Rachel's Precaution Reporter #18
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

From: International Herald Tribune .......................[This story printer-friendly]
November 27, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Swiss voters recently approved a 5-year ban on genetically-modified crops (GMOs). The Swiss want to know more before they make a final decision on the wisdom of releasing GMOs into the environment because once GMOs get loose, there's no way to retrieve them. Genetic pollution is permanent.]

By Tom Wright

GENEVA -- In a further sign of widespread distrust in Europe of scientifically enhanced foods, Swiss voters on Sunday supported a five-year ban on the farming of genetically modified crops, a vote that underscores the problems facing the European Commission and biotech companies like Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto as they try to overcome consumer doubts about safety.

"The vote reflects the view across the EU, not just Switzerland," said Adrian Bebb, an expert on the issue at Friends of the Earth, an advocacy group. "The public doesn't want to eat genetically modified food."

While the United States has led the production and consumption of genetically modified crops, Europeans consumers have been largely hostile. The European Commission banned the import of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, from the United States between 1998 and 2004.

But under pressure from the United States and other nations, the commission ended the ban in May last year. In 2003, the United States took Europe to the World Trade Organization, claiming that its ban amounted to unfair protection, and was not based on scientific evidence that genetically modified organisms affected human health or the environment.

Many European governments and consumers have fought the commission's attempts to open the market. In June, European environment ministers upheld a decision by some governments, including France, Austria and Greece, to ban the use of eight genetically modified products previously authorized by Brussels.

While some governments, including Spain, Britain and the Netherlands, believe Europe has sufficient safeguards in place, many nations say further tests are needed before allowing widespread farming of genetically modified crops. Currently, only Spain has sizable areas given over to farming of such crops. Farmers in Germany and France are among those to have recently started small-scale operations.

In Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, farmers are not involved in growing genetically modified crops, so the vote on Sunday, in which 55.7 percent of voters approved the ban, will not have much practical effect.

"This decision shows the majority of Swiss do not want genetically modified food on their plates," Marlyse Dormond, a Socialist member of Parliament who backed the ban, told Radio Suisse Romande.

The commission -- faced with a possible WTO ruling early next year on the U.S. complaint, which is also supported by Canada and Argentina - has pushed ahead with approving new GMOs despite safety doubts from some European governments.

On Aug. 31, for instance, the commission approved the use of a rapeseed produced by the American company Monsanto in animal feed after member states were split over whether the product was a risk to the environment.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for the EU agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said the Union rigorously tested GMOs before approving them. The commission, he said, would not be making a statement on the Swiss vote.

Testing, however, has not been enough to persuade many national and local governments. A Web site run by Friends of the Earth lists 164 local governments in the European Union that have taken action to ban the crops or have come out publicly against them.

Action against the use of GMOs has caused clashes between local authorities and the commission. In October, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the commission in a dispute with an Austrian province that had tried to ban GMOs.

Many European regions, such as Tuscany, in Italy, fear that introducing genetically modified crops will damage their image as producers of high-quality foods, Bebb said.

Genetically modified crops are mainly produced by large-scale farmers in nations like the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and China. Proponents say the technology, which involves using genetic alterations to help plants combat insects and herbicides, could help boost yields and reduce prices over the long term.

"The ban would deprive our farmers, companies and researchers of finding out what these genetically modified foods can do," a Swiss business group, economiesuisse, said during campaigning before the vote.

"Because it is a very dynamic sector, five years is equivalent to an eternity, and we won't be able to regain that lost time."

Although Switzerland's move does not ban research on genetically modified organisms, the group said it feared it would deter companies from making further investment.

Syngenta, one of the largest producers of GMOs, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, and has large operations in the United States, criticized the decision.

"We regret the negative impact for research," Alwin Kopse, a spokesman for Syngenta, told Bloomberg News. "We regret that farmers don't have the whole range of choice."

Copyright 2005 the International Herald Tribune


From: Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.) ........[This story printer-friendly]
November 27, 2005


Schools to begin using more environmentally safe cleaners

[Rachel's introduction: A new law in New York requires all public schools to begin using 'green' cleaning products by next September. All state agencies and authorities must do the same.]

By George Basler

Lindy Thorn and Dianne Ross are on the front lines of a job that's changing.

Every day, the two women battle dirt, dust and germs as head custodians in the Whitney Point Central School District. They take a lot of satisfaction in keeping the buildings clean.

Starting next September, however, they will face a new regulation in doing their jobs. That's the date a new state law goes into effect requiring schools to begin using environmentally sensitive, or "green," cleaning and maintenance products.

Gov. George E. Pataki signed the bill in August, eight months after he signed an executive order requiring all state agencies and authorities to do the same.

Health and environmental issues drove passage of the new law, said Stephen Boese, state director of the Healthy Schools Network, a non- profit advocacy organization.

"Toxic chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to childhood and adult health problems," Boese said. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, allergic reactions to poor indoor air quality keep 10,000 American children out of school each day.

