Rachel's Precaution Reporter #115
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
From: Edie News Centre ....................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 29, 2007
FRANCE PROMISES GREEN REVOLUTION
[Rachel's introduction: French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted at a shift in political culture which would see France's institutions adopt the precautionary principle when dealing with potential environmental threats -- rather than expect those opposed to a practice to prove it could be harmful, those proposing ecologically destructive decisions will need to prove there is no other choice.]
By Sam Bond
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has put a moratorium on the growing of genetically-modified crops and has announced plans to ban energy-wasting lightbulbs along with a raft of other concessions to the environment in a move which is supposed to put France in the vanguard of 'green' states on the international stage.
Speaking at the end of a major conference which brought together politicians, business people and environmental activists, Mr Sarkozy pledged to lead a green revolution.
While his speech was full of good intentions, concrete promises were thin on the ground.
He did say GMOs would be banned, though it was unclear whether this would be a permanent measure or a temporary moratorium to allow for further investigation into their potential environmental impact.
He also said France would aim to phase out all incandescent lightbulbs by 2010, nine years earlier than the European industry's own self- imposed targets.
Perhaps most importantly, he hinted at a shift in political culture which would see France's institutions adopt the precautionary principle when dealing with potential environmental threats -- rather than expect those opposed to a practice to prove it could be harmful, those proposing ecologically destructive decisions will need to prove there is no other choice.
Environmentalists have expressed disappointment that there was no suggestion that France would reduce its reliance on nuclear power generation and that action on transport, a major source of emissions for the country, looked likely to be limited.
Mr Sarkozy called for more use of train transport, and better fuel efficiency for cars but there were no firm proposals on how this might be encouraged.
While the President's speech was lacking in detail, it did spell out a change in emphasis from his administration and if the rhetoric translates into action then France could soon be on the way to becoming a world leader in sustainable development.
From: MWC News ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 30, 2007
BANNED FROM CANADA FOR WAR PROTEST
[Rachel's introduction: "Countries are accepting the 'precautionary principle' and are gathering and sharing information not only to track suspected 'terrorists' but to stop dissidents from flying and/ or entering other countries, to stop activists and intellectuals at borders, to detain persons without reasonable grounds and to send persons to third countries and prisons operated by the U.S. government, where are detained indefinitely without charge, tortured and are sometimes murdered."]
By Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat
On the invitation six members of the Canadian Parliament to speak October 25 on Canada's Parliament Hill as a member of a panel called "Peacebuilders Without Borders: Challenging the Post-9/11 Canada-US Security Agenda," I arrived at the Ottawa airport in the morning of October 25 to be met by three members of Parliament and to hold a press conference at the airport.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink Women for Peace and Global Exchange, was also invited by the Parliamentarians, but had been arrested the previous day for holding up two fingers in the form of a peace sign during the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestinian issues.
The October 24 committee hearing began with Codepink peace activist Desiree Fairooz holding up her red paint stained hands to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and shouting "The blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands." As Capitol Hill police took her out of the hearing of the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs, Fairooz yelled over her shoulder "war criminal, take her to the Hague." Shortly thereafter two Codepinkers were arrested for just being in the room and brutally hauled out of the hearing by Capitol police. An hour later Medea and a male Codepinker were arrested for no reason. Four of the five had to stay overnight in the District of Columbia jail. Medea was one of those and missed the trip to Ottawa.
I presented to immigration officials our letter of invitation from the Parliamentarians that explained that Medea and I had been denied entry to Canada at the Niagara Falls border crossing on October 3, 2007 because we had been convicted in the United States of peaceful, non- violent protests against the war on Iraq, including sitting on the sidewalk in front of the White House with 400 others, speaking out against torture during Congressional hearings, and other misdemeanors.
The Canadian government knew of these offenses as they now have access to the FBI's National Crime Information database on which we are listed. The database that was created to identify members of violent gangs and terrorist organizations, foreign fugitives, patrol violators and sex offenders -- not for peace activists peacefully protesting illegal actions of their government.
The immigration officer directed me to secondary screening where my request to call the members of Parliament waiting outside the customs doors was denied. My suggestion that the letter of invitation from the Parliamentarians might be valuable in accessing the need for me to be in Canada was dismissed with the comment that members of Parliament do not have a role in determining who enters Canada. I suggested that the laws enacted by the Parliament were the basis of that determination. I added that the reason I had been invited to Ottawa by Parliamentarian was to be an example of how current laws may exclude those whom Canadians may wish to allow to enter. I also mentioned that Parliament might decide to change the laws that immigration officials implement. I also suggested that since the Parliament provides the budget to the Immigration Services, they might notify the Parliamentarians awaiting my arrival that I had been detained. The officers declined to do so citing my privacy, which I immediately waived. The Parliamentarians were never notified by Immigration that I had arrived and was being detained. Only when my cell phone was returned to me by Immigration officers four hours later was I able to make contact with the Parliamentarians.
