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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #71

From: Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby) (pg. 12)
December 19, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "The [United Nations] General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution introduced by the United States that asks all countries to apply the precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks." A 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement had previously called for a precautionary approach to marine fisheries.]

New York -- Concerned that overfishing, illegal catches, wasteful methods and destructive techniques are depleting fish stocks and ruining fragile marine habitats in many parts of the world, the UN General assembly recently called on all nations to take immediate action, to sustainably manage fish stocks, and protect vulnerable deep sea ecosystems from harmful fishing practices.

The General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution introduced by the United States that asks all countries to apply the precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks.

The resolution expressed the Assembly s particular concern that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a serious threat to fish stocks, marine habitats and ecosystems, as well as the food security and the economies of many nations, particularly poorer ones.

Globally, more than half of global fish stocks, 52 per cent, are fully exploited found a study issued jointly earlier this year by the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, and the World Conservation Union, IUCN.

Overexploited and depleted species have increased from about 10 per cent in the mid-1970s to 24 per cent in 2002, according to the study, Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas .

As adopted by the General Assembly, the sustainable fisheries resolution addressed the issue of bottom trawling, which drags heavy gear across the ocean floor to catch fish, leaving behind few life forms of any kind.

The resolution calls on Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) to close vulnerable marine ecosystems to bottom trawling by December 2008 unless conservation and management measures have been adopted to prevent adverse impacts.

The resolution also calls on states negotiating the establishment of new RFMOs to adopt and implement interim measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems by December next year.

For areas where there are no RFMOs, states are called on to stop authorising their vessels to conduct bottom fishing until conservation and management measures are adopted.

During debate on the resolution, IUCN spokesman Harlan Cohen welcomed "the call for a closure to bottom fishing of areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems, including seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold water corals, are known or are likely to occur".

But he said the IUCN is concerned that bottom trawling was not banned in areas where no regional fishery management organisation is in place because these vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems are unprotected.

Stuart Beck of Palau, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the forum was disappointed that the resolution did not generate an immediate interim prohibition on bottom trawling in unmanaged areas.

Mr Beck said the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum met in October in Nadi, Fiji, where they agreed to advance international efforts to institute an immediate interim prohibition on destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, in unmanaged areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Mr Beck said the forum leaders felt that urgent action on destructive fishing practices is needed because these practices undermine the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity, which is so crucial to the way of life of small-island developing states.

To combat global warming, there is an interest in placing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide deep beneath the sea floor. This process would be governed by the Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, the London Convention, which took effect this year.

Mr Cohen said the IUCN has greater concern about a possible interest to sequester carbon through iron fertilisation of the open ocean .

Iron fertilisation is the intentional introduction of iron to the upper ocean to increase the marine food chain and to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Dumping iron in the ocean is known to spur the growth of plankton that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but preliminary research done in 1999 and 2002 indicates iron fertilisation may not be the quick fix to climate problems that some had hoped.

IUCN considers that before any such large-scale fertilisation takes place, environmental impact assessments should be conducted to examine the likely outcomes and effects of such activities, Mr Cohen said.

He said the assessments should focus on determining whether iron fertilisation would actually sequester carbon dioxide on a long-term basis that is in geological time and whether such fertilization would have any harmful effects on regional ocean chemistry, including on pH levels, water clarity or marine biodiversity, either in the water column or on the benthos .

During the debate, Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, told the General Assembly that transport of radioactive materials through Caribbean waters remains "of paramount concern .

Shipments of radioactive waste from Japanese nuclear power plants move through the Caribbean to Britain and France for reprocessing, and shipments of reprocessed nuclear fuel are sent back to Japan.

CARICOM continues to implore states to examine alternative means of disposing of such materials and other toxic waste.

The damage and pollution that might flow from a nuclear waste-related accident would be devastating to lives and livelihoods in the region said Mr Wolfe.