Even before the new state law, many New York schools have been moving toward using more "green" products, said Fred Koebel, legislative chairman of the New York State Association of Superintendents of School Buildings and Grounds.

Whitney Point, for example, has focused on more environmentally friendly cleaning methods and products for several years, said Edward Maslin, director of buildings and grounds. One step is a dilution- control system at the middle school that allows cleaning and maintenance crews to minimize the amount of cleaning fluids required, and reduce the number of empty plastic containers that go into the garbage.

"I don't think there's a choice. We have to do something to protect the environment," Maslin said.

Some concerns

Both Thorn and Ross support the move to environmentally sensitive cleaning products and the new state law. Improving the air quality in schools is important, they said. But they also have some concerns. Their main question is whether "green" products will be as effective as conventional products in doing the tough job of cleaning buildings.

The concern is shared by some Southern Tier buildings and grounds officials, who note testing is incomplete on the effectiveness of "green" products.

"Before we start using something, we want to make sure it works," said Dick Bierl, director of facilities services for the Newark Valley Central School District.

The situation remains unclear because New York is still working on the definition of environmentally sensitive products, and a lot of different opinions abound on how you measure "green," Bierl said.

A main question is whether schools will be able to continue to use disinfectants to clean areas such as bathrooms, desks and cafeteria tables, officials said.

"There's no such thing as a 'green' disinfectant; it's considered a pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency," Bierl said. "What are they (state officials) going to allow me to do?"

Task force working

The state Office of General Services is working with the state Education Department and the departments of Health, Labor and Environmental Conservation to develop specifications, guidelines and sample lists for environmentally sensitive products.

Schools would then be required to purchase these products either on their own or through central state purchasing contracts administered by OGS.

No specific definition exists for "green" cleaning products, a memo put out by OGS says. But some of the attributes of these products include being mercury-free, non-toxic or less toxic, and having recyclable packaging, it says.

To develop the list of products, the OGS task force is doing research, working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, looking at what other states have done and talking to vendors, said Kurt Larson, director of environmental services for OGS. A key consideration is the health and safety of students and staff, but another consideration is the effectiveness of the products.

"The legislation doesn't say eliminate products that are not 'green." It says reduce or minimize," he said. "So there is some leeway."

The task force is due to finish its work by early in 2006.

Meanwhile, Southern Tier school districts are testing "green" products to see which ones work the best, officials said.

While "green" products were considered to be less effective, that's changing as these products become better, Koebel said.

Maslin said he expects "green" products to continue to improve as the market for these products increases.

"Green" products will cost more, officials said. But they don't expect this extra cost to be excessive. At the same time, staff will have to be trained to use the products effectively, they said.

Officials believe the use of "green" products could be more labor- intensive.

Custodians will have to learn to properly mix and use any new products, said Mike McGowan, director of facilities for the Union- Endicott Central School District. Union-Endicott is putting together a six-member committee to plan for next September.

But the transition should not be that difficult, said Boese, with the Healthy Schools Network. "We hope the law will be implemented in its spirit, and schools will be given good guidance."

Copyright 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin


From: Dell Computer .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
December 1, 2005


Dell's Environment Policy Dell's Chemical Use Policy

[Rachel's introduction: Dell Computer has just adopted a precautionary environmental policy.]

Dell's vision is to avoid the use of substances in its products that could seriously harm the environment or human health and to ensure that we act responsibly and with caution.

To act responsibly, Dell believes that if reasonable scientific grounds indicate a substance (or group of substances) could pose significant environmental or human health risks, even if the full extent of harm has not yet been definitively established, precautionary measures should be taken to avoid use of the substance(s) in products unless there is convincing evidence that the risks are small and are outweighed by the benefits. Dell considers these to be "substances of concern."

Dell identifies substances of concern with consideration for legal requirements, international treaties and conventions, specific market demands, and by the following criteria:

* Substances with hazardous properties that are a known threat to human health or the environment;

* Substances with hazardous properties that show strong indications of significant risks to human health or the environment;

* Substances with hazardous properties that are known to biopersist and bioaccumulate in humans or the environment.

To enforce the company's precautionary measures, Dell strives to eliminate substances of concern in its products by:

* Maintaining a Banned and Restricted Substance Program,

* Choosing designs and materials that avoid the use of substances of concern,

* Prohibiting supplier use of these substances contractually, and

* Substitution of viable alternate substances.

If alternatives are not yet viable, Dell works with its industry partners to promote industry standards and the development of reliable, environmentally sound, and economically scalable technical solutions.

To demonstrate our commitment , Dell is striving to eliminate all remaining uses of brominated flame retardants by 2015, ahead of the OSPAR (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the N.E. Atlantic) Commission's goal. PVC is on Dell's banned and restricted materials list and we are in the process of phasing out PVC chassis parts. We will review a phase out plan yearly or when required and evaluate available technical, environmental and scalable solutions. Dell is open to discuss these plans and is committed to continuously improve the environmental quality of our products.


