Table of Contents...
Liberte! Egalite! Environment?
France adds the precautionary principle to its constitution.
Editorial: When Science Gets Censored
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisors are not
allowed to discuss the precautionary principle.
Farm Workers Harmed by Shoddy Enforcement of Pesticide Laws
Poor enforcement contributes to the persistent failure of the
risk-based regulatory system -- one more reason why a precautionary
approach is needed.
The Problem with Precaution
"The precautionary principle is an anti-progress, anti-technology
ideology that would cause the health of our nation to stagnate instead
of steadily improving."
From: Grist, Jul. 14, 2005
LIBERTE! EGALITE! ENVIRONMENT?
French constitution gets a dash of green
By David Case
Ahhh, the French. Toujours inexplicable. They chain smoke. They drink
enough espresso before noon to cause lockjaw. And they jam their veins
with butter, cheese, and beef. But despite how reckless they seem,
their leaders recently made a stand for public health, granting every
citizen the right to a balanced and healthy environment.
That's right. In their battles against climate change, genetically
modified organisms, and nuclear reprocessing, the French now enjoy the
support of an "environment charter" amended to the country's
constitution. "Decisions made responding to today's needs should not
compromise the capacity of future generations and other populations to
satisfy their own needs," the document's preamble proclaims. In 10
articles, it then outlines a series of environmental rights and
responsibilities incumbent on the French people, ranging from the
right to access information about the environment to an obligation
upon political leaders to promote sustainable development.
The charter, ratified this spring, was the pet project of President
Jacques Chirac, who first championed it at the time of his 2002
reelection. At first, the idea met with the typical opposition from
business groups. But Chirac, an astute politician, piggybacked the
charter onto an important national assembly vote that would clear the
way for the European Union constitution referendum.
In doing so, he undermined resistance from the right, which was
willing to go along with the add-on to ensure support for the E.U.,
explains David Michel of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at
Johns Hopkins University. While the E.U. referendum was later defeated
by a popular vote, the environmental charter (which wasn't put to the
people) had already prevailed by a margin of 531 to 23 in a special
joint session of the French parliament.
Hard Chirac Cafe
So why, readers may ask, would a conservative, business-friendly
president expend clout on a high-profile environmental initiative?
Chirac, who has been a strong supporter of the Kyoto climate agreement
and who delivered an unusually blunt speech at the Johannesburg world
summit, seemed earnestly to believe in the idea. But there were also
Internationally, France likes to be a leader on all matters European.
And when it comes to the environment, France conspicuously lags behind
other countries in the union, falling behind on implementing the
E.U.'s green directives, according to Yannick Jadot, campaign director
for Greenpeace France. ("Directives," in E.U.-speak, are requirements
for member countries to pass specific laws.) The charter was seen as a
sort of nuclear option that would catapult France to the forefront.
Moreover, by elevating the country's environmental profile, Chirac
would drive the wedge deeper between Paris and that crass, unpopular
Texan in the White House. "The charter enables France to stick its
thumb in the eye of the U.S.," says Michel.
On the domestic front, despite health habits that might perplex
Americans, the French populace actually has a substantial
environmental ethic. For example, citizens have valued natural foods
and non-industrial farming since long before the organic craze got
traction in the U.S.; food labels go so far as to describe the type of
sustenance served to chicken or cattle. When it comes to energy, a
French person consumes only about half the Btus of an American, and
the nation has cut its emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 percent since
1980, to the lowest levels in Western Europe. (By contrast, emissions
have increased in the U.S. by about 22 percent in the same period.)
And in recent years, a chain of environmental mishaps has left many
French feeling under siege -- and demanding answers. These threats
have included mad cow disease; "Frankenfoods" from the U.S.; a series
of unusual storms on the continent, including one that ravaged trees
in the historic gardens at Versailles; an unusually strong summer
heat wave blamed for the death of thousands of senior citizens; and a
pair of oil spills -- from the ship Erika, off Brittany, and from
the Prestige, off nearby Galicia -- that devastated birds and fish
and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches.
But what does the charter really mean? Is it strong enough to calm
Gallic nerves? Will the threats abate? Will the clouds in French cafes
dissipate, and Parisian streets no longer be minefields of poodle
Well, maybe. It's too early to tell for sure. While pundits agree that
the charter can't be ignored, they debate the extent to which it will
really make a difference.
