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Weigh the value of new ‘tools’; apply the precautionary principle

3 Jun

There is mounting evidence of unintended harmful consequences in many sectors – including medicine, pharmacology, agriculture, energy generation, finance, engineering and transport. The most widely read post on this site in May reported the Lancet’s publication of the World Health Organisation’s finding that glyphosate, a widely used ingredient in weedkiller, is probably carcinogenic.

Michael J. Coren‘s article in Quartz magazine summarised the findings of Jameson Wetmore, an engineer turned social researcher at the Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Wetmore opened:

“The motto of the 1933 World Fair in Chicago was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms. Governments and companies were saying that technology can lead us out of this. It may not always be comfortable, but we have to ride it out. Household technologies were all the rage. When you hit the 1960s and 1970s, there is this shift.

“I think the hallmarks of that shift are the dropping of the atomic bomb, and then of course you have Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, and you also have Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring”.

“Whereas much of the contemporary world sees technological progress as inevitable, even a moral imperative, Wetmore finds that the Amish watch their neighbours and carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it: They . . . watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then they decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves.”

We don’t think about the impact technology might have on our lives beyond the initial big idea.

“The automobile was sold to us with this idea of a freedom we never had before. With that freedom came a heavy toll of injury and death. So can we anticipate unintended consequences way the Amish do, or are these systems just too complex to go much beyond first-order effects?

A more rigorous application of the EU’s Article 191 (left) would help to do this.

“Less than a mile from where I’m standing [in Phoenix, Arizona], Elaine Herzberg was killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle. I fully recognize the only way we’re going to automated vehicles is running in this world is to test them on city streets. Now, if we were to sit back and think about the values of the society here, we might say that testing those vehicles at 10 PM at night outside of a concert hall where a huge amount of alcohol had been served was not the best place to be testing. Perhaps testing in a school zone when children are present is not the best place to test an autonomous vehicle. But those are decisions that local people did not have the chance to make.”

The idea that technology is an unmitigated good is beginning to be questioned

Wetmore thinks that today Americans have a much more nuanced view of things. The number of people who think technology is an unmitigated good is continuing to shrink, but most haven’t abandoned the idea that there are a lot of problems and technology will play a role in solving them.

The precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk. It also covers consumer policy, European Union (EU) legislation concerning food, human, animal and plant health. It has been recognised by various international agreements, notably in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) concluded in the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  

Jeremy Corbyn led the proposal (right) to retain Article 191’s environmental principles after exit day, narrowly defeated by 16 votes.

 

Time for change?

 

 

 

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Russia is winning the battle for the health of the people and the environment.

19 May

Ellen Brown, president of the Public Banking Institute, (UC, Berkeley & UC, Los Angeles School of Law) reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned GMOs and has set out to make Russia the world’s leading supplier of organic food.

Russian families are showing what can be done with permaculture methods on simple garden plots. In 2011, 40% of Russia’s food was grown on dachas (cottage gardens or allotments), predominantly organically. Dacha gardens produced more than 80% of the country’s fruit and berries, more than 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nation’s milk, much of it consumed raw. Russian author Vladimir Megre comments:

Russian gardeners demonstrate that gardeners can feed the world—and you do not need any GMOs, industrial farms, or any other technological gimmicks to guarantee everybody’s got enough food to eat.

Bear in mind that Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year—so in the US, for example, gardeners’ output could be substantially greater. Today, however, the area taken up by lawns in the US is two times greater than that of Russia’s gardens—and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.

In the end, the Green Revolution engineered by Kissinger to control markets and ensure U.S. economic dominance may be our nemesis. While the U.S. struggles to maintain its hegemony by economic coercion and military force,

In the U.S., only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. Most farmland is soaked in pesticides and herbicides. But the need for these toxic chemicals is a myth. In an October 2017 article in The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot cited studies showing that reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides actually increases production, because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which crops depend. Rather than an international trade agreement that would enable giant transnational corporations to dictate to governments, he argues that we need a global treaty to regulate pesticides and require environmental impact assessments for farming. He writes:

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. … The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders?