After nearly four hours of interrogation, I was told by the senior immigration officer that I was banned from Canada for one year for failure to provide appropriate documents that would overcome the exclusion order I had been given in early October because of conviction of misdemeanors (all payable by fines) in the United States. The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer's report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the convictions and an official document describing the termination of sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to write a letter all been convicted of similar "offenses") and a completed 18 page "criminal rehabilitation" packet.
Additionally, besides obtaining the Temporary Resident Permit, since I was being banned for a year from Canada, I would have to obtain a "Canadian Government Minister's consent." The officer said that the TRP and the Minister's consent normally took from 8-10 months to obtain. In the distant future, to be able to enter Canada without a TRP, I would have to have to be "criminally rehabilitated" and be free for five years of conviction of any offense, including for peaceful protest.
The senior immigration officer took my fingerprints for Canadian records, escorted me to the airport departures area and placed me on the first plane departing for Washington, DC. In the meantime, the members of Parliament conducted the press conference and the panel without my presence but certainly using the example of what had happened to me and previously to Medea Benjamin as incidents that the Parliamentarians are very concerned about, specifically their government's wholesale acceptance of information on the FBI's database, information that appears to have been placed there for political intimidation.
A participant on the Parliamentary panel that I was unable to attend was Monia Mazigh, the wife of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was sent by US authorities when he transited New York's JFK airport, to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months. The day before I arrived at the Ottawa airport, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that the United States had "not handled his case properly." But Rice did not apologize to Arar on behalf of the Bush administration during testimony to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. The previous week during a video conference, both Republican and Democrat members of Congress offered apologies to Arar. Arar, an Ottawa telecommunications engineer, still has a lawsuit pending against American officials. Arguments are scheduled for Nov. 9 in New York.
Many countries have succumbed to the behind the scenes 9-11 pressure of the Bush administration to enact extensive and expansive anti- terrorism laws to increase "harmonization" and integration of security measures among countries. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is mirroring the Bush administration's use of security measures to increase control over dissent in their country -- and in other countries.
Most of the new security measures are done through administrative agreements, international joint working groups, regulations and the use of international organizations such as the G-8 and the International Civil Aviation Organization. By using administrative regulations, the U.S. and Canadian governments avoid opening up the proposed restrictions of personal privacy to public scrutiny and debate by preventing such regulations from being enacted in the Congress or Parliament.
Through these agreements with Canada and other G-8 countries, the Bush administration is setting up a global infrastructure for the registration and surveillance of populations worldwide, looking at every person as a suspect and a risk, whom must in their opinion, as a precaution, be identified and tracked. Ordinary legal protections fundamental to democratic societies such as the presumption of innocence, rights against unreasonable search and seizure and rights against arbitrary detention and punishment are greatly threatened by these precautionary measures.
Countries are accepting the "precautionary principle" and are gathering and sharing information not only to track suspected "terrorists" but to stop dissidents from flying and/or entering other countries, to stop activists and intellectuals at borders (the Bush administration has refused visas for numerous academics from all over the world who have been invited to teach at American universities but whom have spoken and written against the Bush war in Iraq, torture and other violations of international law), to detain persons without reasonable grounds and to send persons to third countries and prisons operated by the US government, where are detained indefinitely without charge, tortured and are sometimes murdered.
The Canada-U.S. Smart Border Agreement and Action Plan, an administrative agreement signed in December 2001, is the master document for security integration between Canada and the United States. The agreement calls for biometric standards for identity cards, coordinated visa an refugee policy, coordinate risk assessment of travelers, integrated border and marine enforcement teams, integrated national security intelligence teams, coordinated terrorist lists, increased intelligence sharing and joint efforts to promote the Canada-US model internationally.
After 9-11 the Bush administration, under the National Security Entry- exit Registration System (NSEERS) registered and took biometric identifiers (fingerprints) of all males age 16-45 with links to Muslim and Arab countries visiting or traveling though the United States. Next, persons applying for visas to visit the United States had to submit biometric data (fingerprints) that will be stored in a US database for 100 years through the new U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology (US-VISIT) program.
The Bush administration expanded its biometric round-up on a global scale in 2002 by requiring all countries that want to retain their visa waiver status with the U.S. to require by 2004 biometric passports through the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. In 2004 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set a face recognition standard with fingerprint and iris scans as optional standards. Beginning in 2005 the United States and Canada have biometric passports with facial recognition.
