Rachel's Precaution Reporter #105
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

From: EurekaStreet (Richmond, Victoria, Australia) ........[This story printer-friendly]
August 23, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "The Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) was set up to guarantee health and environmental standards but is headed by Dr Sue Meek who formerly promoted biotech based industries. The OGTR has approved GM crops without regard for the 'precautionary principle'. This lack of caution is evidenced by the GM contamination of Australian canola seed."]

By Charles Rue

[Dr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and co-ordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation).]

Most Australian states have started reviews of their 2004 GM Acts which carry a de facto moratorium on growing genetically modified (GM) crops. The pro-GM lobby has responded with an orchestrated campaign.

Liberal insider Guy Pearce's website, High and Dry, tells how the Howard government's climate change policies became captive to the "greenhouse mafia" because of an ideology of neo-liberal economics. A 'GM mafia' has captured the Federal political scene and is pressuring State GM Reviews.

"In the absence of consumer take-up of its products, selling stocks has become a biotech industry lifeline", stated The Wall Street Journal in 2004. In 'Biotech's dismal bottom line: More than $40 billion in losses', it spelt out the immediate GM agenda.

Australian State governments been caught up in a religious type rapture over biotech promises of silver bullets. They have become na´ve investors seemingly unaware of biotech economic strategies. Industry lobbyists such the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and its More importantly, big long-term profits for biotech companies will come through monopoly control of the food industry.

To achieve this, government mechanisms have been white-anted. In Australia, it means implementing the biotech led Trade Related Intellectual Properties (TRIPs) Agreement of the WTO and manipulating both the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food and Safety Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Australia has implemented patenting laws that benefit GM seed companies. These are reinforced by the US-Aus Free Trade Agreement. (Pharmaceuticals are under the same threat). Farmers will be forced to buy GM patented seed and consumers will have no choice but to buy GM food in a monopoly system. The TRIPs office within DFAT has proved reluctant to reveal who forms Australian policy on patenting at WTO meetings.

The next step is to have federal bureaucracies help implement biotech monopoly of the food chain. The OGTR was set up to guarantee health and environmental standards but is headed by Dr Sue Meek who formerly promoted biotech based industries. The OGTR has approved GM crops without regard for the 'precautionary principle'. This lack of caution is evidenced by the GM contamination of Australian canola seed.

GM contamination of the crops of conventional breeders and organic growers suits the long-term economic goals of the biotech companies; to undermine economic rivals. The OGTR is only restrained by State GM Acts of 2004 which have shown at least some concern for the economics of farmers about issues such as seed separation. That is why the State Reviews are under attack.

An aspect deserving attention is the negative effects of GM plants on the genetics of the natural environment. In economic terms it is a mere externality. However, for wheat and other food crops, cross pollination means GM contamination of genetic riches. It will grow worse as Roundup-Ready (gluphosate) crops become ineffective and replaced by Agent Orange related Dicamba-Ready GM crops.

The OGTR does no independent testing about health or environmental impacts. It relies on what the biotech companies tell them. Independent testing by the iconic CSIRO has all but stopped as it has been forced to form profit-oriented commercial partnership with biotech companies. These are bound by confidentiality clauses.

FSANZ, like OGTR, does no independent testing yet controls the approval of foods for consumption and food labelling. Food ingredients under one per cent GM go unlabelled. Even the report of Minister McGauran prepared by ACIL Tasman says that 'consumers in some countries are not aware they are purchasing and consuming products containing GM foods. It is of note that co-founder of ACIL Tasman, David Trebeck, is on the board of Graincorp.

Information presented in the media has been deliberately limited or given as spin. The reports of Jason Koutsoukis are examples of creating the impression that lifting GM moratoriums is a done deal and consumers are for it. When reporting on a survey on customer attitudes to GM by Biotechnology Australia his article did not explain that key survey questions were prefaced with 'What if?' caveats supposing evidence about health safety and benefits.

