Rachel's Precaution Reporter #31
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

From: American Journal of Public Health ..................[This story printer-friendly]
September 1, 2001


[Rachel's introduction: For more than 100 years the main goal of public health has been to prevent disease and injury, and to foster conditions in which people can be healthy. Unfortunately, in 1970, the U.S. chose to create a new bureaucracy to "protect the environment" -- thus dividing "environmentalists" from the public health community. Now environmentalists are adopting the goal of preventing harm, so perhaps the artificial barrier between environmental protection and public health can disappear, natural allies can find each other, and new partnerships can blossom.]

By David Kriebel and Joel Tickner**


The precautionary principle has provoked a spirited debate among environmentalists worldwide, but it is equally relevant to public health and shares much with primary prevention. Its central components are (1) taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; (2) shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; (3) exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and (4) increasing public participation in decision making.

Precaution is relevant to public health, because it can help to prevent unintended consequences of well-intentioned public health interventions by ensuring a more thorough assessment of the problems and proposed solutions. It can also be a positive force for change.Three aspects are stressed: promoting the search for safer technologies, encouraging greater democracy and openness in public health policy, and stimulating reevaluation of the methods of public health science.

In March, 1999, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's largest school district, announced a new policy on use of pesticides in its school buildings. The district committed to a policy of integrated pest management, giving priority to nonchemical approaches to pest control, and set a long-term goal of eliminating all chemical controls. In establishing this policy, the school district invoked the precautionary principle, saying:

The Precautionary Principle is the long-term objective of the District. The principle recognizes that:

1. No pesticide product is free from risk or threat to human health, and

2. Industrial producers should be required to prove that their pesticide products demonstrate an absence of [human health risks] rather than requiring that the government or the public prove that human health is being harmed.[1]

By stating a set of basic tenets (all pesticides are potentially harmful, and nonchemical methods shall be preferred) and a long-term objective ("to provide for the safest and lowest risk approach to control pest problems while protecting people, the environment, and property"), the policy stimulates the search for safer alternatives without tying the hands of the district when no alternative to a pesticide can be found. The policy is also significant for what it does not include: there is no list of banned substances, nor a stipulation of an "acceptable" level of risk. Whether or not one agrees with this approach to pesticide management (we do), it seems clear that the school district's invocation of the precautionary principle raises important issues for public health scientists and activists.

In this commentary, we briefly describe the key elements of the precautionary principle, emphasizing several aspects important to public health. Our perspective is informed by a university-community collaborative effort to refine the meaning of the precautionary principle and develop strategies for applying it to environmental health policy.[2,3] We argue that the precautionary principle is good for public health because it promotes the search for safer technologies, encourages greater democracy and openness in public health policy, and stimulates reevaluation of the methods of public health science.


The definition of the precautionary principle developed for the Rio Declaration of 1992 is often cited,[4] and the 1998 Wingspread Statement contains similar language:

"when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."[5] The statement also lists 4 central components of the principle: (1) taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty, (2) shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity, (3) exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions, and (4) increasing public participation in decision making.

The term "precautionary principle" was introduced into English as a translation of the German word Vorsorgeprinzip. An alternative translation might have been "foresight principle," which carries a connotation of anticipatory action -- a positive, active idea -- rather than precaution, which to many sounds negative. In German environmental policy, the Vorsorgeprinzip stimulates social planning for innovation, sustainability, and job creation.[6]

In the United States, the precautionary principle is being promoted by environmental and public health advocates.[3] To these groups, US environmental policy often seems to be more reactionary than precautionary, requiring a high degree of certainty of harm before preventive action is taken and emphasizing management of risks rather than prevention. The precautionary principle is viewed as an opportunity to shift the terms of environmental debates by calling for preventive action even when there is uncertainty (but with credible evidence of potentially significant impacts), by shifting the burden of monitoring and hazard assessment onto those who propose potentially hazardous policies and by emphasizing alternatives and democracy.[5]

The American Public Health Association recently passed a resolution reaffirming its support of the principle and urging its application in the protection of children's health from environmental hazards.[7] Strong support for precaution is also found in the environmental policies of the European Union.[8]

The precautionary principle has been advocated for public health because of the importance of anticipating unintended health consequences of well-intentioned public health interventions.[9] Seeking to avoid creating new problems while solving existing ones is an important aspect of the precautionary principle, but it is not the only way in which precaution can benefit public health.