Namira Negm of Egypt, expressing concern over destructive fishing practices, said that the international community had not adopted sufficient measures to protect the marine ecosystem and establish its sustainable development. She said damage to coral habitats is a real problem that must be tackled in the near future.

Kari Hakapaa of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called for a more integrated approach to the marine environment s many threats .

He said the EU proposes that a conference be convened to agree on prompt action to conserve and manage biodiversity.

Copyright, 2006, Nationwide News Pty Limited


From: The New York Times
December 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "But even if two animals have identical genes, they can turn out differently if those genes are turned on or off at different times. And studies have shown that patterns of gene activity are different in embryos created by cloning compared with embryos created by the fusing of sperm and egg."]

By Andrew Pollack and Andrew Martin

After years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded yesterday that milk and meat from some cloned farm animals are safe to eat. That finding could make the United States the first country to allow products from cloned livestock to be sold in grocery stores.

Even if the agency's assessment is formally approved next year, consumers will not see many steaks or pork chops from cloned animals because the technology is still too expensive to be used widely.

But the F.D.A.'s draft policy touched off an immediate storm of criticism from consumer groups, as well as some concerns from meat and dairy companies worried about consumer reaction.

"At the end of the day, F.D.A. is looking out for a few cloning companies and not for consumers or the dairy industry," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group.

Mr. Mendelson and other consumer representatives argue that the science backing the F.D.A.'s decision is shaky and that consumer surveys show that most people are opposed to cloning animals, let alone eating them. Some also said that cloning causes harm to the animals involved and could pave the way for human cloning.

Opponents hope to bring Congressional pressure to bear to derail the policy before it becomes final or at least to require that such foods be labeled so consumers can choose to avoid them. F.D.A. officials said that it was unlikely that labeling would be required because food from cloned animals is indistinguishable from other food, although a final decision about labeling has not been made.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, yesterday called for a "careful, deliberative and open process" before cloned animals are approved for food.

The F.D.A.'s finding comes more than six years after the agency first decided to study the matter, after recognizing that the advent of cloned farm animals raised a food safety issue. After that study, the agency in 2003 gave a tentative approval to cloned animals for food. But the F.D.A. retreated after its own advisory panel found there was insufficient scientific backing for that conclusion.

This time, F.D.A. officials said they had substantial new data, which they presented yesterday in a nearly 700-page "draft risk assessment."

The officials denied the contention from some critics that the policy was announced during a holiday week in order to reduce publicity, saying it had taken until now to analyze the data and obtain comment from other government agencies.

The assessment concluded that milk and meat from cloned cows, pigs and goats, and from their offspring, were "as safe to eat as the food we eat every day," Stephen F. Sundlof, the F.D.A.'s chief of veterinary medicine, said in a telephone call with reporters.

Mr. Sundlof said that by law the agency could consider only the scientific issues, not consumer demand or the ethics of cloning.

While animal cloning has always been legal, since 2001 there has been a voluntary moratorium on the sales of milk or meat from such animals to give the F.D.A. time to study the matter. Some experts say that some products from clones or their offspring have probably nonetheless made their way into the food supply.

The moratorium will stay in place until the new policy is completed, after a 90-day period for public comment and additional time for the F.D.A. to review the comments. Mr. Sundlof said he could not say when the final policy would be ready, though it might be by the end of 2007.

Even then, the moratorium would remain for products from sheep, the F.D.A. said, because there was not enough evidence of their safety. No one has yet succeeded in cloning chickens or other poultry.

The finding was hailed by cloning companies, which have been struggling to build a business. It also drew praise from some farmers and breeders who have already made clones of their prized livestock but have had to pour milk down the drain and keep their meat off the market.

They say that cloning is just another breeding technique, like artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization.

"This just sort of lifts the stigma of the clones," said Bob Schauf, a Holstein breeder and dairy farmer in Barron, Wis., who had two of his prized cows cloned. He said his family and the families of his employees have been drinking the milk from those clones rather than see it go to waste. But dairy marketers have expressed concern.

