Rachel's Precaution Reporter #21
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

From: Detroit Free Press .................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 18, 2006


Don't prohibit local standards on genetically engineered crops

[Rachel's introduction: The genetically-engineered-food industry has introduced legislation in 18 states to prohibit towns and counties from enacting local laws to regulate genetically engineered seeds. The legislation would prevent local adoption of the precautionary principle.]

By Catherine Badgley And Ivette Perfecto

A national food controversy is now simmering in Michigan, as the state Senate considers a bill that would bar towns and counties from enacting local legislation to regulate genetically engineered seed. This bill poses a threat to our democracy and could prove especially harmful given the serious concerns raised by genetically engineered crops.

Genetically engineered organisms are created by inserting pieces of DNA from a distantly related organism into the DNA of a host plant or animal. For example, in one common GE crop, bacterial genes are genetically engineered into corn to create corn plants that produce their own pesticide.

GE crops, especially corn and soybeans, are widely grown in Michigan and across the United States. They are found in many processed foods in U.S. supermarkets.

Yet controversy swirls around GE foods, and they have been banned or require labels in some countries. At issue are concerns about inadequate evaluation of the health risks and environmental consequences of GE crops currently in use, genetic contamination of organic and conventional crops, and the ability to regulate GE foods within the food system.

A related looming issue is the production of biopharmaceutical crops -- food crops engineered to produce prescription drugs or industrial chemicals. Currently, outdoor experimental plots of biopharmaceutical crops -- such as corn engineered to produce blood clotters and contraceptives -- present significant contamination risks to the food system.

In response to these uncertainties, citizens in three counties in California passed ordinances in 2004 to ban the raising of GE crops and livestock, and local action has been taken in nearly 100 New England towns.

Agribusiness reacted swiftly to these local initiatives. Its legislative supporters have introduced preemptive bills in 18 states to prevent local governments from enacting legislation about seeds and plants. Fourteen states already have passed these bills into law; Michigan's version, SB 777, is scheduled to get another committee hearing Thursday.

The public should be concerned about this bill for four reasons.

GE foods pose genuine health and environmental concerns. Scientific experiments where laboratory mammals were fed GE food resulted in allergic reactions in one instance and toxic effects in another. Threat of allergic reaction led to the recall of hundreds of products containing genetically engineered corn in 2000.

The Food and Drug Administration still does not require premarket safety testing for GE foods.

The legislation prevents local enactment of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle advocates thorough investigation of the risks posed by a new technology before it's adopted.

Following the precautionary principle, GE organisms would be required to demonstrate they do no harm before they are grown and consumed, based on rigorous testing of health and environmental impacts.

Preemptive legislation of this sort violates democratic principles and citizen involvement in issues of public well-being. It takes away local control, the authority of local governments, and the ability of voters to pass local ballot initiatives -- important tenets of our democracy.

Pre-emptive legislation, when it is justified in the public interest, should establish minimums for general health and safety, not set the upper limit on what is permitted. SB 777 would legally prohibit local regulation of GE seeds, thereby creating a ceiling for all Michiganders to live under, regardless of the risk factors.

SB 777 does not deserve the support of legislators or the public, whether the reason is GE plants specifically or the right to precaution and self-governance in general.

Catherine Badgley and Ivette Perfecto are on the faculty at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, at the Museum of Paleontology and the School of Natural Resources & Environment, respectively. Write them in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit MI 48226.

Copyright 2005 Detroit Free Press Inc.


From: Des Moines (Iowa) Register .........................[This story printer-friendly]
January 11, 2006


Vendors will have to buy organically grown foods from nearby areas.

[Rachel's introduction: Woodbury County, Iowa, is taking precautionary action to strengthen the local farm economy and reduce the use of toxic chemicals.]

By Juli Probasco-Sowers

Woodbury County supervisors approved a measure Tuesday that they hope will boost organic farming in western Iowa.

Food vendors working for the county will now have to purchase as many organic food products as possible within a 100-mile radius of Sioux City, according to the new policy.