The identification of safer alternatives and opportunities for prevention is central to the precautionary principle. Too frequently, policymakers ask the question "How much risk does this activity pose, and is it significant?" or "What level of risk is acceptable?" These questions, deeply ingrained in the regulatory approaches of many government agencies, tend to focus on the quantification of potential hazards rather than the prevention of pollution.[10-12] They often provoke a sharp debate about whether the risk has been characterized accurately. When public health advocates and environmentalists enter into this debate, they may inadvertently be ceding the most powerful position, that of questioning whether the hazardous substance or intervention is needed at all.

A different, and potentially more precautionary, way to think about uncertain risks is to begin from a different set of questions: Is the proposed activity needed, and if so, how much contamination can be avoided while still achieving societal goals? and Are there alternatives to this activity that clearly avoid hazards? For example, chlorinated solvents fulfill a cleaning function that can often be accomplished by aqueous solutions. This shift in perspective requires a set of skills not always found in regulatory agencies -- technology and product design, full-cost accounting and other management systems. It also requires the broadest possible perspective on the potential unintended consequences of policy choices.

A variety of methodologies exist with which to evaluate policy alternatives and identify potential unintended consequences. Tradeoff analysis has been proposed as an alternative to traditional cost- benefit analysis and risk assessment; in trade-off analysis, the full range of risks and benefits of competing technology options are assessed without the requirement to translate the potential impacts into a single quantitative figure.[13] Health impact assessments provide a means to detect the negative health implications of non- health-related governmental policies.[14] Work-environment impact assessments can be used to identify ways in which an intervention in the work environment may result in unanticipated health risks to workers,[15] and the Pollution Prevention Options Analysis System provides a comprehensive semiquantitative approach to comparing and evaluating the potential adverse effects of technologies designed to reduce chemical use and waste.[16]

Shifting the questions that frame the problem reorients the focus of environmental policy from quantification of risks to analysis of solutions and thus permits a broader examination of all the available evidence on hazard, exposure, uncertainty, and alternatives. The precautionary principle is a means of saying yes to innovative, cleaner technologies (although critics have argued that it will only lead to stopping new technologies). A thorough alternatives assessment may identify needs for cleaner technologies, which in turn can inform the planning of sustainable economic development activity.[11]

Quantitative risk assessment plays a central role in environmental health policy in the United States. Weighing policy alternatives will inevitably involve assessing and comparing risks, but the determination of whether a risk is too big depends in part on whether there are alternatives to reduce that risk. Availability of a safer alternative can obviate the need for a costly, contentious, and potentially misleading quantitative risk assessment.

The decision to ban the use of certain phthalate plasticizers in toys provides an illustration. The Danish Environment Agency justified this action with the following reasoning: There is evidence of children's exposure and evidence of toxicity to animals; children are particularly susceptible to many toxic substances; alternative materials exist; and the product serves no necessary function. The agency concluded that the plasticizers should not be used in toys (L. Seedorf, MS, Director, Chemicals Division, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, oral communication, May, 1999). The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reached a similar decision, but only after a costly, time-consuming quantitative risk assessment. The commission concluded that given uncertainties in the size of the risk, manufacturers should voluntarily remove these substances from toys.[17] In the end the outcomes were the same, but the decision- making approach and the costs to the public were quite different.

Foresight should involve setting long-term goals, a practice that is fairly common in public health. Examples are the smallpox eradication campaign, the US Public Health Service Healthy People 2010 priorities, and national nutrition goals. Goal setting focuses not on what future events are likely to happen but rather on how desirable future outcomes can be obtained.[18] Once established, goals help to focus attention on the development of policies and measures to achieve goals while minimizing social disruption and unintended consequences.

With regard to hazardous substances, goals could include reducing exposures to such substances, reducing production of hazards (e.g., phasing out the most hazardous chemicals), and reducing the incidence of environmentally related diseases. Another suggested goal is to reduce general population body burdens of broad classes of potentially toxic substances by 5% to 10%.[19] Such an effort is likely per year. to have a positive health impact, even though it may never be possible to understand all of the ways in which mixtures of low concentrations of chemicals may affect health.