Vive la Difference
The French hailed the charter as a first of its kind, and proponents
described it in grandiose terms. The amendment "raises sustainable
development to the highest level in our legal structure, alongside the
1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen," declared
former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin before it was passed.
In truth, constitutional environmental rights turn out to be more the
rule than the exception. Of the world's 190-odd nations, the
constitutions of 117 mention protection of the environment or natural
resources, according to an analysis by Earthjustice. Fifty-six --
including unlikely progressives such as Tajikistan and Angola --
explicitly recognize the right to a clean and healthy environment; 20
hold those who harm the environment liable. The U.S. Constitution, by
contrast, contains no explicit environmental reference.
Jeremy Shapiro, a France expert at the Brookings Institution, points
out that while the charter certainly makes a difference, it is not as
colossal as it might be in an American context. First, constitutional
amendments don't represent the monumental social shifts that they
typically have in the U.S. Nor are they very rare: France's current,
1958 constitution carries 19 amendments, five of which have been
enacted since 2000.
Additionally, Shapiro argues that unlike in the U.S., where lobbyists
and courts influence the interpretation of laws, the French government
maintains a high degree of control over its legal creations. As a
result, he says, France "can pass something like this that's
politically popular but, within limits, not have to live with the
Enforcement and interpretation of environmental rights largely depend
on the Conseil Constitutionnel, or Constitutional Council. That body
reviews laws in a role similar to the Supreme Court in the U.S., but
answers the queries of parliamentarians, reviewing the legal code to
determine constitutional compliance, rather than hearing cases brought
before it by outsiders. As a result, the French system is more
directly controlled by elites, and less accessible to the public. "The
Conseil is not the kind of place where civil-society groups can
exercise influence," Shapiro says. "It's made up of the grandees of
French political life. They're not going to be environmental experts."
The charter also depends on a fair bit of idealistic, but
"unactionable," language. For example, it calls for environmental
education and training, and suggests that research and innovation
contribute to the preservation of the environment, but it doesn't
commit to specific goals or standards on either of these items.
The American Chamber of Commerce in France, which represents giant
American corporations operating in the world's ninth-biggest economy,
yawned at the entire matter. Not only did the ACC decline to lobby the
issue, it hardly followed the debate. "Almost all of the environment
and workplace safety laws in Europe originate in Brussels" at the
European Union, explains managing director Stephen B. Pierce. "We
don't even have an environment committee in France anymore."
Throw Precaution to the Wind
Where the charter does pack a legal punch is in Article 5, which
enshrines the precautionary principle into the constitution. In the
case of potentially serious and irreversible environmental damage, the
article states, officials should implement measures to minimize the
risks. The precautionary principle had already been embodied in French
law in 1995, another reason why the charter's opposition didn't call
in the big guns. Yet there is little doubt that elevating it to a
constitutional level bolsters the green arsenal.
Now the principle trumps other legislation, and on routine government
business that pits the environment ministry against, say, the energy
ministry, the former will have enhanced fire power. Environmental
groups can also conduct their business with the gravitas of a
constitutionally guaranteed right behind them. This principle could be
used, for example, to restrict genetically modified foods, until
scientists can show that they are safe. And it will likely come into
play in the near future as the country debates whether to replace or
simply decommission nuclear power plants, which supply about three-
quarters of France's electricity. (Which "serious and irreversible"
risk looms larger: the unknown hazards of long-term radioactive waste
storage and Chernobyl-type accidents, or the cataclysmic risk of
climate change, for which proponents argue nuclear power is a remedy?)
Still, if the example of other countries is any indicator, French
greens will have to fight to sharpen the teeth on their charter.
"Russia's constitution has one of the strongest environmental
guarantees in the world. It goes on for pages," says Patrick
Parenteau, director of the environmental law clinic at Vermont Law
School. "China has a good one too, but they're both meaningless.
They're not enforceable."
But others do carry legal heft. In 2004, the Costa Rican Supreme Court
used the nation's guarantee of a "healthy and ecologically balanced
environment" to hold customs officials responsible for not cracking
down on fishing vessels using local ports to ship shark fins. (Fishers
slice off the fins to make the Asian delicacy shark-fin soup, a
practice that is damaging the predator's populations and endangering
the balance of aquatic ecosystems.)