The Catholic Church in India is responding to the alarming number of suicides among farmers, many because of failed GM cotton crops. It would be good to see Catholic moralists and ethical institutes in Australia venture out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. Morality is about care for God's gift of life in every form. It means addressing what the alliance of the 'GM-mafia' and neo-liberal economics is doing.

Recommended Websites:

Concerned Farmers Science in Society Gene Watch


Recent Articles by Charles Rue

The Church's mission to expose climate change sceptics [Subscription required]

It came to light at the Vatican's recent Climate Change Seminar that powerful and vested interests are confusing farmers in developing countries. They are saying that technology will solve their agricultural problems, and that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is good and willed by God.


Copyright 2007 EurekaStreet.com.au


From: Occupational Hazards (Cleveland, Ohio) ..............[This story printer-friendly]
August 28, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In Canada, the Ontario government has adopted the "precautionary principle," providing personal protective equipment for nurses who face neeedle sticks and infectious diseases.]

By Katherine Torres

Ontario's nurses and other health care providers will be protected from from potentially life-threatening diseases like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) as well as from needlestick injuries by the Ontario government, which will provide them with new respirators and safety needles.

The Ontario government will purchase 55 million N95 respirators and has mandated the use of safety engineered needles or needle-less systems in the province's hospitals, according to Ontario's Health Minister George Smitherman.

"By investing in better equipment, we are putting the lessons we learned from SARS into action," Smitherman said. "These new respirators will help provide the protection that nurses and other front line health care providers deserve because their health and safety must be paramount when dealing with infectious diseases."

In his final report on SARS, Justice Archie Campbell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice chastised the Canadian government for being completely unprepared to respond to the outbreak of SARS, which killed 44 people in the Toronto area. He pointed out there was a failure to protect the health care workers who were on the front lines when the SARS outbreak occurred. For more on the Canadian SARS report, read "Canada Health Care Workers Were Neglected.".

As a result, the Ontario government has reportedly adopted the "precautionary principle" in providing personal protective equipment when faced with infectious disease outbreaks. The province has appointed a new, permanent health and safety advisory committee under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide practical advice and recommendations to ensure health care workers are protected.

Safety Needles Intended to Minimize Injuries A new regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act will make safety engineered needles or needle-less systems mandatory in all hospitals as of Sept. 1, 2008. The government intends to mandate the use of safety engineered needles or needle-less systems in long-term care homes, psychiatric facilities, laboratories and specimen collection centers in 2009 and in other health care workplaces (home care, doctor's offices, ambulances, etc.) in 2010.

"Safe workplaces are a priority for this government," said Minister of Labor Steve Peters. "Making safety engineered needles or needle-less systems mandatory will help us reach our goal by creating safer work environments that prevent health related injuries."

Joseline Sikorski, president and chief executive officer for the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare said the move the government has made is a positive one.

"Providing our caregivers with safe equipment and work environments are essential priorities in linking a culture of safety with quality care," Sikorski said.

Government Adopts Other Initiatives

The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) and its 53,000 members were also pleased to hear about the new regulation.

"ONA has been pushing for the government to provide N-95 respirators, at a minimum, to protect members from contracting SARS, or influenza, or other infectious disease," says ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud, R.N. "The government's announcement this morning that it will stockpile N-95s is a positive thing for protecting the health and lives of our members and their families."

The Ontario government has adopted additional measures to make hospitals in the province a safety-friendly environment. It has purchased more than 19,000 bed lifts to literally save nurses' backs and has launched the Pains and Strains Campaign to help reduce ergonomic- related injuries, which account for 42 percent of all lost- time injuries in Ontario.

The government also has hired 200 new health and safety inspectors to help achieve its goal of preventing 20,000 workplace injuries by 2008.

Copyright 2007 Penton Media, Inc.