The program breaks ground in this part of the country, said Rich Perog, marketing and food systems program leader for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

"We've been helping Woodbury County with this initiative and I believe it's the only one of its kind in the Midwest," he said.

County officials want to stimulate economic development in rural areas by adding value to agriculture and spending the taxpayers' money in the county, said Woodbury County Supervisor Mark Monson.

"Organics is a mechanism that would create small businesses," he said.

"Organic farming is something that is booming right now. I'm thinking if we got 1 percent of the agricultural market to go into organic foods it would stimulate a new venue for young folks."

The economic benefit for the county could be thousands of dollars, said Rob Marqusee, rural economic development director for Woodbury County. He is the person who proposed the measure.

The county spends about $462,000 per year on food vendors, with $281,000 of that being actual food costs. The organic food policy would increase those costs by about $9,000, Monson said.

But the local economy would benefit as a result of the dollars spent and re-spent in the region, said Marqusee, who added the policy could be abandoned if costs become prohibitive.

Monson said he has heard a few concerns voiced by traditional farmers worried about chemical use next to organically farmed ground.

Organic farmer Cyril Venner of rural Arcadia said organic farmers usually plant a buffer crop along their property when it adjoins a traditionally farmed field.

Copyright 2005, The Des Moines Register.


From: The News (Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada) ...............[This story printer-friendly]
January 14, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In British Columbia, citizens gear up to ban cosmetic uses of pesticides on lawns. "We're not asking for the sale of pesticides to be banned. We're asking for the restrictions on use, just like tobacco." -- Maria Raynolds]

By Phil Melnychuk

Maria Raynolds expects Maple Ridge politicians to keep their promises -- such as the one made in mid-campaign during last fall's municipal election.

Asked at an all-candidate's meeting in Whonnock if they'd support a ban on cosmetic pesticides, all 20 or so would-be politicians stood up to say they would. Now, seven of those are elected and Raynolds is expecting to see such a ban within a year.

"I don't see any problem there. I'm pretty sure they will," she said. The district is already working with her group to that end, she said. Raynolds, with the Campaign for Pesticide Reduction, made her latest pitch Tuesday to the new council, thanking it for a donation of more than $3,000 last year used for educational purposes.

She also handed council a petition, signed by 54 doctors, supporting a ban. "You Mr. Mayor, [Gordy Robson], are working hard to get drugs off our streets. Let's go one step farther and take our lawns off drugs, too," Raynolds said.

"Let's make the streets safe for our seniors to walk on and let us make our lawns safe for our kids to play on." Raynolds said after three years of education, helped by the district, it's now time to launch a full-scale education program backed up by a bylaw banning the use of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides for domestic use.

"Seeing how long it takes to consider this, I think now is the time to do the next step," she said Wednesday.

Raynolds and her group is asking for $6,700 from the district in 2006 to help with producing pamphlets, website design, staffing a hotline for two hours a week and for speakers' fees and advertising. Last year, the district gave more than $3,000 for educational brochures and to set up a website.

In addition to a ban, the group also wants the district to make it mandatory for developers to provide up to 20 centimetres of top soil on the front yards of new homes. That will ensure healthy lawns and reduce the need for watering.

"This truly is SMART GROWTH on the Ground, Al [Coun. Al Hogarth]!" she told council.

Raynolds said later that banning cosmetic use of pesticides in the suburbs wouldn't affect farming or apply to essential measures such as spraying for West Nile virus.

If council approved such a bylaw, Maple Ridge would follow Port Moody, Vancouver, New Westminster and North Vancouver. Maple Ridge has already stopped spraying pesticides on parks, playgrounds and school yards.

Raynolds cited one bylaw from Gibsons in which anyone wishing to use pesticide must first fill out an application and pay a $50 fee. If spraying within two metres of a property line, neighbours have to be notified in writing, signs have to be posted and at the year end a written report provided explaining the application of the pesticides.

But Raynolds favours just a straightforward ban on their use for cosmetic purposes.

"We're not asking for the sale of pesticides to be banned. We're asking for the restrictions on use, just like tobacco."

According to information provided by the group, a McGill university study showed that pre-natal exposure to home and garden pesticides increased the incidence of childhood leukemia.