"A constitutional guarantee is not just a wonky law," says Marcello
Mollo, a lawyer at Earthjustice. "It shows that a healthy environment
is a human right. And as seen in the Costa Rican case, it gives rise
to a whole host of legal remedies that don't exist under normal
For their part, eager French citizens wasted no time in invoking their
new rights, albeit in a manner far more pedestrian than its framers
may have imagined -- and with mixed results that may foreshadow the
results of future struggles. No, they didn't attempt to shut down
"les McDo." Instead, a group of conservation organizations used the
charter to get a court to block a 100,000-person rave that was to be
held in an area outside Paris recognized for its environmental value.
The case was filed, and the injunction awarded, just as les raveurs
were scheduled to arrive.
The charter definitely made a difference: the groups were only able to
get the injunction in time "because the case was urgent, and it
concerned a fundamental right of the French constitution," says
Michel. But in the end, local officials failed to enforce the
injunction. The rave went on as scheduled, trashing the site.
- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -
David Case writes for Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, and National
Geographic Adventure. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his French
wife, who eats lots of cheese but never leaves an unneeded light on.
Copyright 2005. Grist Magazine, Inc.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Environmental Science & Technology, Jul. 13, 2005
EDITORIAL: WHEN SCIENCE GETS CENSORED
"While I served as a liaison, the U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board was
asked to discuss policy implications of the precautionary principle
that was being implemented in Europe as the basis for some
environmental regulations.... Christine Todd Whitman and Linda Fisher,
who were then the EPA Administrator and the chief of staff,
respectively, were quite adamant that the Advisory Board should not
even discuss it."
By Jerald L. Schnoor, Editor (email@example.com)
If there is a "no-spin zone" anywhere on earth, it should be in the
realm of science. However, the Bush Administration has chosen to spin
science in unprecedented ways and now has even begun to censor
environmental reports at the final stage of publication. This can only
cease when the present administration becomes more transparent, when
lobbyists do not have direct influence on government decisions, and
when brave souls blow the whistle on what's happening.
A case in point is Rick Piltz, who resigned in March from the U.S.
Climate Change Science Program and wrote a 14-page memo on how science
gets censored (see interview). Piltz spilled the beans that Philip
Cooney -- the chief of staff of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality (CEQ), a lawyer, and a former official of the
American Petroleum Institute -- made hundreds of changes to the first
and final drafts of the Climate Change Science Program's Strategic
Plan, substantially slanting the document and weakening the conclusion
that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. Last month,
Cooney resigned from CEQ and was subsequently hired by ExxonMobil.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said there was
absolutely no connection between Cooney's departure and the furor
created by Piltz's resignation.
Another brave soul is Erick Campbell, a former Bureau of Land
Management state biologist in Nevada who authored key sections of an
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the consequences of increased
grazing of animals on government land. The draft report warns that
such policies would pose a "significant adverse impact on wildlife."
When the final EIS was published, the Bush Administration had removed
that phrase and other critical portions before announcing it would
relax restrictions on grazing those lands.
Houston, we have a problem. If the system isn't broken, it is (at
least) in severe disrepair. To be sure, other administrations have
spun science and permeated political views into the rhetoric of
inquiry, but this blatant disregard for scientific consensus at the
final stage of publication is new and flagrant. I believe the current
administration is on a different and dangerous course.
Scientific reports are vetted (censored) by lawyers and bureaucrats at
CEQ at the final stage of the approval process without further
scientific input. White House officials are used as watchdogs to
create a chilling effect in committee meetings, while coordinating
strategy with conservative think tanks and industry lobbyists.
Substantive reports, such as the U.S. National Assessment of the
Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change and the UN
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's third assessment report
Climate Change 2001, which were vetted by hundreds or even thousands
of scientists, are being removed from websites (byte burning),
citation lists, follow-on reports, and from discussion by
administration officials in a policy designed to erase "unfavorable"
reports from the collective memory. "Skeptics" are routinely deployed
to respond to consensus reports, even though their ranks are few in
number and low in scientific stature (Science 2005, 308, 482).
Uncertainty is emphasized as a political strategy to confuse the
public and to delay or curtail reasonable government action. Relying
on uncertainty as an excuse for inaction is the hallmark of the Bush
Administration's environmental policy. It is invoked in almost every
situation, a kind of safety shield against any regulation that may
upset special interests.