From: Toronto Globe and Mail .............................[This story printer-friendly]
August 29, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Sudden oak death has made Ontario growers much more wary of their sources of plants, says Michael Celetti, a plant pathologist with the Ontario Agriculture Ministry. He worries that insufficient rigour south of the border could allow the pathogen to slip in through the back door. "What happened to the precautionary principle?" he asks.]

By Kate Harries

The botanical term is Phytophthora ramorum, but among foresters and nursery growers -- who know it as sudden oak death -- it's viewed as the equivalent of the Black Death: a deadly alien disease that owes its name to the devastating speed with which it has rampaged through coastal oak forests in California.

It's an insidious invader that can hitch a ride on popular garden plants and even stick to shoes or tires that pick up spore-infested soil.

Laboratory tests have found that both the eastern red oak and the sugar maple are very susceptible to P. ramorum. If the pathogen -- it's a fungus-like water mould of the same family as potato blight -- were to escape into the landscape, it could lay waste to the hardwood forests of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, already stressed from other exotic pests and diseases.

Federal authorities in Canada and the U.S. have been waging a continent-wide battle to contain P. ramorum since 2004, when a southern California grower shipped infested plants to 40 states and B.C.

In Ontario, where it hasn't been detected, fear of the highly contagious disease has prompted some growers to erect biosecurity defences much like those used by farmers against foot-and-mouth disease.

An outbreak would be "absolutely devastating," says Peter Zwaagstra, manager of Blue Sky Nursery in Beamsville, Ont. "The whole place would be shut down, they'd burn all your plants, you may be out of business for two years."

Mr. Zwaagstra, who supplies around 70 garden centres across the Greater Toronto Area, is also conscious of the threat to the forest. "We try to do what we can to meet our customers' needs and protect the environment in Ontario."

He implemented protective measures two years ago and got a full program in place this year. He buys two-inch tissue-culture plantlets - grown separately from the plants -- rooted in sealed, sterile containers and has adopted other biosecurity practices from his Washington State supplier: restrictions on the movement of visitors, off-site incineration of plant debris and minimizing standing water.

Sudden oak death has made Ontario growers much more wary of their sources, says Michael Celetti, a plant pathologist with the Ontario Agriculture Ministry. Even though growing conditions on the West Coast make for a cheaper plant, many are looking at alternatives. "Some of them have decided to bite the bullet and produce it here at a higher cost," he says.

So far, the North American outbreak into the wild has been limited to California and Oregon. In B.C., two nurseries remain under quarantine because spores persist in soil and a few infected plants are still being found in landscape projects.

Sudden oak death is insidious: It infects many species without killing them so they become effective carriers; symptoms can take weeks to show up; and there's no chemical defence. An ever-expanding range of host plants, now numbering 120, includes garden favourites from magnolia to oleander. Five -- rhododendron, camellia, viburnum, pieris and kalmia -- have been designated as high risk in the U.S. Canada has designated six, adding lilac to the list. Trees include beech, fir, dogwood and variety of fruit trees such as cherry and peach.

The response by governments to the threat on both sides of the border has been a heightened attention -- sampling and testing -- to shipments of host plants and destruction if the organism is found. Plants from infected areas, which include most of Europe, must be certified disease-free.

There's one key difference between Canada and the U.S. Here, if a species is a host, the whole genus becomes suspect. In the U.S., only a species that becomes naturally infected is considered a host. Thus, the only maple of concern in the U.S. is the bigleaf maple, native to the West Coast. Here, all maples are listed.

Laboratory tests have found that both the eastern red oak and the sugar maple are very susceptible to P. ramorum.

"It grew much faster on the eastern red oak than it did on the western species that are dying by the hundreds of thousands in California," says Mr. Celetti. And "it grew faster on the trunk of the sugar maple than it did on the oak."

But laboratories foster infection. Would the same happen in the landscape? American scientists suggest that Ontario's minus-28-degree winter temperatures would kill off the spores. Mr. Celetti disagrees: under two feet of snow, the temperature only dips to minus 3, and that's not cold enough.

He worries that insufficient rigour south of the border could allow the pathogen to slip in through the back door.