We all want our countries to be safe from criminal actions. However, the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties and purposeful targeting of those who disagree with government policies must end.
I call on the US Congress to conduct hearings to determine who ordered the FBI to place peaceful, non-violence protest convictions on the international data base and for what purpose.
It feels to me like purposeful intimidation to stop dissent -- but I can guarantee you, it won't work!
To all those concerned about free speech, freedom to travel, ending an illegal war, stopping torture and other violations of domestic and international law, come to Washington and help us!!!
(For more extensive information on security agreements that unnecessarily jeopardize our civil liberties, please see "Americanizing the Restriction of Canadians' Rights -- Security Overtaking Trade as a Driver of 'Deep Integration'," by Maureen Webb, Canadian centre for Policy Alternatives.
About the Author: Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The US Department of State has delayed for over three months publication of her new book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience." It will be published whenever the State Department finishes its search for classified materials.
Copyright 2007 MWC News
From: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Ariz.) ..................[This story printer-friendly]
October 31, 2007
PARENTS WORRIED ABOUT TOXICS GET PICKY ABOUT KID PRODUCTS
[Rachel's introduction: Whole Foods' Michaels said many parents naturally follow the "precautionary principle," erring on the side of caution to protect their children.]
By Elizabeth Weise and Liz Szabo, USA Today
Consider the BornFree baby bottle. It's made from a plastic that is five times as expensive as the one used for regular baby bottles. And its retail price, $9.50, is about triple that of a conventional bottle.
It also is flying off shelves in stores catering to parents who want the safest possible environment for their babies, stores where items labeled "bisphenol A-free" and "phthalate-free" line up next to the cloth diapers and breast pumps.
To anyone not contemplating parenthood, phthalates and bisphenol A sound like something kids bring home on chemistry quizzes, not cuddle in their cribs. But these chemicals are actually at the heart of worldwide scientific investigation and a debate over whether they are harmful to the very young.
Parents, activists and not a few scientists are concerned that if a baby drinks from a bottle made with bisphenol A or gums a toy made with phthalates, he or she could suffer serious and even permanent harm, including genital malformations.
These substances are sometimes called "everywhere chemicals" because they're so widely used. Bisphenol A, used to make plastics strong and shatter-resistant, shows up in water bottles, food containers, baby bottles, some dental fillings and the coatings for the inside of cans containing foods.
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), which make plastic soft and flexible, are used in toys, rattles, teethers, car interiors and medical devices such as tubing, catheters and intravenous bags.
Nearly every American has been exposed. A 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found phthalates in the urine of 75 percent of the people tested. CDC research has shown that 95 percent of Americans have detectable levels of bisphenol A in their bodies.
The American Medical Association last month urged the Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of all medical products containing one phthalate to protect newborns in hospitals. More than a hundred hospitals have begun removing such products from their neonatal nurseries.
The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the National Academies of Science to produce a report on phthalates, a process that could take several years. The National Academies data would help the EPA set a "reference dose" for those chemicals, the maximum amount scientists think a person could be exposed to in food and water every day without suffering harm.
The agency also is doing research on the health effects of bisphenol A and has begun a risk assessment, likely a multiyear process.
Although the government hasn't made up its mind, more and more parents have.
Take Marina Borrone of Menlo Park, Calif. For Borrone, a clean house is about more than sparkling countertops. She aims to protect her home from chemicals she fears could harm her family or the planet. The restaurant owner and mom shuns most plastic in favor of old-fashioned glass baby bottles and wooden toys.
Her home state is catching up with her. This month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the country's first ban on the use of phthalates in toys and other kids' products. Under the law, any product made for young children that contains more than one-tenth of 1 percent of phthalates cannot be sold or distributed in California beginning in 2009.
The chemical industry disagrees with this approach.
"We know that exposure to phthalates is very low, well within what the EPA sets as their safety limits," said Marian Stanley, an American Chemistry Council spokeswoman. "We believe that for the amount in which they're used and the amounts that people are exposed to, there is not a problem."
Jeremiah McElwee, who oversees health and beauty products at Whole Foods Market Inc., said her company stopped selling baby bottles made of polycarbonate plastic in January 2006 over concerns about a form of bisphenol A used in the plastic.
"The research doesn't say these compounds are bad," said Joe Dickson, Whole Foods' quality-standards coordinator. "It says these products have a lot of question marks around them."
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association says in a series of fact sheets on the safety of bisphenol A that plastic containing the chemical "has been rigorously studied and tested by both industry and government for decades."
Whole Foods' Michaels said many parents naturally follow the "precautionary principle," erring on the side of caution to protect their children.