While I served as a liaison, the U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board was
asked to discuss policy implications of the precautionary principle
that was being implemented in Europe as the basis for some
environmental regulations. The precautionary principle states, "Where
there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full
scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing
cost- effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
Christine Todd Whitman and Linda Fisher, who were then the EPA
Administrator and the chief of staff, respectively, were quite adamant
that the Advisory Board should not even discuss it. At the time, I was
really perplexed, but in hindsight I believe that Administrator
Whitman knew that it was a nonstarter with the Bush Administration and
could only get her (and us) into trouble. It's a shame, because making
decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty is precisely what's
When science gets censored, I suspect that most citizens have no way
of knowing. Still, the truth will finally come out -- that's the
beauty of the scientific method. But when science gets censored, it is
a sign of the low regard in which government officials hold scientists
and their process. This attitude also runs counter to the best
interests of the country. People and the environment lose, and it has
Copyright 2005 American Chemical Society
Return to Table of Contents
From: The Record (Sacramento, Calif.), Aug. 21, 2005
By Hank Shaw, Capitol Bureau Chief, The Record
SACRAMENTO -- Every year, illegally used pesticides sicken thousands
of farm workers laboring long hours to harvest California's
agricultural bounty. But all too often, justice for the campesinos is
slow, weak or nonexistent.
California's agriculture commissioners -- the county officials
responsible for protecting farm workers and the public from mishandled
pesticides -- often perform perfunctory inspections and fail to levy
fines against violators, a Record investigation has found.
Such spotty enforcement has emboldened unscrupulous growers and
allowed others to become sloppy, skipping safety precautions and
causing permanent injuries. Many of the insecticides and herbicides
that farm workers breathe and touch every day can damage the eyes and
lungs and are linked to increased cancer rates, sterility, Parkinson's
disease, miscarriages and nerve damage.
A Record analysis of six years of state Department of Pesticide
Regulation data shows many pesticide violations that injure workers
result in nothing more than a warning letter. And those that do draw
fines average about $500 per worker.
A few agriculture commissioners use fines to send stern messages to
growers. Sacramento County's Frank Carl is one of them. Carl levied
208 fines for misuse of pesticides from 1999 through 2004.
Others, such as San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioner Scott
Hudson and his Stanislaus County counterpart, Dennis Gudgel, say
they'd rather educate growers and see them comply with the law than
levy fines against them.
As a result, San Joaquin, the sixth-largest agriculture county in
California, levied only 48 fines against pesticide violators in the
six-year period from 1999 through 2004. Stanislaus, the state's
seventh-largest farming county, levied just 18.
Hudson and Gudgel acknowledge that results of a compliance-based
system can look a lot like inaction, although they say they are
working hard to prevent pesticide misuse through educational forums.
But most field workers say they've never even heard of agriculture
commissioners, let alone know who they are, what they do or how to
contact them. Unknown thousands of illnesses are never reported,
leaving shattered lives hidden in quiet corners of rural California.
The endemic inaction frustrates advocates for the state's 400,000 farm
workers. "For the most part, it's not like the commissioners are bad
actors," United Farm Workers spokesman Marc Grossman said. "They just
don't do anything."
Commissioners say successfully prosecuting violators isn't easy. Add
to this the difficulties of a largely Spanish-speaking work force of
illegal immigrants fearful of retribution from their bosses, the
transient nature of most farm workers and overstressed inspection
It's no wonder many cases slip through the commissioners' fingers.
Benito Salomon's case did.
The 37-year-old Marysville resident came to California from Nayarit,
Mexico, to seek his fortune. But pesticide poisoning cost him a lung
and both kidneys and has left him a quaking wreck. He cannot walk. The
grower responsible received no fine.
A dismal record
The Record graded California's 55 agriculture commissioners based on
the quality of their inspections -- how many violations they find --
and what they do once they find them.
Overall, only a tiny percentage of pesticide violations resulted in
fines, but enforcement varies widely from county to county. For
example, records show a violator in Sacramento County is about 10
times more likely to draw a fine than a violator in San Joaquin,
Tulare, Kern, Kings or Merced counties.
Enforcement is even worse in Monterey, Stanislaus and Merced counties.
Combined, these three counties wrote only 69 fines for illegal
pesticide use from 1999 through 2004. Sacramento County levied that
many in 2004 alone.
