Precaution at Home and Abroad
I. Precautionary Principle Alive and Well in the Philippines
II. FDA Warnings on Mercury Tooth Fillings
III. U.S. Bans Commercial Fishing in Warming Arctic
IV. USAID Has Used Taxpayer Money to Fund GMOs Abroad Since 1991
V. True Health Care Reform: 10 Missing Pieces
VI. Embracing the Precautionary Principle
VII. Cellular Toxicity of Titanium Dioxide Nanotubes and Nanowires
I. Precautionary Principle Alive and Well in the Philippines
by Nancy Myers, Special to Rachel’s Precaution Reporter
Rachel’s Precaution Reporter is a monthly publication, which means that we can’t reprint every news item that mentions the precautionary principle. We’re focusing mostly on the US, where the precautionary principle is gaining acceptance but has farther to go than in, say, Europe and Canada.
But recently a number of international precautionary principle references have cropped up that we can’t ignore. Over the summer of 2009, the precautionary principle has been invoked repeatedly in at least four controversies in the Philippines.
Aerial spraying. An unusual alliance of farmers, environmental groups, academics, and government agencies has taken on the banana industry over aerial spraying of pesticides in the Mindanao region.
Anti-spraying forces appeared to be gaining ground when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources declared a moratorium on spraying in early August. But the Court of Appeals recently sided with the banana growers, rejecting an appeal by the City of Davao and other groups opposing aerial spraying.
The city had adopted an ordinance imposing a no-spraying buffer zone around the edges of plantations in the heavily populated region. The Court of Appeals reiterated an earlier ruling that the buffer zone “constitutes unlawful taking of property without due process, and such infirmity taints the whole measure with unconstitutionality.”
Anti-spraying groups have vowed to take the battle to the Supreme Court. In September,200 international experts called on Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to “end the poison rain” over Mindanao.
Coal-ash dump. An environmental coalition called EcoWaste is strenuously objecting to plans to site a coal-ash dump on a government-owned beach in Cebu province.
EcoWaste president Manny Calonzo and others have called for “application of precautionary principle” to prevent a potential chemical crisis, according to the Manila Bulletin.
“We urge the government of Cebu to learn from the unfolding health and environmental problems in the US due to toxic releases from coal combustion waste ponds, pits, dumpsites and landfills” Calonzo wrote in a letter to provincial authorities.
Pandacan oil depots. In another matter, both sides have used the precautionary principle in their arguments. The Pandacan area of Manila has long been a major oil distribution center for the Philippines. In an effort to rescue the fragile river ecology of the area and protect the burgeoning human population, NGOs and the municipal government have called for moving and/or greatly restricting the oil depots, which are operated by four multinational oil companies.
One journalist, bristling at the accusation that the media were latecomers to environmental concerns, attacked environmental groups “leaning to precautionary principle” and suggested a better precaution would be to worry about the jobs of 10,000 residents employed in the oil industry.
Risk reduction. Finally, an NGO operating in the province of Lanao del Norte recently urged provincial officials to incorporate disaster risk reduction into development planning. Protecting against risks from climate change, natural disasters, and conflict, said Mark Cervantes of Ecoweb, is “the concrete translation of precautionary principle.”
What’s missing in most of these accounts is the explanatory note that is still obligatory in most US reports—what the precautionary principle (or the “so-called” precautionary principle) is and what it means. The precautionary principle, it seems, needs little explanation in the Philippines, and civic leaders need no instruction on how to use it.
II. FDA Warnings on Mercury Tooth Fillings Expected Today: New Regulation Result of Lawsuit Settled Last Year
by Mercury Policy Project/PR Newswire, July 28, 2009
WASHINGTON, July 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a new regulation today calling for special controls on the placement of mercury tooth fillings. Until now, dentists who used amalgam have not had to disclose the type of materials used in dental fillings or advise patients, and particularly sensitive populations, of its use.
The ruling results from a lawsuit settled last year by the plaintiffs in the case of Moms Against Mercury v. Von Eschenbach. The settlement required FDA to withdraw claims of amalgam’s safety from its web site and reclassify its use by July 28, 2009.
“After 32 years of delays, FDA finally warned Americans about neurotoxic effects from amalgam to the nervous systems of developing children and fetus,” said Michael Bender, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and director of the Mercury Policy Project. “This breakthrough corresponds to the one in 2004 when FDA first warned pregnant women and children to limit consumption of certain tuna.”