Evenflo has marketed a glass baby bottle since the era when all baby bottles were glass, but its plastic bottles contain the chemical. Gerber sells several bisphenol A-free bottles, including its Clear View, Fashion Tints and Gentle Flow lines. Playtex' Nurser System disposable liners also do not contain the chemical.
Small companies focusing on baby bottles without bisphenol A are doing a brisk business. BornFree went on sale last year, and the Adiri Natural Nurser made its debut this summer.
Adiri can "barely keep up with demand" and ran out of its smallest bottles within a week of their August launch, said Sarah Eisner, vice president of sales and marketing.
The chemical industry has responded quickly to the threat to its market share. The American Chemistry Council, through a complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau, forced BornFree to change its marketing this year. The company used to pitch its bottles as a safer alternative but was ordered in February not to claim its products are more child- or eco-friendly.
In December, the National Toxicology Program, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that one form of phthalate, called di(2-ethylhexyl) or DEHP, used in intravenous tubing, catheters and other flexible plastic medical equipment, could pose a risk to baby boys' reproductive tracts.
Copyright 2007, azcentral.com
From: The Berkeley (Calif.) Daily Planet .................[This story printer-friendly]
November 2, 2007
COMMENTARY: ELEKTRO-SMOG AND THE POLITICS OF CLASS INJUSTICE
[Rachel's introduction: "Countries such as Switzerland, which both honor the precautionary principle and have good cell phone service, operate within standards that are 100 times more protective than our own."]
By Laurie Baumgarten
Welcome to South Berkeley. With its 14 cell phone antenna locations and an unknown number of actual radiation emitters at each location, South Berkeley has become Berkeley's elektro-smog ghetto. Any Berkeley resident who lives in a neighborhood without antennas is probably using ours! As far back as1996, the Communications Workers of America stated in their pamphlet called Your Community Guide to Cellular Phone Towers, " In some cases, companies have chosen poorer sections of a town to build towers. Is this part of town being asked to house the eyesore and health hazard so the other side of town can use the phone?"
Elekro-smog is the term German citizens have given to ambient RF radiation coming from cell phone antennas. These antennas pollute the environment continuously with low- level radio frequency emissions. RF radiation has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause cell damage in lab animals. Studies done in Spain, Germany, Israel, Austria, Egypt and the Netherlands indicate significant adverse health effects from living near cell antennas. In September, the European Environmental Agency urged precaution. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has classified electromagnetic fields as Class 2B carcinogens, as has the World Health Organization.
The recent BioInitiative Report ( http://www.bioinitiative.org/report/index.htm), published in August, 2007, written by 14 scientists and public health advocates states, "There may be no limit at which exposures do not affect us. Until we know if there is a lower limit below which bioeffects and adverse health impacts do not occur, it is unwise from a public health perspective to continue " business-as-usual" deploying new technologies that increase ELF and RF exposures, particularly involuntary exposures."
Many scientists with excellent reputations have found ill effects from exposure to RF radiation only to have their funding cut off and their reputations ruined. The case of Robert Becker is an example of a giant in this field who had his lab closed and his career smashed in the 1980's when he started alerting the public to the connection between power lines and leukemia. How can studies be replicated and refined if funding is denied and researchers fired? Louis Slesin (MA in Chemical Physics from Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Policy from M.I.T.), who is the editor of Microwave News says in an interview in October, 2007 with the Institute for Inquiry, a non-profit web-based organization and journal, "A new generation of scientists comes along, asks the same question, finds the same effect and publishes the results, but then the funding dries up and the issue remains unresolved....The major player is industry (electric utility and telecommunications), and its principal objective is to shut down all health research."
We need the health questions answered if we want our government to set emission standards that are protective. Instead, our FCC standards were set by representatives of the industry and the military, but there is a growing consensus that those standards are too low. Countries such as Switzerland, which both honor the precautionary principle and have good cell phone service, operate within standards that are 100 times more protective than our own. Must we in South Berkeley live in a degraded environment because we live downtown? How is Berkeley going to sell the concept of infill and density if living in these multi-use neighborhoods means being exposed to harmful radiation?
There is also a growing consensus about cell phones themselves. The Karolinska Institute of Sweden has found a 39% increase in brain tumors on the side of the head radiated by cell phones among people who have been using cell phones for 10 years or more. Recently, Marcus Antonietti of the Max Planck Institute, one of Germany's most renowned scientific research facilities, warned of greater danger than previously thought from these emissions. He has limited his daughter to no more than five minutes a day on her cell phone!
The City's own health officer, Fred Medrano, submitted a report in July, 2006, after reviewing the literature, that states that he does not know whether RF radiation is safe or not. Are the chances 50-50? 70-30? What percentage of chance makes it acceptable to irradiate people, young and old, people who happen to live in the flatlands? To date, there has been no measuring of these emissions to find out if South Berkeley is out-of-whack with other neighborhoods.