A survey conducted last summer by the International Dairy Foods Association, an industry trade group, found that 14 percent of women would turn away from all dairy products if milk from clones were introduced into the food supply. The association surveyed women because its research has found them to be the main household decision makers on dairy products.

The American Meat Institute, while saying yesterday that cloning was safe, also urged the F.D.A. to be cautious about approval "if most consumers are unwilling to accept the technology."

A poll this month from the nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology found that while most consumers knew little about animal cloning, 64 percent said they were uncomfortable with it, with 46 percent saying they were "strongly uncomfortable."

F.D.A. officials said no other country had yet approved food from cloned livestock, although some are considering it. That raised the prospect that American exports of milk or meat could be blocked by certain countries if they contain products from cloned animals. An official in the Washington delegation of the European Union said politicians and consumers in Europe would no doubt debate the issue.

Carol Tucker Foreman, director for food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, said consumer groups would ask food companies, retailers and restaurant chains to shun products from cloned livestock.

That raises the possibility that some food companies will label their products "clone free," just as some now label milk as not coming from cows injected with growth hormone.

Cloning involves putting an animal's DNA into an egg thats own DNA has been removed. The resulting embryo, after being implanted into a surrogate mother, makes a genetically identical copy of the original animal.

But even if two animals have identical genes, they can turn out differently if those genes are turned on or off at different times. And studies have shown that patterns of gene activity are different in embryos created by cloning compared with embryos created by the fusing of sperm and egg.

These differences are presumed to account in large measure for the low success rate of cloning. Fetuses can grow unusually large, posing a risk to the surrogate mother. Many clones die during gestation or shortly after birth. Some are born with deformed heads or limbs or problems with their hearts, lungs or other organs.

But the F.D.A. said that obviously sick and deformed animals were already barred from the food supply. It added that clones that survived past the first few days "appear to grow and develop normally" and that healthy adult clones were "virtually indistinguishable" from noncloned livestock, making their meat or milk safe.

The draft assessment based its conclusions on an extensive review of scientific literature on cloning as well as on studies, some done by cloning companies, comparing the composition of the milk, meat and blood of cloned animals and conventional animals.

Mr. Sundlof said the agency also found that cloning "poses no unique risks to the health of animals" beyond those seen with other forms of assisted reproduction such as in-vitro fertilization. The frequency of problems is higher with cloning, however, perhaps because it is a newer technology. The first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, was born in 1996.

The F.D.A.'s announcement, by paving the way for the end of the moratorium, could make it easier to persuade farmers and breeders to pay $15,000 to copy a prized bull or dairy cow.

"I think that this draft is going to provide the industry the comfort it needs," said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, a cloning company based in Austin, Tex., that has yet to turn a profit after five years.

Industry officials estimate there are now only about 500 or 600 cloned cows in the United States, out of tens of millions of beef and dairy cows. There are roughly 200 cloned pigs.

Experts say that cloning is too expensive to be used to make animals only to then grind them into hamburger or even to milk them. Rather, farmers and breeders are cloning prized livestock so they can then be used for breeding using more conventional means of reproduction.

That means that most food from cloning would come from the sexually produced offspring of the cloned animals. The F.D.A. said milk and meat from such offspring were safe, because any abnormalities in clones do not carry into the next generation.

The agency's assessment did not include genetically modified animals, in which a foreign gene is introduced. The agency is still deciding whether to allow the first of those, a fast-growing fish, into the food supply.


From: Organic Valley Family of Farms
December 29, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "After the false promises of the green revolution, DDT, rBGH and other GMOs, we have every reason to believe that there will be unforeseen negative consequences of cloned animals. The F.D.A.'s risk assessment needs to adequately address the issues of the precautionary principle, to err on the side of caution...."]

Lafarge, Wis. -- In response to the F.D.A.'s tentative approval of food from cloned animals, George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, the nation's oldest and largest organic farmers cooperative, called on the USDA to clarify its position on the use of cloned animals.