President Trump has boasted of winning awards for environmental protection. If he is sincere about championing the environment, he needs to block the merger of Bayer and Monsanto, two agribusiness giants bent on destroying the ecosystem for private profit.

 

 

 

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Encouraging lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at China’s national congress

21 Oct

Those who totally oppose all GM adoption in China because of concerns about the damage caused by the herbicides and pesticides used with the crops and a loose coalition of left-wingers, environmentalists and retired officials will be encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for GM technology at this week’s national congress of China’s Communist Party.

Lucy Hornby in Beijing, writing in the FT, says that Mr Xi has ‘historically fudged’ his position on GM — urging advocates to be “bold in research, careful in promotion”.

Ms Hornby notes that the coalition had written letters to the top leadership last year opposing ChemChina’s purchase of Swiss seeds and agrochemicals group Syngenta. Reuters put the number of signatories at 400.

Currently – despite US Dow Chemicals’ persistent and energetic lobbying – only GM papaya is planted on a small scale in China, due to domestic fears that foreign GM technology poses a security threat. In addition, at present (June 17th report) GM cotton is grown in China and GM animal feed is imported. Very few genetically modified foods are allowed on the market in China and labelling GM foods is strictly enforced there.

The safety of GMOs is widely debated in China through traditional media and the emerging online social media, where the public expresses deep concerns about the safety of GMO foods.

In 2015, there was a report of a conference on “GMOs and National Security” in Beijing, where scholars warned that the issues relating to GMOs were not just about science or technology, but also about food security, ecological security, and even national security.

A study of a GM grain carried out in China in 2012 caused great concern to the public; a US researcher and her team were accused of feeding Chinese children a GM grain, golden rice, and measuring the effects without telling their parents.

Chinese researchers are vying to promote new plant strains they have developed, while not revealing whether they are genetically modified or developed using traditional breeding practices. Many are grown in demonstration fields but have not been commercialised.

Frank Ning is the head of ChemChina’s rival Sinochem, which markets some Monsanto products. He said that the future direction of Chinese agriculture is the gradual improvement of seed quality and more targeted application of fertiliser and pesticides, which are big sources of soil and water pollution in China:

“Sinochem has transformed. We used to be just a sales operation: selling seeds, selling fertiliser. Now we are a modern agricultural platform: service oriented, promoting better seeds and teaching people to use less fertiliser.”

So far, so good.

 

 

 

 

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Toxic avalanche 2: smart meters, an unlisted component  

29 Aug

Yesterday a neighbour voiced misgiving about the smart meters which the government decided to offer as part of measures to upgrade our energy supply and tackle climate change. They are said to give the user more control over energy consumption, help him/her to understand the bills, end estimated readings and show the cost of energy used.

In 2014 This is Money (click on link for clearer text) reported fears that two-thirds would not work and the meters would not save money and the Telegraph earlier this month published six important reasons to ’say no to a smart meter’ which may be read by following this link. But not one was related to misgivings which have been reported for some years.

In 2012, environmental health Professor David Carpenter, founder of Albany School of Public Health, and author of 370 peer-reviewed publications, issued a public letter on the plausible toxic risks of intensive, pulsed-microwave smart metering. His letter Smart-meters: Correcting the Gross Misinformation was signed by 50 international health experts:

“We, the undersigned … have co-authored hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) … Mass deployment of smart grids could expose large chunks of the general population to alarming risk scenarios … More than a thousand studies done on low intensity, high frequency, non-ionizing radiation going back at least fifty years, show … biochemical changes which … may lead to diseases.” 

Findings: ‘minimal risk’ – aka some risk; ‘exaggerated concerns’ – aka some but possibly lower causes for concern

In 2013, the fears of residents’ opposed to smart meters, which led to bans in two regions of California were  dismissed in the Huffington Post as ‘pseudoscience, making the greatest inroads in the United States’: “Some claim ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity,’ or in other words that radiation from devices such as smart meters cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, seizures, memory loss or other maladies. Others claim that smart meters cause cancer.  Similar episodes have occurred in the UK, Canada and elsewhere”.