As reflected in the May 2008 court transcripts, Judge Ellen Huvelle stated that the “…probability of harm is enormous,” and asked the FDA: “How could you drag your feet for 32 years? Do what you are supposed to do.” Judge Huvelle also said that she couldn’t “. . .order a ban, but can compel to act,” observing that this was “government at its worst” and that she wanted this “public safety issue to be resolved.” (See link to court transcript at the end of release.)
As part of the settlement, FDA agreed to change its website — dramatically. In addition to recognizing that amalgam contains a neurotoxin that may present a risk to children, the FDA website now says, for example, that: “Some other countries follow a “precautionary principle” and avoid the use of dental amalgam in pregnant women.”
These warnings are similar to those from manufacturers. Amalgam arrives at a dentist’s office with skull and cross bones affixed next to the words “POISON, CONTAINS METALLIC MERCURY.” Manufacturers advise dentists against placing amalgam in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under six, and anyone with kidney disease. For example, Dentsply has warned: “Contraindication In children 6 and under” and “In expectant mothers.”
However, most Americans are not aware of these warnings, according to a poll conducted for the Mercury Policy Project by Zogby International. The poll indicates that most Americans (76%) don’t know mercury is the primary component of amalgam, but when informed, almost all (92%) want to be informed prior to treatment. The poll also found that most Americans (77%) would choose higher cost mercury-free fillings — given the choice — and a large majority (69%) support a ban on placement of mercury fillings in pregnant women and children.
III. U.S. Bans Commercial Fishing in Warming Arctic
by Allison Winter, Greenwire, August 21, 2009
The Obama administration approved a management plan yesterday for Arctic fisheries that prevents the expansion of commercial fishing into vast swaths of sea whose ice is being melted by rising temperatures.
“As Arctic sea ice recedes due to climate change, there is increasing interest in commercial fishing in Arctic waters,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement yesterday. “We are in a position to plan for sustainable fishing that does not damage the overall health of this fragile ecosystem. This plan takes a precautionary approach to any development of commercial fishing in an area where there has been none in the past.”
Crafted by the regional fishery management council in Alaska, the new Arctic Fishery Management Plan closes about 150,000 square nautical miles, an area larger than California and five times larger than all national parks combined.
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council last winter voted unanimously in favor of the plan, which bars industrial fishing in U.S. waters north of the Bering Strait, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas (E&ENews PM, Feb. 5).
There is currently no significant commercial fishing in the area, but fisheries managers expect it to become a target for commercial fishers chasing cod and snow crab as ice melts and fisheries shift north. The council drafted the plan to protect the area until researchers can determine what fishing is sustainable in the fragile ecosystem.
Fishers and scientists are seeing fish populations shift around Alaska as waters warm. Walleye pollock, the cornerstone of the state’s fishing industry, are moving north as temperatures rise. And some fishers have seen Pacific and jack mackerel — usually found in California waters — off the southeastern coast of Alaska.
The effort to ban fishing in the northernmost Arctic waters has been endorsed by Audubon Alaska, Oceana, the Ocean Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group.
Environmentalists said today that they hope the administration’s approval of the plan is a signal of more precautionary policy for the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Janis Searles Jones, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, called it a “landmark decision” that indicates the tide is turning for Arctic policy.
“The Arctic is our planet’s air conditioner, and it plays a key role in regulating global climate,” Searles Jones said. “Expanding industrial uses in a region that is poorly understood and already under enormous stress could have dire consequences, not only for the Arctic but for the planet as a whole.”
The plan is also backed by Alaska’s major commercial fishing group, the Marine Conservation Alliance, which represents about 70 percent of the state’s groundfish and crab industry. Alaska fishers hope the plan will pressure Russia and other Arctic nations to close their fisheries and prevent a rush to new fishing grounds that could cause fish populations to crash.
In the 1980s, commercial fishers from around the world flocked to the Bering Sea between U.S. and Russian territory, which was effectively a “doughnut hole” without any fisheries regulations. After nearly a decade of negotiations, an international agreement finally closed it off.
There are major fishing grounds south of the new protected area. Alaska’s Bering Sea is the United States’ “fish basket,” with about 60 percent of U.S. commercial landings, according to the state fishing industry.