Verizon is presently threatening to sue the City of Berkeley. If our local ordinance is thrown out in court, even those of you who live in more affluent neighborhoods may be effected. If tall buildings are the desirable hot spots, why not the Claremont Hotel, or the Lab up the hill? Perhaps you will find the trade-off of having towers close by worth it: The closer the antenna, the weaker the signal, and the less radiation going into your head.
Personally, I want no part of this devil's bargain. I prefer my low- tech cord phone, and I don't like being a guinea pig. Class divisions aside, all of us are in this boat together. Our environment needs repair in many ways, and this issue of wireless technology is one of them. The insanity of the present type of irrational development gets even worse when guided by the proprietary interests of the telecom companies. According to law, when a company puts up cell antennas in a particular location, every other company can put up antennas in the same location in order to compete for business. This is called collocation, which increases the health risks to a particular neighborhood. If these microwaves can go through our walls, then they also go into our bodies, and no amount of tin foil on our windows, as suggested by Gordon Wozniak at our last council meeting, is going to protect us.
So what is the way out of this horrible conundrum?
We have to stand up for our democratic right to control the health of our community and protect our children and ourselves. Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna Free Union (BNAFU) believes that our city should not be intimidated by the threat of a lawsuit by Verizon or by nay- saying attorneys and technocrats who are afraid to challenge existing telecommunications law. We need to assemble a team of people who are passionate about this cause and who have legal knowledge from all angles: Is there no constitutional, environmental, or public interest law that could be brought to bear on this case? Has the whole issue of need vs. capacity and transmission of voice vs. film and music data been explored legally? We want our city officials to do EVERYTHING in their power to pressure the courts: We want them to use connections to Boalt Law School, to mayors and attorneys in other cities, to national Democratic Party officials and representatives to help us stand up for what is right. When we allow the corporations to muzzle the free speech of our government representatives, as The Telecommunications Act of 1996 does, then it is time for both moral courage and outrage.
We saw that courage and leadership in Max Anderson, our council member, who spoke up for the people of South Berkeley at the October 23rd City Council meeting. He put forward a motion to support our local zoning board's refusal to grant the antenna permit on U.C. Storage Building. Yet, because he mentioned his obligation to protect the health of his constituents, Verizon appealed once again to the federal court in Oakland to have our local ordinance immediately thrown out. We believe that our government officials, and city staff workers and managers should have the right to freely and publicly respond to the issues of health concerns without risking a lawsuit or compromising a positive outcome in court. The right to free speech should not be curtailed in anyway! The laws of the FCC are ripe for change by Congress but unless we denounce the Telecommunications Act, and take it to the courts- and the streets- Congress will not get the message.
New technologies exist that do not emit RF radiation and are actually much faster. One such example is underground fiber-optics. From all I have read, I hope that wireless technology, which relies on radio frequency microwaves, goes the way of the Edsel. But more than that, I hope and pray that we are mistaken. Wouldn't it be nice to have our cake and be able to eat it too? In the meantime, with cancer rates as high as they are, our bodies are saying NO. There are too many different kinds of environmental triggers for us to go into denial about this one. Our city council is still waffling on whether to grant Verizon a permit. Please support us by showing up once again-yes, folks, it's a drag, but we need you once again -- at Old City Hall at 7:00 on Nov. 6 to say to our representatives: DON'T SELL US OUT. STAND UP AND LEAD.
From: Independent.ie (Dublin, Ireland) ....................[This story printer-friendly]
October 28, 2007
HOW A MOTHER'S LOVE IS AT HEART OF POWER STRUGGLE
[Rachel's introduction: "We got no answers," she said. "Our community is very angry over the health implications, the serious, serious health implications of the high-voltage power lines."]
Ann Murray divides her time between her job with Monaghan County Council and raising her three children in the sleepy village of Annyala, in the north of the border county. She involves herself in the day-to-day goings on of her community, welcomed the opening of a creche for pre-school children, and enjoys rearing her family in the peaceful countryside where she grew up.
Two weeks ago, this typical working mother took on an unexpected role as community activist. The spur was not the more usual issues that plague country communities, issues such as rural crime. It was her almost chance discovery that her rural hamlet fell right in the path of an 80-kilometre high-voltage crossborder electricity cable planned to run from Cavan, across Monaghan to Tyrone. A second power line in Meath would boost the supply to the densely populated north east.
In gestation for three years, and announced by energy ministers north and south last year, the cables would connect the Republic's supply to the North, bringing cheaper and more efficient electricity into Ireland.