"From my perspective, what happened to the precautionary principle?" he asks. "Particularly when you're dealing with something with such a wide host range."

But Shane Sela, who's in charge of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's battle against the disease, says there's a rigorous surveillance program to stop the disease at the border.

"I'm confident we are doing a good job to manage the risk," Mr. Sela says. "We have to be protecting our forest situations, but at the same time we can't be overprotecting... presenting unnecessary barriers to trade."

Meanwhile, those responsible for managing the risk in eastern seaboard forests are pushing for more research to determine whether tougher controls on plant movement are warranted.

Both Richard Wilson, plant pathologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Steve Oak, who co-ordinates the U.S. P. ramorum early detection program from his office in Asheville, N.C., have asked California experts to plant eastern species in infected forests.

"We have models that tell us that eastern species are somewhat susceptible," says Mr. Wilson.

"We can't validate these models."

But the Californians won't do the study. Mr. Oak, a forester with the United States Department of Agriculture, says that, in the absence of field evidence, "we have to assume that it could be a serious problem. It would be irresponsible to act otherwise."


From: The Record (Stockton, Calif.) .......................[This story printer-friendly]
August 25, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: "Given that we're all swimming in a chemical sea of unknowns, The Record [newspaper in Stockton, Calif.] could become an advocate for a precautionary principle that, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof falls on those proposing an action or policy that might cause harm to the public."]

By Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

The Record's Aug. 7 editorial ("Read this label: Don't stress out") implied that an observation of mine was somewhat overboard and that it makes sense to strike a balance and not worry to the point of stress.

The quote -- "We're not just changing the chemistry of the planet. We're changing the chemistry our bodies" -- was in response to a recent news article reporting that concentrations of emerging untreated chemicals were showing up in East Bay wastewater discharges.

Serious concern clearly is warranted.

A number of studies have established that our bodies contain hundreds of chemicals that weren't part of the human chemistry 50 years ago.

Many of these chemicals are incredibly toxic in low concentrations. Others are variously classified as carcinogens, immune suppressors, and reproductive and developmental toxins.

The health effects of some of these chemicals are immediate; others manifest themselves slowly over generations. Their potential to harm is uncertain, as relatively few have been subjected to all toxicological studies.

The effects of these chemicals acting together are poorly understood, as are their potential for long-term impacts.

There are 26 million organic and inorganic constituents, of which 9 million are commercially available with 800,000 produced in high volume. Less than 1 percent are inventoried or regulated by government bodies worldwide.

From a water quality perspective, we regulate only about 200 of them. Most, including frequently used pharmaceuticals, household products and industrial chemicals, aren't on the regulatory radar.

It took generations for us to appreciate the staggering costs of lead- based paints, asbestos, PCBs and DDT. The billions spent replacing underground tanks and cleaning up contaminated soils because of the gasoline additive MTBE has been a costly lesson.

While most of us would agree that stressing out accomplishes little, it would have been constructive for The Record to say readers should familiarize themselves with contamination issues and get involved in bringing them under better control.

Prudence would suggest that new chemicals shouldn't be massively introduced into the environment until they're proven to be safe; proper disposal and recycling mechanisms should be a cost of doing business; and advanced micro-filtration wastewater treatment systems that remove many of these new chemicals should be constructed despite greater ratepayer cost.

Given that we're all swimming in a chemical sea of unknowns, The Record could become an advocate for a precautionary principle that, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof falls on those proposing an action or policy that might cause harm to the public.


From: The West Australian (Perth, Western Australia) .....[This story printer-friendly]
August 23, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: Professor Jennings said the precautionary principle needed to apply to any development in the north of Australia, an area known as the Top End: "We can't take today's rainfall and temperature regime as what they are likely to be in the future, we have to be aware that things are changing and those changes may not be in favour of agriculture," he said.]

By Jodie Thomson

A global environmental agency has warned that climate change will put landscapes in northern Australia at risk by bringing more cyclones, longer drought and intense fires.