Standing at the bottom of the enforcement scale are the Sacramento
Valley counties of Yuba and Solano. Between them, they levied only
three pesticide fines in six years. Solano recently replaced its
agriculture commissioner. A county spokeswoman said the commissioner
chose not to apply for another term.
It is not uncommon for violators to receive either no punishment or a
symbolic fine even when they injure workers, residents or motorists.
In January 2003, three Kern County residents went to the emergency
room and 11 others fell ill after a grower fumigated the soil in
nearby fields with metam-sodium, a powerful toxin. The fine worked out
to $100 per illness.
In April 2000, a helicopter sprayed 22 cauliflower harvesters with
pesticides in Monterey County. Shortly after the helicopter passed,
the workers developed headaches, nausea, numb lips and the shakes.
Although the grower took the workers to a hospital, the county
agriculture commissioner issued neither a warning letter nor a fine to
either the grower or the sprayer.
And in a recent San Joaquin County case, at least 25 walnut processors
reported symptoms ranging from dizziness to nausea to shortness of
breath after the management fogged the plant with the insecticide
resmethrin. Exposure to resmethrin can increase chances of sterility
and contribute to birth defects and other reproductive disorders.
Even though this is the largest reported illness case in recent San
Joaquin history, Hudson said he couldn't prove the owner broke the
law, because the pesticide label lacked specific rules for airing out
the warehouse or for how long to keep people away.
Rashes, nausea and cancer
Braulio Martinez blames pesticides for ruining his sight. Years after
he was sprayed while working in a vineyard, the 53-year-old Tulare
County resident still endures sometimes unbearable pain in his eyes.
He remembers the day. A plane sprayed a nearby field while he was
working in Kings County. He does not know what he was exposed to, but
he began feeling symptoms that night.
"My head hurt. I was tired and felt like I wanted to throw up,"
Martinez said. "Within a month's time, I noticed a burning and itching
in my eyes, and the more I scratched, the worse it felt."
Martinez never reported his illness.
Cases like Martinez's are typical, because California serves as the
nation's produce aisle. Pests prefer fruit, nuts and vegetables to
crops such as wheat and corn. Growers of those preferred crops use
more pesticides to keep them blemish-free for choosy shoppers.
Many fruits and vegetables must be picked by hand, putting workers in
close proximity with a brew of pesticides and herbicides whose sole
purpose is to kill.
Most of the truly nasty pesticides have been banned in California,
such as chlordane and DDT, and the days of farm workers collapsing
from immediate contact with pesticides are largely over. Most acute
poisonings now cause rashes, welts, nausea, headaches or dizziness.
A group of workers at a Yuba County ranch said last week that they
often suffer from rashes and irritation due to constant contact with
sulfur. Some have rashes or boils on exposed skin. Noe Vilchez said
his eyes are always burning, much like Martinez's.
Death can come from long-term exposure to a variety of pesticides.
Scores can cause cancer, reproductive problems, nerve damage and
The nightmare for Marysville's Benito Salomon began eight years ago,
when he was sprayed by pesticides in a Yuba County peach orchard.
Nausea hit him first. He started to cough up blood. Still, Salomon
returned to work day after day, against his friends' advice.
His condition worsened. Salomon sought medical attention, but the
clinic could not help him.
"And so the day came when I just couldn't work anymore," he said
through a translator.
Salomon spends his days now on a mattress near a swamp cooler, watched
over by his mother, religious icons and a small collection of Mexican
"I miss working and feeling healthy," he said, propping himself up on
a set of shaky arms no thicker than those of a young girl. "Right now
I can't even go to the restroom by myself.
"Sometimes I have dreams, and in the dreams I am walking. But when I
wake up I can't even move."
Dr. Marion Moses is one of the nation's foremost experts on the
effects of pesticides on the human body. As doctor to the late farm-
labor leader Cesar Chavez, Moses has had good reason to study the
Since catastrophic illness has become rare, growers and agriculture
commissioners often downplay pesticide exposure, Moses said. "Their
standard is if you're not in the boneyard, you're fine," she said.
"That's not the point. The point is unacceptable legal exposures."
Moses likened the situation to lead exposure. Chronic or high-level
exposure to lead can cause a slew of health problems, including brain
damage and death.
"They didn't wait until workers were sick" to ban items with lead,
Moses said. "There was a level that you could not exceed. You don't
have that with pesticides."