Three weeks ago, the proposed routes for the cables were unveiled for the first time to the unsuspecting communities that will host them.
For a project that will have an impact on several hundred thousand households, the launch was remarkably low key. There was no leaflet drop or information campaign. Just advertisements in five local newspapers and an invitation to attend one of three public meetings -- one for each county. The three meetings were attended by no more than 500 people. They were told that the power lines are vital to Ireland's economic infrastructure.
The first Ann heard of it was from her sister two weeks ago, when she learnt that EirGrid, the operator of this line, was holding a public meeting for local residents. She went to the Glencarn Hotel in Castleblaney with a mental note of questions in her head. Cheaper electricity was fine but not if it meant exposing her children to health risks, having pylons blight her view and devalue her property.
She wanted to know where the pylons would be erected, how high they would be and what were the health effects.
"We got no answers," she said. "Our community is very angry over the health implications, the serious, serious health implications of the high-voltage power lines. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who will be affected. We have a school and a creche here and all three proposed routes will be in the townlands around us. Not alone are there health risks, but it will spoil the look of the place, and the value of our homes. Who wants to live in a house next to a pylon?"
Ann responded by setting up a public meeting of her own. She telephoned friends and neighbours to spread the word, booked a room in the CleverClogs creche, and organised tea and biscuits for afterwards. Almost 100 people crammed into the community hall last Monday night. Parents, teachers, farmers, young couples, pregnant women, many were hearing for the first time that pylons would be plotting a course in the townlands of Annyala and beyond. The only public representative was a Fine Gael councillor, Gary Carville.
It quickly became evident that many of those who crammed into the classroom felt that they had been caught on the hop.
"Was this debated in the Dail?" asked one man.
"Was this known about before the General Election?" asked another.
"We must stand united on this," said Councillor Carville.
Jim Lennon, a former high level civil servant who is involved in the anti-pylon protest against the North's section of power line, talked tactics.
"Organise yourselves into groups. Knock on every door. Tell people what is happening," he said. "We can delay them and we will delay them on technical issues. It does not stop it but it does put costs up."
The meeting in Annyala marks the start of what looks like being a long and divisive battle that could yet end in the courts. At its core is economic advancement over what communities such as Annyala claim are their human rights.
On the one hand, there is the efficient energy infrastructure which is vital to Ireland's economic development. The Celtic Tiger has drained Ireland's energy resources, particularly in the highly populated north east.
Ireland needs access to other energy supplies. To achieve this end, the governments north and south have launched the single electricity market which will start next month.
What it means for consumers is lower utility bills. Electricity suppliers will be able to trade electricity on the all-Ireland market and sell it at competitive prices to customers. British suppliers are already looking at entering the Irish market.
Facilitating all of this is EirGrid, the State body that builds the infrastructure that transmits the power.
The biggest project is the cross-border high-voltage power line undertaken with Northern Ireland Electricity. The 180m, 400 kv power line will run over 45 kilometres of land in the Republic, starting out at a proposed new sub-station in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, running across Monaghan and continuing for another 35 kilometres to Co Tyrone. The second is a 400 kv power line that will run from Woodland, near Dunboyne, Co Meath, and connect to Kingscourt. It will stretch across 58 kilometres of land, much of it heavily populated commuter belt towns. Both lines will run overhead, suspended by pylons along their respective routes.
The economic progress brings with it a downside -- the blight of pylons, fears that the homes traversed by the power lines will plummet in value, and more importantly to many, the disputed health risks.
EirGrid insisted this weekend that there are no health risks associated with the power lines. Its confident position is at odds with the broader scientific community which, at its most sceptical, has broadly acknowledged the possibility of health risks.
The World Health Organisation believes that there is only a possibility that electromagnetic fields may increase the risk of childhood leukemia but has dismissed links to other illnesses.
Other research, including a key Californian study, suggest the possible health risks are more widespread. They cite adult leukemia, adult brain cancer, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, breast cancer, depression, certain types of heart disease, miscarriage and suicide.
A key British study -- the Draper report -- found that children living within 200 metres of a power line were 69 per cent more likely to develop leukaemia, and those living between 200 metres and 600 metres away had a 23 per cent increased risk.
Earlier this year, a British government advisory group charged with looking into the issue, reported that the best option for reducing childhood leukemia was to ban the building of homes and schools within 60 metres of power lines.
The group -- which included industry representatives, academics and health experts -- was so deeply divided on the health risks that they failed to agree any recommendations other than on advising people on how to manage the risk to electromagnetic exposure for themselves.
Denis Henshaw, a physics professor at Bristol University, was one of the contributors to that report.