A 2010 13-nation study commissioned by the World Health Organization was cited in the Huffington Post article as clear scientific evidence of safety as regards  cancer, because it found “at most a very minimal and partially contradictory link between cancer risk and heavy cell-phone usage. Along this line, concerns that cell phone usage by pregnant mothers endangers their fetuses are wildly exaggerated”. On 31st May 2011, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), referring to mobile phone usage, classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.

In April this year this site reported that Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph, had reported that new analysis of government statistics by researchers at the charity Children with Cancer UK found that there are now 1,300 more cancer cases a year compared with 1998, the first time all data sets were published – a 40% rise.

Dr Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at Bristol University, the scientific adviser for Children with Cancer UK, said many elements of modern lifestyles are to blame:

  • air pollution was by far the biggest culprit
  • obesity,
  • pesticides
  • solvents inhaled during pregnancy,
  • circadian rhythm disruption through too much bright light at night,
  • radiation from x-rays and CT scans,
  • smoking during and after pregnancy,
  • magnetic fields from cables and power lines,
  • magnetic fields from gadgets in homes,
  • and potentially, radiation from mobile phones.

British Gas quotes Public Health England:

“PHE states there is no evidence to suggest that exposure to the radio waves produced by smart meters poses any health risk. In addition, they state that the exposure from smart meters are lower than from other appliances we use today like televisions and microwaves, and likely to be thousands of times lower than from a mobile phone. Their website states: ‘the evidence to date suggests exposures to the radio-waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health’. For more details on smart meters and health, see PHE’s website”. The article has been removed from the website and is now archived – standard practice for controversial material

Better to be safe than sorry? Adopt the precautionary principle detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU), which “aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk . . . the scope of this principle . . . covers consumer policy, European legislation concerning food and human, animal and plant health.

 

 

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Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

29 Mar

Will agri-business ultimately be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?

Yesterday Farming Today, whose sylvan banners (one example above) indicate a preference for traditional farming whilst the actual programmes often court the worst establishment proposals, reported that a new GM wheat trial has been planted at the Rothamstead research centre in Hertfordshire.

It was advocated – yet again – as needed to feed the world’s poor. Hunger is due to the poor lacking land to produce food or money to buy it. Will Monsanto etc be giving food free of charge?

Last November, Clive Cookson, FT Science Editor, had reported on this plan to grow a crop of wheat that has been genetically modified in the spring of 2017 at Rothamsted, alongside non-GM wheat of the same Cadenza variety, as a control.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

Cookson adds that when the crop is harvested at the end of the summer, the researchers will discover whether genetic modification raises the yield in the field by as much as it did in trials carried out so far under glass. Rothamsted hopes this will work better than its last GM field trial of wheat genetically modified to repel aphids by giving off an alarming scent which worked well in the greenhouse but in a field trial it failed to show any crop protection benefits over conventional wheat. Malcolm Hawkesford, head of plant biology and crop science at Rothamsted, said the negative outcome showed how important it is to carry out field trials to confirm laboratory studies.

Earlier in March, news was received that the Organic Research Centre joined 32 other organisations in a letter to DEFRA which asked that the application from the Sainsbury Laboratory to release genetically modified (GM) and possibly blight-resistant potatoes be refused.

The tubers produced by the transgenic plants released will not be used for animal feed and will be destroyed following harvest, according to a government website.

Potato blight can be combated through conventional breeding and cultural methods

The letter, co-ordinated by GM Freeze, sets out the reasons why they believe that this trial should not go ahead, including the charge that the applicant has neglected to consider a number of serious and complex hazards, that the trial represents a significant risk and will not benefit society, that genetic modification is not necessary for blight resistance and that there is no market for GM potatoes.

 

 

 

 

MSM downplays EU ban/delay on use of glyphosate, a probable carcinogen, for 18 months

9 Feb

TRAUDT AERIAL SERVICE

On February 8th, Agranet reported that the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) was launched in several European cities. It calls on the commission to propose a “ban on glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval procedure, and to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use”.