And lead is easy to detect. Pesticides are not, which fools many
doctors. "A lot of doctors really don't know how to diagnose it," she
Enforcement vs. compliance
Some agriculture commissioners view themselves as enforcers, a sort of
"crop cop." They'll fine a grower when they catch a sprayer not
wearing goggles even if he or she wasn't hurt -- because the potential
was there. A fine sends a message.
Other commissioners will send their message with a warning letter.
Some simply ask the grower not to do it again.
Empathy for the world's most-heavily regulated farmers is a prime
reason for such leniency. Many commissioners come from farming
families, and a few even oversee the operations of their relatives.
Indeed, an agriculture commissioner's official job is to promote
farming in a county.
Commissioners say they wrestle with this conflict.
Most have come to the conclusion that enforcing pesticide laws
protects workers and helps law-abiding farmers who have a right to use
Sacramento's Carl is one of the toughest enforcers in the state. He
instructs his inspectors to levy a fine whenever they see a violation
that endangers a worker.
"If it's a worker-safety violation in Sacramento County, you get a
fine. Period," Carl said.
Former Calaveras County Agriculture Commissioner Jerry Howard -- who
was hired in Solano County last month to step up enforcement --
"I have zero tolerance for spraying people," he said. "To me, that's
the capital crime in pesticide use."
One case in particular illustrates Carl's strict stance.
In 1998, Carl fined Lodi-based grape grower Felten-Mehlhaff Farms
$17,856 for allowing 14 workers to enter a Sacramento County vineyard
while it was being treated with sulfur, not taking them to a doctor
after they were exposed and failing to train them and 37 other workers
in pesticide safety. Chronic or high-level exposure to sulfur can lead
to lung problems and skin damage.
Carl fined Felten-Mehlhaff on a per-worker basis, something rarely
done by his colleagues.
Hudson, Gudgel and others say they, too, will fine for serious safety
cases. Hudson fined a grower $5,200 in 2001 for poisoning nearby
residents with methyl bromide.
But they say they try to educate growers and pesticide companies about
the law so they aren't forced to levy fines.
"Our goal is to avoid getting to a fine," Hudson said. "Our goal is
As Gudgel put it: "Do we measure the quality of a program based on the
number of tickets we write, or do we measure it on the instance of
compliance?" Hudson and Gudgel say a new push for enforcement by the
state diminishes their educational efforts. They say they're getting
dinged for focusing too heavily on compliance.
"There's been a growing concern that enforcement in the pesticide area
needs to be stronger," Hudson said, noting that his office should
issue more fines in 2005 than it did last year. "We've responded
Starvation, ignorance and fear
Even strict commissioners can investigate only what they know about.
Carl said he did not find out about the Lodi grape grower's violation
until he was notified by a representative of California Rural Legal
All of the commissioners interviewed for this report said their
pesticide enforcement has suffered because they have lost staff to
budget cuts. They also sometimes must shift efforts to deal with
industry issues, such as the spread of the glassy-winged sharpshooter,
which carries a grapevine-killing disease.
As just one example of shrinking departments, the San Joaquin County
Agriculture Commissioner's Office employed 65 people in 1960. It now
The decline is noticeable. San Joaquin County Farm Bureau Federation
President Mike Robinson, who grows alfalfa and other field crops in
the Delta, says that although he attends Hudson's educational
seminars, county inspectors have never visited his fields.
"We really don't see them a lot," Robinson said.
Farm worker Mario Murillo, a 15-year veteran of ranches from Murietta
to Marysville, said he has never met an inspector from a county
agriculture commissioner's office.
Hudson, Carl and others also blast the system for reporting pesticide-
related illness, which requires doctors to report to the
commissioners' offices any potential pesticide cases. But this rarely
State records show that only one illness in five is reported,
Department of Pesticide Regulation spokesman Glenn Brank said. That's
why department agents comb the state's worker's compensation files to
glean other cases.
Farm workers and their advocates say they are actively discouraged
from reporting illnesses and often are punished when they do. A worker
named Steven, who did not want his last name published for fear of
retribution, said several of his co-workers were fired recently after
complaining about horrible working conditions at a Marysville farm.
The realities of migrant life are another factor. Many farm laborers
entered California illegally and fear deportation more than pesticide
exposure. Most speak no English and have no vehicles to drive
themselves to doctors. They almost always lack health insurance.