IV. African Food Security? USAID Has Used Taxpayer Money to Fund GMOs Abroad Since 1991
Paula Crossfield, The Huffington Post, August 6, 2009
Yesterday Secretary Clinton was in Kenya with a delegation that included Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as well as Representatives Donald M. Payne (D-NJ) and Nita M. Lowey (D-NY). While the group was there on a broad platform to discuss economic development in Africa, including food security issues, the delegation took the opportunity yesterday afternoon to visit the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) lab, which is best known for unsuccessfully trying to produce a genetically modified, virus-resistant sweet potato under a US-led program. The trip to KARI highlights the poor vision the United States currently holds on furthering food security in Africa.
Historically, the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the US and other countries has primarily profited patent-holding companies, while creating farmer dependence on the chemical fertilizers and pesticides produced by a few US corporations, used to the detriment of human health, soil quality and the environment. The failed sweet potato project at the KARI lab was a product of a public-private partnership between Monsanto, KARI and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal organization responsible for most US non-military foreign aid. USAID is not shy about their desire to promote biotechnology, and have been working towards furthering a GMO agenda abroad since 1991, when it launched the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP). According to this in-depth research article by the organization GRAIN, the ABSP sought to “identify suitable crops in various countries and use them as Trojan Horses to provide a solid platform for the introduction of other GM crops.”
In Kenya, that crop was the sweet potato — the focus of the USAID-funded Kenya Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program, which sought for fourteen years at KARI, at a cost of $6 million dollars, to create and bring it to market before the partnering groups abandoned the project.
ABSP shifted its operations in 1998 (four years after GMOs became legal to plant and sell to the US public in food products without a label) by branching out into more specific focus groups seeking the promotion of biotech abroad. This included the Collaborative Agricultural Biotechnology Initiative (CABIO), and its subsidiary, a public relations arm focused on promoting policy friendly to biotechnology called the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). PBS is noted for its aggressive push against various governments’ use of the Precautionary Principle, a moral and political principle that protects society from risk in the face of a lack of scientific consensus, in decisions not to plant GMOs.
USAID’s support for biotechnology also extends to its personnel. For example, Judith Chambers was one of the main forces behind the strategies pursued to further the biotech agenda at the ABSP. After working as a senior advisor to USAID, she later served as Director of International Government Affairs at Monsanto, and is now head of PBS.
The point of all these acronyms and associations is to show how a tangled consortium (these are just some of the groups), funded by taxpayer dollars via USAID, seeks to further the aims of biotech abroad, especially in Africa, where Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia were singled out and have been the testing grounds for this strategy.
The obvious beneficiaries of such international development are the handful of corporations which own the patents and the technology, and which produce the herbicides and pesticides required by the use of such seeds. Josephat Ngonyo, head of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, a network of 60 community groups, small farmers and food security organizations in Kenya, stated in a teleconference yesterday organized by the National Family Farm Coalition that he didn’t feel that farmers were considered when governments made agricultural policies. He sited building infrastructure, like roads, as well as a need for markets as real ways to help farmers. Africans like Ngonyo have a right to be worried — they can look to India to see what a future relying solely on biotech seeds could look like, where a depleted water table, poisoned waterways and farmer suicides have been the result of the first Green Revolution.
The bottom line is that biotechnology requires a spin campaign because it is a marginal approach to the very big and very real problems we face in agriculture. Indeed, there is no one-fits all solution to food security. Yet the US government still pursues the same stubborn, limited policy.
Secretary Clinton continued the mis-guided rhetoric yesterday, despite the fact that hunger is not a yield problem, while speaking at KARI:
“Farmers in Africa have also faced the lack of investment from the private sector as well as governments and the global community, while technologies that have helped farmers in other parts of the world haven’t yet been adapted to the extent necessary to Africa’s needs. Together, these challenges have eroded the foundation of African agriculture. But that foundation is being rebuilt. The scientists here at KARI are taking the lead. I’ve just met with researchers who are cultivating hardier crops that can feed more people and thrive in harsher conditions, disease-resistant cassava plants, sweet potatoes enriched with Vitamin A to prevent blindness, maize that can flourish in times of drought.
The breakthroughs achieved in these labs and others throughout Africa can go a long way toward making sure that farmers who work from sunup to sundown can grow enough to support their families and so people aren’t forced to pull their children from school or sell their livestock to survive a food shortage.”
It is noteworthy that we are even having this discussion, and I commend the administration for talking about food security. (It is also noteworthy that it has taken many months to find a head of USAID — which could be a sign of a real effort to change the direction of that organization.)