Participation and transparency are essential components of a more precautionary approach to public health decision making. Fiorino has identified several reasons for democratizing environmental decision making. First, because nonexperts think more broadly and are not bound by disciplinary constraints, they see problems, issues, and solutions that experts miss. Second, lay judgments reflect a sensitivity to social and political values and common sense that experts' models do not acknowledge. Third, the lay public may be better than experts at accommodating uncertainty and correcting errors.[20] Openness brings different perspectives, which may reduce the danger of an unintended consequence. Also, the weighing of alternative policies should include many points of view, because the benefits and costs of public health and environmental policy choices may accrue to different groups.

When there is much uncertainty about alternative courses of action, it is risky for experts to decide without input from affected communities. The usual strategy is to attempt to present the options as clear and the science as convincing. However, a long series of public health and environmental crises that were apparently unforeseen by scientists have undermined public confidence, making it more difficult for simple reassurances to be effective. The list includes the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, Love Canal, the destruction of the ozone layer, and global warming. An increasingly educated citizenry has begun to challenge the apparent confidence of the experts. Add to this the successful campaigns of AIDS activists and breast cancer survivors to participate in the planning of health research, and it appears to be time to fundamentally change the way that the public participates in the use of public health science.

Broader public participation processes may increase the quality, legitimacy, and accountability of complex decisions. Given the public nature of environmental decisions (which involve highly uncertain, contested values), more effective processes for involving affected communities could increase trust in government. Such processes must be both fair and competent, meaning that they allow all those who want to participate to have substantive access to the decision-making process from the beginning and that they provide financial and technical resources so citizens can participate on equal terms with experts.21 In addition, there must be clearly defined mechanisms by which citizen input is fed into the policymaking process.

A long-term educational strategy to increase the public's understanding of the strengths and limits of scientific evidence is needed as part of increasing public participation. The Danish Board of Technology has been experimenting for several years with innovative forms of decision making on broad technology policy decisions. These "consensus conferences" involve lay panels trained in the science and other aspects of a contemporary concern, resulting in a focused dialogue between the general public and experts. To date, more than 20 such conferences have been held in Denmark, informing government policy on topics including genetically modified foods, the human genome project, and air pollution.[22]


Environmental scientists study highly complex, poorly understood systems, in which causal links between exposures and disease are difficult to quantify. In this uncertain terrain, what are the appropriate standards of evidence for science to inform public health policy? The answer must be tailored to the task. We believe that there are ways in which the methods of scientific inquiry often implicitly impede precautionary action, making it more difficult for policymakers to take action in the face of uncertainty.[2] Often, scientific research focuses on narrowly defined quantifiable aspects of a problem while the reality is more complex, requiring systems-level thinking and interdisciplinary research methods.

Public health scientists may be able to assist in the cause of precaution by choosing research methods, well within the bounds of good practice, that would be more helpful to policymakers faced with high-stakes decisions and scientific uncertainty. For example, more and better investigation and communication of uncertainties (what we know, what we do not know, and what we cannot know) in study results will assist a more open decision-making process. Public health scientists could also use qualitative methods more effectively to characterize the complexities of the populations, communities, and ecosystems from which quantitative results are drawn.

Finally, the precautionary principle should challenge scientists to explore new areas of research -- interactions, cumulative effects, and effects on different levels of systems (individuals, families, communities, nations) -- and new collaborations between disciplines and scientists and the lay public. Multidisciplinary teams will be more likely to develop hypotheses that lead to insights not possible from narrow disciplinary viewpoints, as well as to identify data that may not be accessible to one particular group. The development of the environmental endocrine disruption hypothesis provides one example.[23]

The precautionary principle represents a call to reevaluate the ways in which science informs policy, and in particular the ways in which scientific uncertainty should be handled. Scientific research plays an essential role in evaluating the costs, risks, and benefits of proposed public health policies, but the scientific data are often limited by large areas of uncertainty. In these gray areas, activities that potentially threaten public health are often allowed to continue because the norms of traditional science demand high confidence to reject null hypotheses and so detect harmful effects. This scientific conservatism is often interpreted as favoring the promoters of a potentially harmful technology or activity when the science does not produce overwhelming evidence of harm. Being "conservative" in science is not the same as being precautionary.