From: National Review .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
December 12, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Here once again is our favorite critic of foresight and forecaring, Henry Miller of Stanford University. Europe is about to exercise free democratic choice and require corporations to provide information about the chemicals they make or use. Henry says this is "draconian" and "anti-science."]

By Henry I. Miller

The European Union's Council of Ministers is expected to vote soon on the proposed chemicals regulation called REACH, an acronym for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals. Before they decide to burden faltering European economies with yet more unwise regulation, they should digest the findings of Europe's Global REACH, a study released recently by the Hayek Institute in Brussels. It concludes that REACH will harm Europe and its trade partners economically -- and there is no convincing evidence of health or environmental benefits.

REACH would extend to all chemicals produced in or imported into Europe the bogus "precautionary principle," which holds that if the evidence about a product, technology, or activity is any way incomplete, it should be prohibited or at least stringently regulated.

Potential risks should be taken into consideration before proceeding with any new activity or product, to be sure, whether it is the placing of a power station or the introduction of a new flame retardant. But what is missing from precautionary calculus is an acknowledgment that even when technologies and products introduce new risks, most confer net benefits -- that is, their use reduces other, far more serious, hazards. Vaccines have occasional side effects, for example, but they confer net benefits. The danger in the precautionary principle is that it focuses exclusively on the risks, which are often purely hypothetical, and diverts consumers and policymakers from seeking possible solutions to known, significant threats to human health. Its overall impacts may in fact be net-negative.

The costs of REACH's precautionary approach will be prodigious. The European Commission's own estimates range up to 5.2 billion, but according to a study produced by the Nordic Council, the price tag could be as much as 28 billion euros. This higher estimate includes both direct and indirect costs, and assumes that the latter may amount to as much as 2.5 times the former.

REACH's supporters maintain that businesses can absorb this high price tag easily, but the Hayek Institute analysis offers a very different view. Its author, Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Angela Logomasini, points out that cost estimates that are favorable to REACH are incomplete, fail to consider a host of direct costs, and often completely neglect the indirect costs.

Moreover, REACH's advocates ignore its disproportionately harsh impact on small businesses and businesses in the newer EU nations. A study conducted by consulting firm KPMG on behalf of the European Commission concludes: "The heaviest burden will be on small and mid-sized enterprises which cannot consistently fulfill the REACH requirements and so it is predicted that most of them may face financial troubles, may be taken over by bigger ones, or even shut down."

These prospects should raise serious concerns for Europeans. Small and mid-sized firms represent more than 99 percent of EU businesses, and account for two thirds of the jobs. The imposition of REACH will increase unemployment and diminish competition -- which will lead to less innovation and higher prices.

Are there offsetting advantages to this draconian regulation? In a review of the benefits claimed for REACH, Logomasini shows that the studies that purport to demonstrate benefits depend more on unsupported assumptions and wishful thinking than on science or logic. The Commission's only study of likely benefits from REACH, conducted by Risk and Policy Analysis Limited (RPA) in 2003, addresses occupational exposure to chemicals and attempts to estimate the extent to which REACH would reduce health problems among workers. However, it is based on sketchy, incomplete, and inconsistently collected data assembled from a handful of member governments, all of which is is of questionable relevance to REACH. [Actually, the EU commissioned more than one study of the costs and benefits of REACH.--RPR editors]

The RPA report explicitly assumes that problems related to currently known chemical causes will be addressed by existing laws, while REACH will prevent currently unknown health problems from chemicals. But if these cases are unknown, how can we know they are caused by chemicals or are even work-related? Obvious errors and insufficient documentation in the report only compound problems with the study, which makes no mention of having been peer reviewed.

The deeply flawed RPA report does offer persuasive evidence of one thing: The Burger King Principle -- "you get it your way" -- is alive and well in Europe. Some consultants will serve up whatever conclusion the Commission orders.

REACH's presumed benefits are based on the assumption that testing chemicals, filing paperwork, and pursuing politically correct product bans will somehow reduce cancer rates. But as the Hayek Institute analysis makes clear, the vast majority of cancers are not related to chemicals. According to the World Health Organization, the major preventable causes are tobacco use, diet, and infections, which account for 75 percent of cancer cases worldwide. WHO bases these findings on a landmark study conducted by scientists Richard Doll and Richard Peto, which concluded that all environmental pollution might amount to only as much as 2 percent of cancers.

In the interest of free markets and economic growth, we need global regulatory policies that make scientific sense and that encourage innovative research and development. But by promoting the precautionary principle, EU politicians are performing a disservice. The only winners will be the European apparatchiks who will enjoy additional power, and the anti-science activists who will have succeeded in erecting yet more barriers to the use of superior technologies and useful products.


Henry I. Miller, M.D., is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a former official at the FDA, 1979-1994. Barron's selected his most recent book, The Frankenfood Myth, one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.


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.

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Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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