A WWF-commissioned report released this week showed that all major ecosystems in the Top End -- tropical rivers, coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rainforests, savannah woodlands and low islands -- were ranked at medium or high risk from climate change.

WWF northern landscapes manager Stuart Blanch said longer heatwaves would dry out and reduce the productivity of fragile soils.

Coral reefs were at risk of rising ocean temperatures and more acidic water, while changing fire patterns would threaten tropical savannahs reaching from Broome to Cairns and rising sea levels threatened to change freshwater wetlands into saline wetlands. "The report highlights the large economic risks to farmers seeking to establish the north as the food bowl of Asia," Dr Blanch said.

WWF has called on the Federal Government's Northern Australia Taskforce, chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan, to rule out major water resource development which would only weaken the north's climate resilience.

Murdoch University professor of energy studies Phil Jennings said the report provided a timely warning to those who proposed moving agriculture to the north that it was not a panacea for current problems.

"It is the most detailed report I have seen on northern Australia and it is certainly timely in the context of the Heffernan review," he said.

"It is important for the Government not to repeat mistakes made in other parts of Australia where clearing has led to salinity and soil erosion, or the original mistakes they made in the Kimberley when they tried cotton farming and the pests destroyed the crop."

Professor Jennings said the precautionary principle needed to apply to any development in the north.

"We can't take today's rainfall and temperature regime as what they are likely to be in the future, we have to be aware that things are changing and those changes may not be in favour of agriculture," he said.

Copyright West Australian Newspapers Limited 2007


From: The East African ....................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 27, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In the European Union a new set of regulations -- Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) -- attempts to gain a handle on the proliferation of untested synthetic chemicals by applying the precautionary principle: "Better safe than sorry."]

By Mark Sommer

Better living through chemistry." That was the tag-line used by Dow Chemical in the 1950s at the outset of an era when industrial chemicals were introduced on a massive scale into consumer goods, agriculture, and virtually every other sector of modern life.

But the phrase has become hauntingly ironic as environmental health researchers discover more and more evidence of negative long-term impacts from some of what we had long thought to be a purely benign technology.

IN THE advanced industrial world, we are immersed in a brew of synthetic chemicals most of whose ingredients have never been tested for their long-term impacts on human health.

Tens of thousands of chemicals contribute to the comfort and convenience of our lives and the flavour of our foods.

But from their manufacture to their disposal, in their consumption and use and in the environment, they accumulate in our bodies to unknown effect.

For the mostly poor people who live closest to the the places these chemicals are manufactured, the health consequences are obvious and often severe, but plant owners and public officials often say the evidence of cause-and-effect is inconclusive.

However, even for those who live in more privileged circumstances, their food, electronic devices and even their beds all contain a mix of chemicals. Some widely-used chemicals, like phthalates (used to soften plastics in children's toys and other items) have been found to contribute to breast cancer, early puberty in girls, reduced testosterone levels, lowered sperm counts, genital defects in baby boys, and testicular cancer.

But given the range of variables at play in any individual, including genetic predisposition, personal habit and frequency of exposure, it's nearly impossible to prove a direct causal relationship between hazardous environmental toxins and personal illness.

Until recently, public health researchers have had few tools to measure such impacts, but not any more. "Bio-monitoring" is now being applied to scientific techniques used to sample blood, urine, breast milk, and other tissue to assess human exposure to chemicals.

Using these tools, researchers can now measure an individual's "body burden," testing for the presence of specific chemicals known or thought to be hazardous to human health.

But the costs of such monitoring are still far too high to be widely administered to whole populations.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY is it to test and pay for the testing of the thousands of chemicals currently in use and the thousands more being introduced each year? The costs would be huge. But the costs of continuing to ignore the impacts would undoubtedly be far greater.

Would you rather find out now and act accordingly or assume there will be no ill effects and risk being surprised at a later date by maladies that greater curiosity and care could have avoided?