But instead of tired solutions that are not working, we need a paradigm shift, says Dr. Hans Hennen, who has worked in Nairobi for 27 years and was co-chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report. The IAASTD report [pdf] was sponsored by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and represented four years of work by 400 scientists. “We can do better and more using a broader set of tools [than biotechnology],” Hennen continued. The report, which came out in 2008, stated unequivocally that business as usual in agricultural production was not an option, pushing for a more broad-based approach to answering the question:
What must we do differently to overcome persistent poverty and hunger, achieve equitable and sustainable development and sustain productive and resilient farming in the face of environmental crises?
Biotechnology is a reductionist pipe dream which is overly dependent on waning resources. By contrast, the IAASTD looked a agro-ecological solutions that focused on agricultural resilience. Agriculture according to the IAASTD requires multifaceted, local solutions. While biotechnology has been promising drought tolerance and higher yields for years without delivering, there are real answers available now — like drought tolerant varieties, suited to certain areas, which are naturally bred; science that focuses on building the quality of the soil and the capacity for that soil to hold more water; or push and pull solutions that deal with pests naturally by attracting beneficial insects or planting compatible species that act as decoys for those pests.
So now what are we going to do with the 20 billion in aid pledged by the G-8 last month to promote food security in Africa? In light of what we now know about USAID, and the fact that there are biotech friendly advisers like Technology and Science Advisor to Secretary Clinton Nina Fedoroff and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rajiv Shah in the administration, it is not hard to assume how those monies might be used. But President Obama should significantly change our policy if he wants to truly help the continent he says he cares so much about.
Obama administration: Study the IAASTD. If there is any hope for a better food system in Africa and the U.S., we must first accept that what is being practiced now is not sustainable, and begin to start the process of making it so.
V. True Health Care Reform: 10 Missing Pieces
by Dr. Frank Lipman, Huffington Post, August 24, 2009
I applaud President Obama for his efforts. I too believe that everyone deserves proper healthcare and that access to healthcare must be a right for all. But I think Washington is barking up the wrong tree. They’re busy arguing about what amounts to health insurance reform, while what this country needs is true health care reform. Interestingly, what is happening in Washington mirrors much of what we do in Western Medicine. We suppress symptoms instead of dealing with the root causes of the problem. All the options on the table now only address how we pay for healthcare, rather than why we are unhealthy and how we change that. But if we don’t change why we are unhealthy, we are not only likely to fail in securing better medical outcomes, it will likely bankrupt us too. In terms of getting better health care or becoming a healthier nation we have to make serious changes. We will only flourish if we address the root causes of the problem.
As a nation, we’re highly skilled in crisis care and the treatment of life- threatening diseases. But we’re rank amateurs when it comes to the equally important issues of preventative care and the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and many cancers. True healthcare reform needs to provide greater support to these areas as at least 75% of our medical costs are spent on treating these chronic diseases.
Recently on Huffington Post, four physician colleagues of mine — Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish, Deepak Chopra, and Mark Hyman — all eloquently articulated the problems we face. I won’t repeat their arguments, instead I will present some facts about our system and will then offer some recommendations many of which complement their thoughts.
I don’t claim to have all the answers and some of these suggestions may seem unrealistic given our current system, but to fix health care in this country we need radical change. In addition to my strong belief that any civilized society should guarantee healthcare for all its citizens without exception, here are 10 recommendations that I feel should be an essential part of any health care reform.
1) Invest in educating the public in self care
2) Motivate people by rewarding lifestyle changes that foster health.
3) Educate Doctors and other Healthcare Practitioners in nutrition, exercise, stress reduction techniques and natural remedies.
4) Reimburse doctors for their time in preventing and managing chronic diseases.
5) Practice the Precautionary Principle.
6) Protect our food supply and encourage healthy eating.
7) Feed our children healthily and educate them responsibly.
8) Subsidize healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
9) Remove corporate influence from healthcare.
10) Give everyone freedom of choice.
By focusing only on how people can get access to costly disease treatment, without the more important discussion about how lifestyle changes can be implemented to prevent these diseases in the first place, is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We will simply be perpetuating a flawed and costly healthcare model. For the sake of not only our personal health, but also for the financial health of the nation, we must address the causes that underlie the prevalence of chronic disease that we are experiencing. Unless we address why people are getting sick or the underlying mechanisms of their illnesses, our system will lack a solid foundation. Unless we change our disease care model to a true health care system, we are bound to fail in the long run.