When there is substantial scientific uncertainty about the risks and benefits of a proposed activity, policy decisions should be made in a way that errs on the side of caution with respect to the environment and the health of the public.[2]


The precautionary principle has been criticized for being overly vague.[24,25] To some extent the critics are correct, but much work is now under way to define what precaution means in practice and how it can improve decision making regarding uncertain, complex hazards.[2,26,27] This is an opportunity for the public health community to affect the ways in which precaution is defined in practice. At the same time, there is a risk that proponents of the principle will be held to an unrealistically high standard -- an assumption that all public health problems should somehow be resolved through the application of precaution. Where science and politics collide, there will always be ambiguity and contention, and it seems unreasonable to expect any single new idea to sweep these away entirely. We should be careful not to overuse the precautionary principle, particularly when there is clear evidence that damage has been done or there is no reasonable evidence to suspect a risk to public health.

If the precautionary principle represents a desirable goal in public health, one may ask, What is the "not sufficiently precautionary principle" on which policies are currently based? Too often, we believe, public health and environmental policies are based on a principle of reaction rather than precaution. Government regulatory agencies are often put in the position of having to wait until evidence of harm is established beyond all reasonable doubt before they can act to prevent harm. A shift from reaction to precaution is entirely consistent with the core values of public health practice. We believe that public health officials, researchers, and advocates should embrace the precautionary principle as an opportunity to reinvigorate the great preventive tradition of public health action in the face of uncertainty.

About the Authors

The authors are with the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Requests for reprints should be sent to David Kriebel, ScD, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowel, 1 University Ave, Lowell, MA 01854 (e-mail: david_kriebel@uml.edu).

This commentary was accepted March 29, 2001.


This work was supported in part by grants from the John Merck Fund, the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust, the New York Community Trust, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, and the Mitchell Kapor Foundation.

The Science and Precaution Working Group participated in discussions that helped to define and clarify our understanding of the precautionary principle. We thank Dr. Margaret Quinn for many helpful comments. Dr. Carlos Eduardo Siqueira suggested that it might be useful to define reaction as the status quo principle impeding precaution.


1. Los Angeles Unified School District, unpublished policy, cited in Rachel's Environment & Health News No. 684, January 27, 2000. Accessed June 18, 2001.

2. Kriebel D, Tickner J, Epstein P, et al. The precautionary principle in environmental science. Environ Health Perspect. Vol. 109, No. 9 (September 2001), pg. 871 and following pages.

3. Ketelsen L. The Massachusetts Precautionary Principle Project: a model for public health organizing and integrating public values into "public" health. Paper presented at: Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association; Boston, Mass; November 15, 2000.

4. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Accessed June 18, 2001.

5. Raffensperger C, Tickner J, eds. Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle. Washington, DC: Island Press; 1999.

6. Boehmer-Christiansen S. The precautionary principle in Germany -- enabling government. In: O'Riordan T, Cameron J, eds. Interpreting the Precautionary Principle. London, England: Earthscan; 1994:31-61.

7. APHA policy statement 200011: the precautionary principle and children's health. Am J Public Health. 2001; 91:495-496.

8. Commission of the European Community. Communication from the Commission on the Precautionary Principle. Brussels, Belgium: Commission of the European Community; 2000. Publication COM(2000)1.

9. Goldstein BD. The precautionary principle also applies to public health actions. Am J Public Health. 2001;91:1358-1361.

10. Gauging Control Technology and Regulatory Impacts in Occupational Safety and Health. Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment, US Congress; 1995. OTA-ENV-635.

11. Quinn MM, Kriebel D, Geiser K, Moure-Eraso R. Sustainable production: a proposed strategy for the work environment. Am J Ind Med. 1998;34:297-304.

12. Commoner B. Making Peace with the Planet. New York, NY: Pantheon; 1990.

13. Ashford N. The role of risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis in decisions concerning safety and the environment. In: FDA Symposium on Risk/Benefit Decisions and the Public Health. Colorado Springs, Colo: Office of Public Affairs, Food and Drug Administration; 1980:159-168.

14. Scott-Samuel A, Birley M, Ardern K. Merseyside Guidelines for Health Impact Assessment. Merseyside, UK: Merseyside Health Impact Assessment Steering Group; 1998.

15. Rosenberg BJ, Barbeau EM, Moure-Eraso R, Levenstein C. The work environment impact assessment: a methodologic framework for evaluating health-based interventions. Am J Ind Med. 2001;39:218-226.

16. Tickner J. Pollution Prevention Options Analysis System -- P2OASYS -- Users Guide. Lowell: Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute; 1997.

17. The Risk of Chronic Toxicity Associated with Exposure to Diisononyl Phthalate (DINP) in Children's Products. Washington, DC: US Consumer Product Safety Commission; 1998. Also available at: Accessed June 18, 2001.