IN THE European Union a new set of regulations -- Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) -- attempts to gain a handle on the proliferation of untested synthetic chemicals by applying the precautionary principle: "Better safe than sorry."

Reach will require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for all the substances they produce and will create a special category of some 2000 "substances of very high concern" slated for eventual replacement by safer alternatives.

Mark Sommer hosts the award-winning, internationally syndicated radio programme, "A World of Possibilities"

Copyright 2007, Nation Media Group Ltd.


From: Tasmanian Greens (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia) ......[This story printer-friendly]
August 27, 2007


[Rachel's introduction: In Australia, a member of parliament says approving a paper mill before completing research on its effluents would violate the precautionary principle.]

By Peg Putt, Member of the House of Assembly

The Tasmanian Greens today said the key matter of 'critical non- compliance' still remains that led the Resource Planning Development Commission to determine it was unable to proceed with the pulp mill assessment, and that neither the Tasmanian Parliament nor the Federal Environment Minister should give approval until certainty on where effluent will end up is established.

Greens Opposition Leader Peg Putt MHA [Member of the House of Assembly] said that the failure to provide comprehensive and accurate hydro-dynamic modelling thus far was noted in last week's Turnbull announcement and in the Tasmanian proposed Pulp Mill Permit, both of which ask for further modelling to be completed subsequent to an approval, timing the Greens say is unacceptable for its abandonment of the precautionary principle.

Ms Putt outlined that ex-CSIRO scientific expert Stuart Godfrey had shown that effluent was likely to end up washing back onto the coast and into the Tamar, and that this had been confirmed in the BMT WBM report subsequently prepared for Turnbull to review the Godfrey paper.[1]

The Greens also pointed out that the Pulp Mill Permit before Parliament indicates that the mixing zone for effluent may well change in the light of better modelling[2].

"Parliament is set to consider approval for the pulp mill despite strong scientific evidence that the toxic effluent will wash back onto the coast and may even go back into the Tamar, yet the ludicrous proposition is that Gunns come up with further hydro-dynamic modelling after approval in the hopes that they can somehow demonstrate that the effluent will disperse as they want it to," Ms Putt said.

"This continued failure to come up with hydro-dynamic modelling to the required standard was the "critical non-compliance" that the RPDC could not get Gunns to overcome, and which set off the chain of events that resulted in the project being pulled from the RPDC and landing up as a Parliamentary fast-track instead."

"If it wasn't good enough for Gunns to get any approval without supplying this vital modelling first so that there would be some certainty about where this toxic effluent could end up, then it's not good enough for the Tasmanian Parliament or Malcolm Turnbull to say yes to the mill and get the studies later."

"The potential for an environmental debacle is far too high and we should take the precautionary approach of doing the science first so that we know just what is being approved and whether it can be satisfactorily regulated."

"It is highly likely that the reality simply cannot be made to conform to the imagined effluent dispersal scenario painted by Gunns and that's why this is such a crucial stumbling block."

"The Pulp Mill Permit makes it clear that the mixing zone for effluent may change, as may the area beyond which water quality objectives may be able to be achieved, and that background concentrations of effluent may also change."

"The proposition that the pulp mill be approved with this huge problem about effluent acknowledged and unresolved is like giving a student a pass even though they didn't hand in their homework."

"Gunns' persistent failure to come up with the work may well indicate that they simply cannot prove their case for acceptable effluent dispersal."

NOTE: The BMT WBM Report is attachment No. 7.4 of the Federal Environment Department's recommendation Report, and can be found on the Federal Department of the Environment website.

[1] BMT WBM Report: Review of Godfrey paper, Prepared for the Federal Department of Environment and Water Resources, 16 August 2007.

[2] Tasmanian Government, Pulp Mill Permit Appendix 2A Schedule EM1, 21 August 2007, pages 14 and 15.

Related Links

Campaign -- Don't Pulp Our Future

Peg Putt, MHA: greens@parliament.tas.gov.au


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.

Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org


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