poverty.
The group demanded for transparency and farmers' participation as the
government decides on its agricultural programs. According to them,
such are focused on a package of technologies like hybrids and GM
crops, and high-value commercial crops "often at the expense of the
environment and long-term benefits of farmers and farming communities
all over the country."
But as the group believes that there must be a balance between
development and environmental protection, they expressed that there
are bigger socio-political economic forces that will affect the
Responding to international expert Dr. Mae Wan Ho, who spoke about
"the need to re-structure Mindanao's food system" earlier at the
forum, the participants expressed in the covenant that "local
production should be prioritized for local consumption."
Mindanao has become a haven for high value commercial commodity export
crops with the spread of banana, pineapple and other mono-crop
After the government approved the release of GMOs in the country in
2003, the anti-GMO movement has "changed strategy." Engr. Roberto
Verzola, sustainable agriculture campaigner from the Philippine
Greens, told participants on Monday that promoting sustainable organic
agriculture is the new strategy in campaigning against GMOs.
"The promotion of sustainable organic agriculture is a positive step
towards attaining environmental sustainability," the covenant states.
According to the organizers, the forum was organized to revitalize
debates on GE (genetic engineering) and at the same time strengthen
and promote organic agriculture as an alternative to GE.
In February 2006, the international Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) will ratify a recommendation from a technical group on whether
to lift a ban on "Terminator technology" or GURTS (genetic use
restriction technology), which will render hybrid seeds sterile after
Such technology was considered by farmers in the forum as unfair,
selfish and serves only the interests of hybrid seed companies.
Copyright 2005 MindaNews
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From: American Enterprise Institute, Dec. 19, 2005
LET THEM EAT PRECAUTION
Book review of: Jon Entine, Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is
Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture (Washington, D.C.:
American Enterprise Institute, 2006). $25
More than one million of the world's poorest children die each year
from a lack of Vitamin A. Another 100 million children suffer from
Vitamin A deficiency, which increases the risk of blindness,
infections, and diseases such as measles and malaria. Yet a
revolutionary solution to this malignant crisis--a vitamin-enhanced
rice--remains unutilized, the victim of anti-science advocacy groups.
The sad fate of Golden Rice, the genetically modified version of the
world's most popular staple, is one of many revelations in Let Them
Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in
Agriculture (AEI Press, January 2006). Bioengineering has created
new kinds of soybeans, wheat, and cotton that generate natural
insecticides (making them more resistant to pests and drought and
increasing yields); nutrition-added fruits, vegetables, and grains;
and futuristic "farmaceuticals"--life-saving medicines made by
melding agricultural methods with advanced biotechnology. Countless
scientific studies have found that biotech farming can dramatically
reduce reliance on costly and environmentally harmful chemicals, and
the products that result are safe and healthy.
Editor Jon Entine, along with ten experts from the United States and
Great Britain, explain why cultural politics and trade disputes, not
science, pose the biggest hurdles in developing these products.
Instead of meeting the desperate needs of the world's poor with new
medicines and vitamin-fortified crops, anti-biotech campaigners offer
liberal doses of the "precautionary principle"--the controversial
notion that innovation should be shelved unless all risks can be
avoided. Well-funded environmental groups such as Greenpeace and
Friends of the Earth; organic advocates; religious groups such as
Christian Aid; and "socially responsible" investors exploit anxiety
about science, caricaturing genetic technology as inherently
unpredictable and a "genetic Godzilla" that could usher in an age of
Among the other findings in Let Them Eat Precaution:
** Some 40,000 people--half of them children--die every day from
hunger or malnutrition-related causes that genetically modified
products could alleviate.
** International advocacy groups have intimidated the Zambian and
Zimbabwean governments into rejecting donations of bioengineered grain
that would have helped feed the 10.1 million undernourished people in
those two countries.
** Biopharmaceuticals such as potatoes transformed into edible
vaccines against diarrhea--a leading cause of death in the developing
world-- and tobacco modified to fight dental cavities, the common
cold, and diabetes are caught in a regulatory jungle.
** Anti-biotechnology groups funded by tax-exempt foundations, the
social investment community, and the organic and natural products
industry masterfully exploit the Internet to spread their message.
** The misinformation campaign has turned one of the founders of
Greenpeace into a determined spokesperson for the promise of biotech
farming and farmaceuticals.
The anti-biotech industry's admonition of "Don't tamper with nature"
may be superficially seductive, but a blanket rule that nature's
course is always preferable to scientific innovation is a prescription
for paralysis. The authors of Let Them Eat Precaution believe that
proponents of biotechnology must reorient their strategy to address
the political, social, moral, and economic arguments raised by biotech
opponents, rather than relying simply on the scientific evidence.
While not a universal panacea, genetically modified technology offers
a unique opportunity to address international health and nutrition
needs, especially in countries with increasing populations, widespread
poverty, and limited funds for expensive and environmentally harmful
Let Them Eat Precaution includes:
** "Beyond Precaution" by Jon Entine, scholar in residence at Miami
University of Ohio, and adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise
** "Global Views on Agricultural Biotechnology" by Thomas Jefferson
Hoban, director of the Center for Biotechnology in a Global Society
and professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology, and food
science at North Carolina State University. Mr. Hoban is also a member
of the Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology at the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA).
** "Agricultural Biotechnology Caught in a War of Giants" by C.S.
Prakash, professor of plant biotechnology at Tuskegee University and
president of AgBio World Foundation; and by Gregory Conko, senior
fellow and director of food safety policy at the Competitive
** "Trade War or Culture War? The GM Debate in Britain and the
European Union" by Tony Gilland, science and society director at the
British Institute of Ideas.
** "Hunger, Famine, and the Promise of Biotechnology" by Andrew S.
Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International
** "Let Them Eat Precaution: Why GM Crops Are Being Over-Regulated in
the Developing World" by Robert L. Paarlberg, professor of political
science at Wellesley College; associate of the Center for
International Affairs at Harvard University; and consultant for the
International Food Policy Research Institute, USAID, USDA, and U.S.
** "Can Public Support for the Use of Biotechnology in Food Be
Salvaged?" by Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy
Institute at the Consumer Federation of America and former assistant
secretary for food and consumer services at the USDA.
** "Deconstructing the Agricultural Biotechnology Protest Industry" by
Jay Byrne, president of v-Fluence Interactive Public Relations
(dealing with issues management, including biotechnology).
** "'Functional Foods' and Biopharmaceuticals: The Next Generation of
the GM Revolution" by Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the
Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program at the
University of California-Davis; co-director of the NIH Training
Program in Biomolecular Technology; member of the Genomics Panel on
Technology of the WTO; and member of the Technology Discussion Panel
on Sustainable Agriculture at the UN.
** "Challenging the Misinformation Campaign of Antibiotechnology
Environmentalists" by Patrick Moore, founding member of Greenpeace
and former director of Greenpeace International. Mr. Moore now heads
the environmental group Greenspirit in Vancouver, Canada.
American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Copyright 2005 American Enterprise Institute
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