"Workers don't know how to report it," said California Rural Legal
Assistance paralegal Luis Rivera, whose territory includes San Joaquin
and Stanislaus counties. "When you go to a labor camp, you will not
see a public telephone, you will not see public transportation."
None of the workers interviewed last week at a Yuba County ranch had
ever heard of an agriculture commissioner, and all said they thought
their only recourse if they got sick was to tell the patron -- their
boss. They said that wouldn't do any good.
Tulare County's Martinez, the worker permanently injured by misused
pesticides, said the same thing.
"You know, I was thinking about my check," he said. "I wanted to keep
Mary-Ann Warmerdam, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new chief of the
Department of Pesticide Regulation, says she has begun cracking down
on weak or inconsistent pesticide enforcement.
In the past 10 months, Warmerdam -- a former lobbyist for the
California Farm Bureau Federation -- has overhauled the state
guidelines for pesticide enforcement, reminded agriculture
commissioners that they can call in district attorneys for serious
cases and has begun overseeing county-specific plans designed to
address specific enforcement problems.
The commissioners have caught Warmerdam's drift. Hudson says he has
stepped up enforcement, as has Gudgel. Both commissioners are
developing improvement plans for their pesticide enforcement with the
Legislators also are doing their part. Last year, Schwarzenegger
signed legislation sponsored by Kern County's Sen. Dean Florez, a
Democrat. The law boosts maximum fines for pesticide violations.
Now Los Angeles-area Sen. Martha Escutia, also a Democrat, wants to
require agriculture commissioners to act more like Carl in Sacramento
or Solano's Howard. Her bill would require commissioners to impose a
fine whenever a worker's health or safety is threatened.
The legislation is stalled, because Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-
Tracy, chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, favors a
compromise bill that preserves some discretion for the commissioners.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whose parents were farm workers, has
taken an interest in Escutia's bill, which is expected to re-emerge in
the next few weeks.
Farmers are not happy with the shift toward stronger enforcement. Farm
Bureau President Robinson called the new focus "warped."
"It's a punitive type of thing rather than rewards," Robinson said.
"If you do your education, and everybody gets it right, you shouldn't
have to write fines."
Salomon's quaking limbs, his dialysis machine and the oxygen tank he's
tethered to remind him every moment that growers don't always get it
right. And when they don't, even "justice" amounts to a few dollars
out of their pocket. No amount of money will free Salomon from his
"I live only in suffering," he said. "I am now just a piece of
Record staff writer Karina Ioffee contributed to this report.
Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Hank Shaw at 916 441-4078 or
Return to Table of Contents
From: American Council on Science & Health, Jul. 15, 2005
THE PROBLEM WITH PRECAUTION
By Sara Cuccio, American Council on Science and Health
Once again, proponents of the precautionary principle have tried to
convince us that we are always "better safe than sorry." Dr. Bruce
Barrett recently published an article in favor of using this poorly
defined doctrine to govern public health issues, making it in effect
an institutionalized "fear factor."
The UN Rio Declaration of 1992 states that "In order to protect the
environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by
States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of
serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty
shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures
to prevent environmental degradation." As applied, the principle
would cause various scientific activities and technologies to be
banned, even after tests have failed to show demonstrable harm. It
turns out that there may actually be more risk in using this principle
than in not using it, as it often leads to rejection of the same
technological advances that have enhanced human health and longevity.
Advocates of the precautionary principle make arguments that reveal
their stance as ideological and anti-technological. Barrett
dramatically claims that due to under-researched chemicals and
industrialization, "humanity now threatens the existence of hundreds
of species, and perhaps the long-term health of the planet as a
whole." He argues that there are "ethical responsibilities" to
interrupt even alleged and potential threats posed by humans. He
should remember, though, that we also have an ethical responsibility
to use technological resources to move humanity forward and save
lives. Barrett calls for more regulation and "better science."