"Unfortunately, this is a really adversarial area. But make no mistake. From my point of view, there are large numbers of health effects," he said. "No one wants to turn the lights out. I don't want to turn the lights out. But we are talking about a completely unregulated industry here," he said.
In Ireland, the Department of the Environment, which takes the World Health Organisation line on the debate, has responsibility for the health effects of electromagnetic fields, but no official body has been tasked with monitoring it. However, the Department is in the process of extending that role to the Radiological Protection Institute.
There is no international standard on the safe distance from electromagnetic fields.
In Ireland, there is nothing to prevent house-building right up to or even beneath a power line.
EirGrid said its "design aim" is to place the power lines within 50 metres of buildings, while those who attended one of its public meetings were told it would be 25 metres. A spokesman said the distance was not for public health reasons, but rather for visual and amenity reasons.
In the UK, the safe distance is now taken as the 60 metres suggested in the Sage report. In Sweden, it is 150 metres.
For the protesters, the answer is simple. They want the cables laid underground.
"When there is an issue like this and when you are not sure, and the preponderance of statistical evidence would suggest that there is a higher likelihood of risk, then you adopt a precautionary principle and you do more research," said Jim Lennon.
"Either you shield people from it, in terms of houses and property which would be prohibitively expensive, or alternatively you bury it.
"It is expensive but in a first world economy, how do the costs and benefits bear out on this. Who bears all the costs and gets the benefits?"
EirGrid claims the cost is prohibitive. It would be eight times more expensive to lay them underground -- about 1.4bn for the cross-border cable alone. There are technical considerations too. Repairs would take days rather than hours, EirGrid says.
John Fitzgerald, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, agreed. "The inter-connector is very important in economic terms. It will make it less likely for the lights to go off, it will be cheaper for consumers and in the long run, there will be more efficient electricity, and a more secure supply," he said.
"The cost of putting the power lines underground would be likely to defeat the benefits of it, which could leave you with a less secure system."
It would appear that the onward march of the pylons is inevitable.
Because the power lines are part of the national infrastructure, the State can compulsorily purchase the land it needs from those who resist allowing the pylons on their property. Nor does the powerline go through the ordinary planning process. As a national infrastructure project, it will go straight to An Bord Pleanala.
EirGrid said it is engaging in extensive consultation with communities. The three public meetings already held are "the first of many". EirGrid will not decide which route the power lines will take until early 2008.
According to a spokesman, the affected communities will not get any advance notice. The route will be announced at the same time the planning application is submitted. Then, those who wish to, can make submissions through the planning process. The planning authority can expect to be inundated.
"We are going to be a united front. We are all going to stand together," said Ann Murray. "A mother is here to protect her children. Not alone our own children, but we have to protect everyone else's children too. The bottom line is if this is going our way, it is going underground."
From: Euractiv ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 30, 2007
GMOS: 'DON'T MIX THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND PUBLIC PERCEPTION'
[Rachel's introduction: An interview with the executive director of EuropaBio, the trade association for biotechnooogy corporations in Europe.]
Amid persistent hostile European public opinion towards GM food, the executive director of green biotechnology at EuropaBio, Nathalie Moll, argues that GMOs should be authorised based on science and not public perception, and that member states need to avoid mixing authorisation [legalization] of a product and people's right to choose whether or not to buy it.
Recent surveys show that majority of European public opinion still rejects GM food. Why do you insist on green biotech?
I believe that we have a freedom of choice and if in all these studies there is a percentage against, there is always a percentage for as well. I think it would be fair to give those who want it access to choice and for those who don't want it not to buy it.
I don't believe that the authorisation process should decide based on public perception whether or not to put something on the market, they should decide based on science. Public perception decides whether they want to buy it or not based on choice.
Before giving the people the freedom of choice with regard GMOs, public authorities are responsible for safeguarding the environment and biodiversity. What is your stance on the current risk assessment procedures? Are they reliable and GMOs safe?
All risk assessment procedures are based on the OECD 1986 safety assessment guidelines. So we all have the same criteria all around the world and our risk assessment has been recognised as being the most stringent in the world -- even by Greenpeace. So once you've gone through that risk assessment you should feel pretty much secure and be sure that everything has been taken into consideration.
There is a one European Commission study on the risk assessment and safety of GMOs. It is a study over 15 years in 400 independent research institutes, funded by the Commission's DG Research, that found that GM crops approved in Europe are either as safe as, if not safer, than their conventional counterparts. That statement was made by Commissioner Philippe Busquin at the time he presented the study.
How can GM crops be potentially safer than their conventional counterparts?
Because they've been tested for cancer, for mutagenetisme. GM crops are the only plants, the only foods that have been tested regarding their safety. So, for example, if you try to make a strawberry go through the approval process of GMOs, it would not be approved, because they are allergenic to some people -- the same for a kiwi or a potato.