Siemon assumed that cloning would not be allowed in the standard as it falls within the ban on GMOs, excluded methods and prohibited technologies. Explained Siemon, "Organic farmers work in harmony with nature, not to change it. Consumers can be assured that Organic Valley and its meat brand, Organic Prairie, will never allow the use of cloned animals on our farms and in our products."

Siemon urged consumers to speak out against the pending approval during the 90-day public comment period of the F.D.A.'s risk assessment.

"Cloning is not just about producing food for consumers. It's about greed and patents," warned Siemon. "The real question with cloning is who is going to benefit -- consumers? farmers? animals? Allowing animal cloning, like seeds, to be patented by profit-driven companies has too many unknown risks and is a detriment to farmers and the future of our food supply."

Tedd Heilmann, General Manager, Organic Prairie, Organic Valley's meat brand, said, "After the false promises of the green revolution, DDT, rBGH and other GMOs, we have every reason to believe that there will be unforeseen negative consequences of cloned animals. The F.D.A.'s risk assessment needs to adequately address the issues of the precautionary principle, to err on the side of caution, especially in issues related to human and environmental health."

Copyright 2006 PR Newswire


December 20, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The European Union's Council concludes that Austria has the right to exercise precaution by banning certain genetically modified crops.]

By Lorraine Heller

The European Council is today due to formally back Austria's ban on the cultivation of two genetically modified crops, a move the biotechnology industry has branded as a "departure from rational decision making" .

This marks the second time the Council has rejected proposals from the Commission requesting Austria to repeal the temporary precautionary measures concerning the use and sale of two genetically modified (GM) maize varieties.

MON 819 is designed to resist the corn borer moth larva, and is currently already grown in other countries, including Spain, France, Germany, Portugal and the Czech Republic. T25 allows for the use of a broad-spectrum herbicide for weed control without damaging the crop.

But Austria has remained firm in its ban of the varieties, a stance that has resulted in repeated attempts to overturn the decision.

The first proposal to legalize MON 810 and T25 was rejected by the Environment Council in June 2005. The Commission consequently re- consulted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which concluded in March this year that there was no reason to believe that the continued sale of these products was likely to cause any adverse effects for human and animal health or the environment.

Therefore in October 2006, the Commission re-submitted its proposals to repeal the Austrian safeguard measures on the grounds that there are no scientific elements to justify their maintenance, which are against the principle of free movement of authorised products.

But at the latest session of the Council, these proposals gathered the opposition of a qualified majority of Member States.

According to the Council, the decisions were justified because the two maize lines had been approved under an old directive, which has since been replaced by a newer one. This latest directive contains harmonized environmental risk assessment criteria for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the two GM products have not yet undergone a procedure of re-approval and re-assessment in accordance with the new directive.

The Council also noted that where the conditions set out in the relevant legislation apply, a Member State may restrict the use and sale of a GMO in accordance with a safeguard clause in the new directive.

In addition, the Council said that the different agricultural structures and regional ecological characteristics in the European Union need to be taken into account in a more systematic manner in the environmental risk assessment of GMOs.

But according to the European biotechnology industry association EuropaBio, the Council's decision has "seriously damaged the credibility of the regulatory system on which much of Europe's innovative and industrial capacity relies" .

"The EU's own scientific assessments have repeatedly made clear that there is no reason to consider that the products constitute a risk to human health or the environment. The Council is undermining the authority of its own expert advisors. Europe is the only region in the world that votes on its science, the community must start to believe its own scientific opinions," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, EuropaBio's Secretary General.

The decision is "an alarming indifference to the EU's own rules, and to common sense", according to Simon Barber, the associations director.

"The further information the Council requested in 2005 has now been provided, and it indicates unambiguously that the products carry none of the risks alleged. But still the Council declines to follow the advice of the EU's own expert advisory bodies. This departure from rational decision-making is disconcerting -- not only for these two products, but for every innovator in every industrial sector that is subject to EU regulation," he said.

Copyright 2000/2006 -- Decision News Media SAS -


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

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