18. Dreborg K. Essence of backcasting. Futures. 1996;28:813-838.

19. Jackson R. Unburdening ourselves. Silent Spring Review. Fall 2000. Available at: http://www.silentspring.org. Accessed June 18, 2001.

20. Fiorino D. Citizen participation and environmental risk: a survey of institutional mechanisms. Issues in Science and Technology. 1990;15:226-243.

21. Renn O, Webler T, Wiedermann P. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 1995.

22. Deniel P, Renn O. Planning cells: a gate for "fractal" mediation. In: Renn O, Webler T, Wiedemann P, eds. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse. Boston, Mass: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 1995:141-156.

23. Colborn T, Clement C. Chemicaly Induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development: The Wildlife/Human Connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Scientific Publishing Co; 1992.

24. Bodanksy D. The precautionary principle in US environmental law. In: O'Riordan T, Cameron J, eds. Interpreting the Precautionary Principle. London, England: Earthscan; 1994:203-228.

25. Graham J. Perspectives on the precautionary principle. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. 2000;6:383-385.

26. Tickner J, Raffensperger C, Myers N. The Precautionary Principle in Action: A Handbook. Windsor, ND: Science and Environmental Health Network; 1999.

27. Tickner J, Raffensperger C. The American view on the precautionary principle. In: O'Riordan T, Cameron J, Jordan A, eds. Reinterpreting the Precautionary Principle. London, England: Cameron & May; 2001.


From: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ........................[This story printer-friendly]
March 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: More than 300 private manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products have signed a pledge to avoid the use of certain chemicals, and to engage in a constant search for safer alternatives.]

SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 300 cosmetics and body care products companies have promised to replace ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other negative health effects with safer alternatives.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics announced today that it had more than tripled the number of companies who have signed the "Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products," in the past year, signaling a shift toward healthier products in the cosmetics industry. By signing the Compact, companies pledge to phase out toxic ingredients within three years.

Women and girls use an average of 12 personal care products daily, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. One out of every 100 personal care products on the market contains known or probable carcinogens and 89 percent of ingredients in products have not been assessed for safety, according to Skin Deep, an online, brand-by-brand safety guide that contains in-depth information on more than 14,000 products and their ingredients by the Environmental Working Group.

Compact signers include The Body Shop, Burt's Bees, Avalon Natural Products, Aubrey Organics, Osea Skin Care, Jason Natural Products, Zia Skin Care, EO Products and Kiss My Face. The names of all signing companies can be found here.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition of U.S.-based health and environmental groups working to protect cosmetics consumers from toxic chemicals and hold companies accountable for the safety of their products.

"The surge in the number of companies signing the Compact shows that corporate executives are listening to the voices of concerned consumers," said Bryony Schwan, national campaigns director for Women's Voices for the Earth, one of the founding members of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Each new company that signs puts more pressure on the major cosmetics manufacturers to get on board and clean up their products too."

Despite repeated requests, multinational cosmetics companies such as L'Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Gap, Avon, OPI and Proctor & Gamble have refused to sign the Compact, known as the "Compact for the Global Production of Safe Health and Beauty Products," which requires that manufacturers meet several criteria, including:

-- Meeting new EU standards banning chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects globally;

-- Conducting an inventory of all ingredients to determine whether they use chemicals that pose health hazards including cancer, hormone disruption, genetic mutation, reproductive toxicity, developmental harm and neurotoxicity;

-- Implementing substitution plans that replace chemicals of concern with safer alternatives; and

-- Reporting on their progress in meeting these goals to the public.

Contrary to what many consumers may believe, the FDA does not review or regulate cosmetics products or ingredients for safety before they are sold to the public and has no legal authority to require safety assessments of cosmetics.

The EU has led the charge for safer cosmetics. European Union Directive 76/768/EEC, which became law in 25 European countries on October 1, 2004, requires products to be free of chemicals that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects.

"Companies that market themselves with images of health and beauty should not be selling us products with ingredients like formaldehyde, coal tar, lead acetate, phthalates, parabens and toluene, which pose cancer risks and raise other health concerns," Schwann said.

# # #

Founding members of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics include:

Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow

Breast Cancer Fund


Friends of the Earth

Women's Voices for the Earth

Environmental Working Group

National Black Environmental Justice Network

National Environmental Trust.

For more information and background on the campaign, and a link to the Skin Deep database, visit www.SafeCosmetics.org.