So GMOs are tested for cancer, for mutagenecity (if what you eat is going to mutate your genes), allergenecity, toxicity to you, the environment and to non-targeted organisms such as butterflies and ladybirds etc. Whereas the food you buy at the supermarket does not have these tests. So at least for the GM products, you can know -- for the others, you can't have any idea.
Having said all this, how do you react to recent developments in France and also to EU Environment Commissioner Dimas's stance with regard to trying to ensure that rules for the authorisation and use of GM crops respond to the concerns of citizens and protect biodiversity?
I think the situation in France is not clear yet because President Sarkozy suggested the suspension that had to be in line with EU law and Commissioner Dimas clearly told him that he was not in line with European law unless he had scientific evidence, which Sarkozy said he did not have. So, I would say that there is no suspension at the moment in France until he can prove he has some scientific evidence. I think he wants to create a body to assess that first and it is going to take few months I imagine. So the French situation is something that was said, but since then has been ruled out by the European Commission.
Dimas's alleged rejection of two cultivation dossiers comes two and half years after these dossiers received a positive EFSA opinion, which is maybe two years out of time. DG Environment has three months as of the EFSA opinion to move that on to the regulatory committee, so two and half years seems a long time. And we don't know what he is basing his proposed, alleged rejection on because I have not seen any text. So until we read what he is basing his rejection on, we can't really say anything. Since he told Sarkozy that he needs scientific evidence, we assume that he has some, but I don't know.
The majority of people are reluctant and some say that science is still uncertain. How sustainable and economically profitable do you think green biotech is on a long run?
I think the market should decide. I think it is shown to be sustainable because it's been going on for ten years around the world and there is an increase. In Europe there seems to be confusion between authorisation and right to choose. Everybody seems to think that once you authorise these products, you are going to have to buy them, but you can still choose if you want to. And the best way to put industry out of the business is to let the people choose and show that they don't want it.
You also said that GMOs hold health benefits. Could you explain them?
When plants are damaged by insects or by other damage, they are more prone to receive fungi or mushrooms to grow on where the plants have been damaged. And some fungi or mushrooms produce toxins themselves and some of these toxins have been recognised as causing cancer, mycotoxins. So if you have a plant that has been damaged it is easier for it to be attacked by fungi and have a high level of mycotoxins. You actually have legal residue levels for mycotoxins in maze but also in other products such as milk.
In Italy, they had to recently destroy 25% of the milk produced because it contained too much mycotoxins and was considered as dangerous. And that is because the cows had been eating maize that had a high level of mycotoxins in it. Biotech crops do not allow any damage to the product so you don't have any risk of being damage and fungi growing on it. This is obviously an additional health benefit. Mycotoxins exist everywhere except in GMOs.
Statistics show an increase of 77% in one year in hectares used for GM maize cultivation in the EU. What's the prospect for the coming years?
The GM maize currently authorised in Europe is good for the farmer if he has the European corn borer infestation, otherwise it is useless because it does not increase one's seed production but just gives an increased protection against this one pest. There's no point in using it on the regions where there is no corn borer. Only 25% of the EU maize has this problem and of that 25%, only one percent is biotech.
It would be great if all those farmers (25%) who have this problem had access to it. So, this particular crop could go to 25%. But there are lots of other products that are blocked in the approval process in Europe that do other things that would be useful.
In the world there are 209 crops, and here in Europe we only have this one. So the prospects for growth in Europe I'd see is that the other products get approved and the farmers have a choice.
The farmers expressed serious frustration regarding the role of media,and in particular television, accusing it of misinformation on GMOs. How do you perceive the role of the media?
It is a very difficult dossier to explain. It is very technical and there is a long history of uncomfortableness and scaremongering by pressure groups so I think there is a lot of "terrain" to recover, you have to make up a lot of things. It would be great if the media could help in giving the facts but everybody can't be an expert on everything and I think it is understandable that it is very difficult.
What do you expect from the EU member states?
I hope that member states don't give up cultivation in Europe, because there are already eight countries cultivating and some of them have done fpr ten years. So it would be really unfair to farmers in Europe if we just become importers of GM and don't allow them to competitively produce GM -- because we are importing massively and our farmers should be allowed to produce the same thing that they have to import. It is just not fair otherwise. It is pretending that we don't have a European farming industry -- and we do.
I think it is important to make the distinction between public perception and the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is good and it should be used and it is used in Europe but it should not be mixed up with public perception. Public perception is another step. Once things have been approved, the public can choose whether they want it or they don't want it. Before the governments just need to assess the safety of something, not whether the public wants it.
Copyright EurActiv.com PLC
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