Clearly, though, "better science" comes only from research and
Proponents of the precautionary principle must know that nothing is
completely risk-free. Of course, risks must be evaluated for any new
product or technique, but limits must be set as to how much proof of
risk is necessary before innovations are banned. No matter how many
risks we prove untrue there will always be unknowns, and focusing on
these minor or hypothetical threats will greatly impede productive
activities. The risk of inaction must also be considered when bans
are placed on the development of potentially groundbreaking procedures
and practices -- banning them can produce risks in itself. ACSH
president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan cites the examples of pesticides and
pharmaceuticals in a 2000 editorial and uses the case of chlorine to
counter the precautionists. Chlorine, while poisonous at high
exposures, is needed to disinfect our water supply, to make necessary
pesticides, and to create lifesaving medications. While there are no
proven harmful effects from appropriate use of chlorine, and while it
has proven to be lifesaving, precautionary principle advocates still
argue against chlorine because of hypothetical risks. Further
examples can be found in the cases of blood transfusions and organ
transplants, both undeniably major advances in medical therapy.
Furthermore, had the precautionary principle been used fifty years
ago, virtually no pharmaceuticals would be available today. Had it
been in effect one hundred years ago, the automobile and air travel
would never have been developed.
In addition, fearing all of the possible minor risks of a product or
activity takes up time, money, and resources that should be used
instead on research, prevention, and treatment efforts -- such as
The precautionary principle is an anti-progress, anti-technology
ideology that would cause the health of our nation to stagnate instead
of steadily improving. Proponents of this principle are blind to the
benefits of technology and want amateur critics to have ultimate power
to inhibit the work of qualified scientists -- "just in case."
Sara Cuccio is a research intern at the American Council on Science
Kazimiera J. Cottam, PhD (July 16, 2005)
I am convinced this article is misguided. The precautionary principle
should definitely be applied in reference to toxic chemicals,
especially when used for cosmetic purposes. Chlorine should be used in
public pools to kill germs, but this use is necessary--it is not
cosmetic! No dandelion is worth anyone's death and disease. No child
should be unnecessarily exposed to toxic chemicals. And we shouldn't
compare apples and oranges: for example, driving a car is another
matter, as its usefulness, one might say a necessity in many cases,
outweighs the risk of injury and death. Of course, there must be an
emphasis on safe driving. On the other hand, there is no such thing as
safe use of lawn herbicides! In other words, common sense enters into
E Soph (July 16, 2005)
Ms. Cuccio believes that scientific uncertainty should be the basis
for inaction and delay. Her method of thinking was used by the paint
and petrochemical industries to delay (for almost 50 years!)
meaningful actions to protect children from lead poisoning. Her method
of thinking is used today by the Bush administration to delay
meaningful actions to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents of
the precautionary principle believe that scientific uncertainty
demands ethical, humane, and innovative actions, not obfuscation and
half-truths designed to protect the interests of irresponsible
industries that endanger the healthful future of the planet and all of
P Duerr (July 18, 2005)
I am disturbed by the responses to Ms. Cuccio's position. In defense
of her position she has captured the problems with the precautionary
principle and the motivations by the people that often invoke it very
well. The logic of Kazimiera's response is severely lacking. Toxicity
is defined by the amount of a substance not the substance itself. It
is interesting that using herbicides is an unnecessary risk but
somehow swimming in a pool is not. Since when is a swimming pool
necessary? If chlorine posses a risk are there not other recreational
activities that could be substituted to eliminate that exposure to
chlorine? Common sense has never been part of the precautionary
principle. E Soph attacks irresponsible industries for endangering our
health and the planet. Undoubtedly there have and continue to be
abuses by industry. However, overall technology and industry have
improved the lives of billions of people through out the world. That
is a fact not a half-truth. Using greenhouse gas emissions as an
example is a wonderful demonstration of threat of the precautionary
principle. The existing plans will not reduce CO2 in a meaningful way
nor will it have even a measurable impact on global temperature. Yet
these plans will impose a huge cost on the world's poorest resulting
in more suffering and death. How dare you talk about ethics and humane
actions if that is your position. More people need to speak out
against these positions and thinking or future generations will pay a
high cost for our fear and inaction.
About the Editor: Todd Seavey is Director of Publications at ACSH and
edits FactsAndFears. His opinions are not necessarily ACSH's.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AMERICAN COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND HEALTH, 1995 BROADWAY, 2ND FLOOR, NEW
YORK, NY 10023-5860 TEL: (212) 362-7044, FAX: (212) 362-4919 E-MAIL:
Copyright 1997-2004 American Council on Science and Health
Return to Table of Contents
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 email@example.com.
Peter Montague - firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Montague - email@example.com
To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution
Reporter send a blank Email to one of these addresses:
Full HTML edition: firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents edition: email@example.com
In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
you want to subscribe.