Lisa Archer Campaigns Coordinator Health and Environment Program Friends of the Earth-US larcher@foe.org 202-222-0712 www.foe.org www.safecosmetics.org

Contacts: Genevieve Roja Breast Cancer Fund (415) 346-8223 x31

Stacy Malkan Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (510) 848-5343 x105

Dick Bell Friends of the Earth 202-222-0742


From: Upside Down World ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
March 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: At an international conference on the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), delegates from around the world called for a moratorium on the release of genetically engineered trees.]

By Global Justice Ecology Project

On Wednesday, 22 March, delegates from countries around the world raised the call for a moratorium on the release of genetically engineered trees into the environment at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD's) Eighth Conference of the Parties in Curitiba, Brazil.

Additional delegates also insisted that the CBD [UN Convention on Biological Diversity] launch a thorough global examination of the risks and impacts of genetically engineered trees -- risks which have not, at this point, been adequately examined.

"Yesterday was truly an historic day," stated Orin Langelle, Co- Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. "The alarm bells we have been sounding about the genetic engineering of trees have finally been heard," he continued.

"Promoters of this irresponsible and dangerous technology have now officially been put on notice that people and countries around the world stand firmly opposed to genetically engineered trees -- just as GM crops and terminator technology are already opposed," stated Lambert Okrah, of the Ghana chapter of the Global Forest Coalition. "We further applaud the courageous and far-sighted positions of countries such as Ghana, Iran, Norway, Madagascar, Egypt, Philippines, Senegal, Malawi and others in raising the call for a moratorium on genetically engineered trees," he continued.

Interventions in support of the call for a moratorium were presented by Global Justice Ecology Project for the Women's Caucus, the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, Global Forest Coalition, Greenpeace, and the Federation of German Scientists.

"Because there is insufficient scientific data regarding the biological impacts of transgenic trees, as well as an absence of socio-economic and cultural impact assessments, it is good scientific practice to invoke the Precautionary Principle, which is enshrined in the CBD," stated Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of the Federation of German Scientists. "This means no release of transgenic trees into the environment whilst this research is on-going," she added.

The release of transgenic trees will inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests, which will themselves become contaminants in an endless cycle. The potential effects include destruction of biodiversity and wildlife, loss of fresh water, desertification of soils, collapse of native forest ecosystems, cultural destruction of forest based traditional communities and severe human health impacts. The negative effects of transgenic trees will impact many generations to come.

Press release issued by Global Justice Ecology Project, Global Forest Coalition, World Rainforest Movement, Friends of the Earth International, EcoNexus and the STOP GE Trees Campaign.

Contact: Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, +1-802-578-6980

Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition, 41-9978-3582


Intervention from the Women's Caucus Regarding Transgenic Trees. March 22, 2006

Delivered by Anne Petermann

My name is Anne Petermann and I am the co-Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. I am speaking today on behalf of the Women's Caucus on the issue of transgenic trees, SBSSTA recommendation X1/11 para. 9.

People all over the world are rising up to oppose transgenic trees, including 2,000 organizations that have signed onto a ban. Transgenic trees are a unique case. Trees live for centuries if not millennia. Pollen models created in 2004 by Duke University researchers demonstrated pollen from native forests in the Southeast U.S. traveling in air currents for more than 1,200km north into eastern Canada. This means that transgenic trees cannot be regulated only at the national level. Transboundary contamination of native forests with transgenic traits is virtually assured. The Biosafety Protocol, which is based on national borders, is not adequate.

The release of transgenic trees will inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests, which will themselves become contaminants in an endless cycle. The potential effects include destruction of biodiversity and wildlife, loss of fresh water, desertification of soils, collapse of native forest ecosystems, cultural destruction of forest based traditional communities and severe human health impacts. The negative effects of transgenic trees will impact many generations to come.

Women are the ones who think in terms of generations. It is women in rural and indigenous communities who will bear the greatest burden of the impacts of GM tree plantations, just as they currently bear the brunt of the impacts from conventional monoculture tree plantations.

The potential human health impacts of transgenic trees, especially Bt trees, have not been adequately researched.

Numerous studies have raised serious questions about the potential health impacts of Bt toxin. A series of published studies found that Bt provokes a potent systemic immune reaction. Because the risk is greater with inhalation than ingestion, engineering trees to produce Bt toxin could be very dangerous. Plantations of Bt trees could potentially lead to widespread outbreaks of sickness. Women and children will bear the brunt of this.