Its main objectives: Ban glyphosate-based herbicides, exposure to which has been linked to cancer in humans, and has led to ecosystems degradation; ensure that the scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval is based only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticide industry; set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use, with a view to achieving a pesticide-free future.

In January this year, the Farmers Weekly recorded the European Commission’s registration of petition calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s top-selling weedkiller. The initiative was formally registered on 25 January, starting a one-year process for the collection of signatures in support of the proposal. If the proposal receives the support of a million people from at least seven member states, the Commission will be obliged to consider a legislative response and provide justification for its decision.

The FW article adds that the European Chemicals Agency is undertaking a review into glyphosate and will consider whether it should be classified as a carcinogen by the EU. The review is due to be published this summer. It comes after a study, led by Michael Antoniou, at King’s College, London, linked glyphosate to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. Monsanto maintains glyphosate, when used according to label directions, “does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment”.

On 2nd February William Bowles blogged The EU has refused to give Monsanto’s glyphosate the green light. It’s delayed the decision for 18 months while glyphosate is re-evaluated” adding ruefully:

“(Banned) but not, it seems in Lambeth in London where the stuff is sprayed regularly on the pavements in my neighbourhood”.

 

 

It’s time to stop farming salmon

23 Jan

Quartz announces, “Lox lovers and sashimi devotees, prepare to shell out this year. According to the Nasdaq Salmon Index, salmon prices are at historic highs—and it’s all because of one tiny, nefarious little creature.

The culprit behind the rising price of salmon is about the size of an aspirin: a parasite known as the sea louse, or salmon louse. Acute outbreaks in Scotland and Norway this year have, er, eaten into the global supply of farmed Atlantic salmon. Norway, the planet’s biggest salmon producer, exported around 5% less by volume than in 2015. Globally, production fell around 9%.

Mark Macaskill reported in The Times that the use of toxic chemicals on Scottish salmon farms to fight sea lice has soared in the past decade, according to official data. Between 2006-16, farmed salmon production increased by 35% while the use of toxic chemicals to control flesh-eating lice rose 932%.

salmon-sea-lice

The sea louse is a parasite that kills millions of farmed fish every year cause serious fin damage, skin erosion and deep open wounds that are prone to infection. 

The latest figures, obtained under freedom of information from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), show that Scottish salmon farms used 45kg of chemicals in 2006 but this increased to 467kg in 2016. Since 2002, nearly four tonnes of chemicals have been dumped into the seas around Scotland

“Scottish salmon farming is fighting a losing battle against chemically resistant sea lice,” said Don Staniford of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. “The drugs don’t work anymore.

Treatments used by Scottish salmon farms included cypermethrin, a pesticide that was abandoned in 2012 after sea-lice developed resistance. Scientific studies have suggested that it impairs fertility in wild salmon. SEPA records also show that just over two tonnes of azamethiphos, an organophosphate insecticide  has been used in the past decade by salmon farmers. A paper published last month by scientists in Canada raised concern that azamethiphos poses a serious health risk to marine wildlife; tests on lobsters found repeated exposure can impair the nervous system and cause death.

Efforts are underway to reduce the use of chemicals to control sea lice. Scottish Sea Farms, one of the country’s leading producers of farmed salmon, recently bought a Thermolicer, a £4m delousing device. Fish are pumped into the machine and pass through heated water that kills the lice. Quartz reports, “the scalding-hot bath kills off the sea lice—and also, sometimes, the fish themselves. Last year, salmon-farming giant Marine Harvest inadvertently cooked 95,000 caged salmon with a thermolicer. Though that killed 95% of the sea lice, it also left the company with 600 tonnes of dead salmon to incinerate. Along with rampant salmon deaths from pesticide treatments, the thermolicer incident caused a 16% drop in the company’s Scottish salmon output for 2016”.

Just before Christmas, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland called for some of Britain’s leading supermarkets to ban the sale of farmed salmon from parts of Scotland where sea lice infestations are “rampant” and pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon and sea trout.