Frank Lipman MD, is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC a center whose emphasis is on preventive health care and patient education. His personal blend of Western and Eastern Medicine combined with the many other complimentary modalities he has studied, has helped thousands of people recover their energy and zest for life. He is the author of the recent SPENT: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again (2009) and Total Renewal; 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003)
VI. Embracing the Precautionary Principle
by Robina Suwol,
California Safe Schools, Los Angeles Independent Media Center, July 27, 2009
One might think that when it comes to toxins and children, our government would take a precautionary approach, responding to early signs of harm. The European Union operates using a precautionary framework. But, we, in the United States do not.
We operate under a “prove harm” approach, in which science must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt a cause-and-effect relationship between a chemical and harm to necessitate regulatory action. Meanwhile, the health of our children rests in the balance.
Children absorb more toxins relative to body weight than adults, and their developing brains, organs, nervous systems and immune systems may be more vulnerable to toxins. Studies increasingly show how toxic chemicals harm the body even at low doses, as in parts per trillion, and the more often a child is exposed to chemicals, the greater the chance of harm. Government regulations and manufacturers of synthetic chemicals, however, determine exposure-threshold levels based on a healthy adult male who weighs 160 pounds.
As rates of childhood cancer, asthma, neurological disorders, endocrine and hormonal disorders and birth defects increase, environmental-justice advocates recognize there is no better time than now to protect our children’s health.
Adults have an obligation to protect children from toxins. The U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act lists about 75,000 chemicals currently in use. Our country produces or imports 42 billion pounds of chemicals daily and global production is expected to double every 25 years. Not all toxic chemicals are obvious, though, as many are odorless and colorless, making our ability to protect children even more challenging.
Children spend nearly one-third of their lives at school—what should be a safe space for learning and growing. However, with the best intentions, many school districts use large amounts of chemicals with serious health concerns, instead of opting for lower-risk alternative methods. Pesticides regularly applied on school grounds and in classrooms off-gas into the air kids breathe and seep into the grass where they play. Ingredients in some pesticides have been linked to cancer, respiratory illness and attention-deficit disorder.
While exposure to toxic chemicals threatens all children, those living in less-affluent neighborhoods face a greater threat because of more air pollution from nearby industry and manufacturing plants, lead exposure from lead-based paint in older housing, and other factors associated with unjust social-economic factors. Worse, many of these children lack health insurance or adequate medical care.
We must eliminate the widespread use of toxic chemicals. Science supports us and policies increasingly support us—of course, more work is needed here—and we must ensure that adopted practices meet the spirit and intent of eliminating our reliance on toxic chemicals.We must refuse to become partners in “greenwashing” and creating standards or practices that mislead, and fall short of addressing public concern, expectation and protection, especially, when the outcome impacts the health of future generations.
California Safe Schools believes children and adults have a right to learn, work and live in a healthy environment. Current limitations of our regulatory system—dependent on risk-assessment approaches that fail to address key issues of chemical mixtures, cumulative impacts and synergistic effects—cry out for the need for programs, policies and legislation built on the concept of precaution.
Original article is at http://la.indymedia.org/news/2009/07/229213.php
VII. Cellular Toxicity of Titanium Dioxide Nanotubes and Nanowires
by Michael Berger, Nanowerk, July 27, 2009
(Nanowerk Spotlight) One of the complications of nanotoxicology is that the toxicity of a specific nanomaterial cannot be predicted from the toxicity of the same material in a different form. For instance, while the toxicity of inert systems such as iron oxides, gold, or silver has been investigated for nearly isotropic particles (i.e., with a low aspect ratio), the toxicity of these materials in nanofilament form cannot be predicted from their known toxicity as nanoparticles. Fully understanding the toxic mechanisms of nanoscale materials is an essential prerequisite in being able to design harmless nanomaterials whose interactions with biological cells is non-lethal.
Currently, a lot of nanotoxicological research effort is focused on carbon nanotubes, but nanofilaments are not exclusively based on carbon materials and can be produced from many inorganic materials in the form of nanotubes and nanowires. Applying the “precautionary principle” to nanotechnology would require much more extensive nanotoxicological research on all types of nanomaterials; and there seems to be a particular lack of findings concerning non-carbon nanofilaments. Researchers in Switzerland have now taken a closer look at the fate of titanium dioxide (TiO2) based nanofilaments in the body. Their results are cause for concern.
To read the complete article, which contains a number of slide images:http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=11851.php