In July, 2005 the FAO [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization] published a report entitled "Preliminary Review of Biotechnology in Forestry Including Genetic Modification." In it, over half of researchers surveyed reported the environmental threat of escape of transgenic pollen or plants into native ecosystems and forests and their impacts on non-target species as a major concern. The FAO report concludes, "New biotechnologies, in particular genetic modification, raise concerns. Admittedly, many questions remain unanswered for both agricultural crops and trees. Given that genetic modification in trees is already entering the commercial phase with GM populus in China, it is very important that environmental risk assessment studies are conducted with protocols and methodologies agreed upon at a national level and an international level and that the results of such studies are made widely available."

In conclusion, the genetic engineering of trees is being driven by corporate profit. There is no need for GE trees. Just as women and indigenous peoples have been the traditional caretakers of biodiversity, so must this body take action to prevent the ecological, social, cultural and health disasters that will be unleashed by genetically engineered trees.

The speed with which the technology is progressing is outpacing regulation and risk assessment. There has been a severe lack of study of the risks of GM trees, especially on a global scale. This lack of risk assessment makes it common sense that there not be any further forward motion in the release of transgenic trees. The CBD must impose a moratorium on the technology and launch a thorough and global examination of its risks. In addition, we ask those countries with outdoor releases of GM trees to take immediate steps to halt the further release of GM trees and to address those releases that have already occurred.

For more details see our a briefing paper on the issue.

For more information, visit Globaljusticeecology.org.


From: HindustanTimes.com (New Delhi, India) ..............[This story printer-friendly]
March 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "If we operate on anything like the precautionary principle, you have to say that the science [of global warming] is sufficiently clear and, in my view, is pretty much certain that it would be deeply irresponsible not to take action." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair.]

By Agence France-Presse

Auckland, New Zealand -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on Wednesday for an international agreement on tackling climate change.

But warned that any deal would fail unless it included the United States, China and India.

Speaking at the end of a brief stop in New Zealand in which global warming has dominated the agenda, Blair said failing to address the issue would be handing on an irresponsible legacy to future generations.

"What's necessary is to get an international agreement that has got a framework with a stabilisation goal in it, so that we can set a very clear objective for everybody to aim at," he told journalists after talks with counterpart Helen Clark.

"Without the participation of America and the emerging economies of China and India there isn't going to be a solution," Blair said.

The United States rejected the 1997 UN Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions as too expensive for its oil-dependent economy and the booming economies of China and India are two of the fast-growing users of fossil fuels.

Blair said seizing the initiative on the issue would require changes in lifestyle and radical technological solutions.

"You've got to develop the science, the technology and the changes in behaviour necessary to meet that goal.

"But it won't be done unless there is a development of the technology that, I think, needs to be as revolutionary as the Internet was for information technology."

His own government's climate policy review, published Tuesday, indicated Britain is likely to better Kyoto's target of a 12.5 per cent reduction in overall carbon emissions.

But it also suggested London would fall short of its own long-standing commitment to cut carbon dioxide gases by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2010.

Instead CO2 emissions were likely to be cut by 15-18 per cent, the report said.

Climate change figured high on the agenda of the New Zealand leg of Blair's Asia-Pacific tour.

He earlier told a conference in Wellington that any failure to strike a deal would hand an appalling legacy to future generations.

Blair said the world had to build on the emerging consensus about the man-made causes of climate change at meetings of the Group of Eight richest nations in St Petersburg, Russia, and G8 plus five in Mexico in September.

"If we operate on anything like the precautionary principle, you have to say that the science is sufficiently clear and, in my view, is pretty much certain that it would be deeply irresponsible not to take action," he said.

He added: "I do not want it on the conscience certainly of me and people of my generation that we were told what this problem was in the early part of the 21st century, did nothing about it and then my children and their children end up having to deal with the consequences."

Clark told a joint news conference with Blair in Auckland that the visit -- the first bilateral visit by a British prime minister since 1958 -- had strengthened the relationship between their two countries.

Their talks included Afghanistan, where both countries have been involved in reconstruction and counter-narcotics efforts following the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban regime, plus bilateral immigration and investment.

They also agreed to set up annual security talks covering counter- terrorism, combating arms proliferation, organised crime, narcotics as well as global and regional issues.

Blair leaves New Zealand on Wednesday for Indonesia.


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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