Tag Archives: Lancet

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?






Secret State: how long will government deny the evidence about the effects of pesticide?

19 Mar

CHS award brenda

A very well read post on our Indian website refers to the writings and campaign of organophosphate affected sheep farmer Brenda Sutcliffe (centre, above). Farmers and farmworkers in India and other countries have also suffered from using these substances – but in England it was compulsory for several years- a  government ruling.

On the 15th of March, Brian John (GM Cymru) drew our attention to a paper  published in the journal Neurology (May 2013):

In high-quality case-control studies, (Parkinson Disease) PD risk was increased by exposure to any-type pesticides, herbicides, and solvents. Exposure to paraquat or maneb/mancozeb was associated with about a 2-fold increase in risk. In high-quality case-control studies including an appreciable number of cases (.200), heterogeneity remained significantly high (.40%) only for insecticides, organochlorines, organophosphates, and farming; also, the risk associated with rural living was found to be significant.

Conclusions: The literature supports the hypothesis that exposure to pesticides or solvents is a risk factor for PD. Further prospective and high-quality case-control studies are required to substantiate a cause-effect relationship. The studies should also focus on specific chemical agents. (Neurology_ 2013;80:2035–2041)

Today, pesticide affected farm manager Richard Bruce refers to one of the strands in a trail of evidence in a 2012 draft by the government’s Committee on Toxicity (http://cot.food.gov.uk/pdfs/tox201226.pdf‎).

Committee toxicity header

In view of the stern warning below, we simply cite the online evidence from the archived Lancet article: Cherry, N., Mackness, M., Durrington, P., Povey, A., Dippnall, M., Smith, T. and Mackness, B. (2002) Paraoxonase (PON1) polymorphisms in farmers attributing ill health to sheep dip. Lancet 359, 763-4.

Committee toxicity header text

The abstract and a link to the paper can be seen here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11888590.

Its conclusion: “Our results support the hypothesis that organophosphates contribute to the reported ill health of people who dip sheep”.


Richard gives another sad case:

“Another good friend has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma this week. The poor lady has been through CT, several MRI and now PETT scans, bone and bone marrow biopsy and will now face a prolonged course of two forms of chemotherapy, one injected into the spine, and radiotherapy. She will lose her hair and will be provided with free wigs or the first £100 towards the cost of one made for her, just as with all the breast cancer cases.

Her husband, an agricultural chemical salesman died with an inoperable brain tumour, as did the man whose job he took. Her father, an agricultural worker, also died with cancer. A common story”.

And comments:

Meanwhile the companies that create the poisons supply the NHS with the very expensive drugs and equipment to treat the induced symptoms. No wonder there is a reluctance to stop the gravy train.

Councils spray roads and waste areas with the Roundup toxin, even in towns and cities, it is used on the railways, in gardens and both before planting and before harvesting food crops to reduce harvest and drying costs. Its toxic breakdown product is even found in deep well water.

The cost of all this is enormous and yet despite the “Polluter Pays” principle the poisoners escape censure.

The madness continues, as does the deception used to hide the dangers and the numbers of people harmed.