Raynolds said that federal Green party and New Democratic candidates have said they'll write a letter supporting a ban.

According to CPR, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment favours a ban on cosmetic pesticides. Studies link pesticide exposure to the development of Parkinson's disease. CPR also cites a 2003 Mustel Group poll of 500 people commissioned by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation.

That poll said 80 per cent of Greater Vancouver Regional District residents favoured local bylaws that would restrict cosmetic pesticide use.

Copyright 2005 Maple Ridge News


From: Free New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) ...................[This story printer-friendly]
January 12, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In New Mexico, citizens are telling the U.S. Forest Service to examine the alternatives for controlling invasive species on 7,300 acres of national forest land.]

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- A plan by the U.S. Forest Service to use herbicides and other methods to kill weeds in the Santa Fe and Carson national forests has drawn fire from a coalition of environmentalists.

The agency's Invasive Plant Control Project would incorporate herbicides as well as nontoxic methods to target more than 7,300 acres of nonnative plant populations over the next decade.

Environmentalists acknowledge the importance of controlling weeds that push out native plants, increase erosion and degrade wildlife habitat, but they say herbicides pose health risks.

"We all agree that invasive species are not great for the ecosystem and may need to be treated," said Joanie Berde, volunteer coordinator for Carson Forest Watch. "But there's so many alternatives that don't involve herbicide use."

Berde's group is one of several that filed an administrative appeal with the Forest Service on Monday. The coalition wants the agency to focus on alternatives that don't rely on herbicides.

The Forest Service approved its Invasive Plant Control Project in September after an environmental review and public comment. The agency plans to treat between 300 and 800 acres each year, beginning as early as this spring. There will be no aerial spraying.

There are no immediate plans to use herbicides in municipal watersheds. Project planner Sandy Hurlocker said the plan simply gives the agency an option to use herbicides with municipal approval when other methods are deemed ineffective.

Officials say the herbicides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, would be carefully applied and would pose little threat to humans and wildlife.

Information from: Albuquerque Journal January 12, 2006


From: Newark Star-Ledger .................................[This story printer-friendly]
January 13, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Outgoing N.J. Governor Richard Codey has directed all New Jersey state agencies to use least-harmful cleaning products -- a big boost for small firms making 'green' alternative products.]

By Alexander Lane

Gov. Richard Codey ordered state agencies yesterday to use less toxic cleaning products, much to the delight of environmentalists in the state.

The directive was a marquee endorsement for the plant-based, low- impact cleaners that have begun elbowing their way onto supermarket shelves among the big-name ammonia and bleach products.

"Today we can breathe easier knowing our workplaces will be safer and our environment will be cleaner," Codey said while standing beside Deirdre Imus, an environmental activist and wife of radio personality Don Imus.

All state agencies and public authorities will have to use less toxic cleaning products if they can find ones that still protect public health and safety, according to the executive order Codey signed in Trenton.

The Department of the Treasury has to report to the governor and the legislature within a year on how well the state is doing with the order, he said.

"If it's implemented it's an important role model," said Rick Hind, director of the toxics campaign for Greenpeace. "These products are safer for you and better for the environment."

"Green" household cleaners are a tiny fraction of the market, but brands like Seventh Generation, Method, Mrs. Meyer's, Earth Friendly Products and Ecover are getting easier to find.

Many traditional cleaning products contain chemicals that people should try to avoid coming into contact with, like ammonia, bleach, phosphates and the catch-all category "fragrance," which can mean just about anything, said Paul McRandle, senior research editor for The Green Guide.

McRandle suggested consumers use classic cleaners like vinegar, lemon juice, hot water, mild soap and baking soda where possible, and try some of the growing number of green cleaners as well.

"I tried some Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent, and for me it just didn't work," he said.

Imus, founder and president of the Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack Medical Center, said she was delighted with Codey's action.

"An executive order is the first step that can have far-reaching consequences for environmental health, and it's an excellent opportunity for other governors," she said.

Alexander Lane covers the environment. He may be reached at alane@starledger.com or (973) 392-1790.

Copyright 2006 The Star Ledger


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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