From The Blog

Originally published on Resource Insights (ResourceInsights.Blogspot.com) by Kurt Cobb. Click here to view the original.

If you are dead, you cannot mount a comeback. If all life on Earth were destroyed by, say, a large comet impact, there would be no revival. Ruin is forever.

The destruction of all life on Earth is not 10 times worse than the destruction of one-tenth of all life on Earth. It is infinitely worse. A fall of 1 foot is not one-tenth as damaging to the human body as a fall of 10 feet, nor is it one-hundredth as damaging as a fall of 100 feet (which is very likely to be lethal). Walking down a stairway with one-foot-high steps, we are typically immune to any damage at all. Thus, we can say in both instances above that the harm rises dramatically (nonlinearly) as we move toward any 100 percent lethal limit.

It is just these properties–scope and severity–that most humans seem blind to when introducing innovations into society and the environment according to a recent paper entitled “The Precautionary Principle: Fragility and Black Swans from Policy Actions.” The paper comes from the Extreme Risk Initiative at the New York University School of Engineering and one of its authors, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is well-known to my readers.

The concepts in the paper are applicable to systemic problems such as climate change. But the paper addresses only two specific issues, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and nuclear power, to illustrate its main points.

The precautionary principle refers to a policy that demands proof that an innovation in not broadly harmful to humans or the environment before it is deployed. We are referring here to public policy issues, not decisions by individuals. The question the paper tries to answer is: When should this principle be invoked in public policy?

The answer the authors give is surprisingly simple: when the risk of ruin is systemic. That doesn’t mean that they suggest no steps to mitigate risk when ruin might only be local, say, the explosion of a fireworks factory. But, they feel that such an event falls within the realm of risk management. An explosion at one fireworks factory cannot set off a chain reaction around the world. Individuals in and around the plant might be ruined. But all of humanity would not ruined.

In the two examples covered in the paper, GMOs and nuclear power, the authors come to the surprising conclusion that nuclear power on a small scale does not warrant invoking the precautionary principle. Small-scale nuclear power does warrant careful risk management and cost/benefit analysis. Whether the damaged reactors at Fukushima would fall into the category of small-scale nuclear power isn’t clear. Their effects were worldwide, even if small in most places.

GMOs, however, offer a classic case of unforeseeable systemic ruin. We will know we are ruined by this untried technology after the ruin happens (perhaps in the form of famine or widespread human health and/or environmental effects). The authors categorically reject the notion that modern genetic engineering of plants is no more dangerous than traditional selective breeding.

This is because traditional methods are tried on a small scale and only achieve large scale acceptance and use over time if they are successful, that is, demonstrate no drastic side-effects or failures. This mimics nature’s bottom-up approach to evolution; the changes affected this way are gradual, not drastic–and, of course, they don’t involve transferring genetic material from completely different species, say, from a fish into a tomato.

Proponents will say that cross-species transfer of genetic material takes place in nature as well. But its scope is limited and its survivability and evolutionary fitness are tested over long periods during which these changes either thrive or disappear.

The top-down approach of the GMO industry introduces GMO crops everywhere across the world in a short period and combines one risk–untested genetic combinations–with another grave risk–monoculture. The long-term product of these two risks is unknown. But it is rightly categorized as systemic. GMO crops are now deployed worldwide and they can and do also contaminate non-GMO crops and wild plants through pollination.

Crops created through selective breeding have long histories of success and toxicities that are well understood and unlikely to change suddenly. As each new GMO crop is deployed, we cannot know ahead of time whether it will lead to systemic health and/or environment problems because there is little testing and, in any case, the amount of experience we have with GMO crops is far, far shorter than for the products of traditional selective breeding.

With each step we take in the production and deployment of new GMO seeds, we are playing a game of Russian roulette. The first few times we’ve pulled the trigger, we did not get catastrophic systemic effects–not yet, at least. But, since there is a nonzero risk of such effects, the probability of creating catastrophic outcomes becomes certain over time. The risk is virtually 100 percent that we will ultimately reach the chamber in the Russian roulette gene gun that causes catastrophic and widespread damage to humans and/or the environment.

Saying that there is no evidence so far that this will happen is a failure to understand that hidden systemic risk can often only show up on very long time scales. And, of course, when that risk does show up, it’s too late to do anything. Remember: when we manipulate a gene or genes inside a plant, we are not doing just one thing. Without knowing it, we are affecting multiple systems in the plant and in the environment the plant lives in. We are creating multiple possible pathways to ruin.

This is just a short preview of the article cited above. The article is quite accessible to a lay reader and, in places, even entertaining. I encourage you to read the whole thing. It is the most rigorous statement to date concerning the precautionary principle and risk in that it outlines clear criteria for judging when that principle should be invoked and when it should not be.

Kurt Cobb is an authorspeaker, and columnist focusing on energy and the environment. He is a regular contributor to the Energy Voices section of The Christian Science Monitor and author of the peak-oil-themed novel Prelude. In addition, he has written columns for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen, and his work has been featured on Energy Bulletin (now Resilience.org), The Oil Drum, OilPrice.com, Econ Matters, Peak Oil Review, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique and many other sites. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights and can be contacted at [email protected].

Originally published on GMeducation.org by Lawrence Woodward. Click here to view the original.

(6th July 2014) A report by the Ministry of Health in Córdoba, Argentina reveals that deaths from cancerous tumours are double the national average in areas where genetically engineered crops are grown and agro-chemicals are used.

This comprehensive report documented five years of information on cancer cases in the province.

It provides more evidence that, far from being the miracle it is claimed to be, industrial, GMO driven cropping is turning into a public health hell.

The highest rate of death occurs in the “pampa gringa” area, where most GMO crops are grown and most agrochemicals are used.

The “pampa gringa” makes up the whole of the east of Córdoba province and is its premier agricultural region.

The provincial average for cancer deaths is 158 per 100,000 inhabitants but in four of the “pampa gringa” departments the death rates are much higher – ranging from 216 to nearly 230.

Other intensive agriculture regions in Córdoba also have cancer deaths well above the provincial and national average – ranging from 180-201 per 100,000  inhabitants.

Cancer multiplying “as never before” through pesticide link

The “Report on Cancer in Córdoba 2004-2009″ is the culmination of an official investigation and was prepared by the Provincial Tumour Registry and the Department of Statistics and Census.

But its recent publication has reignited criticism from doctors and researchers about the government delays and unwillingness to take action.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez of the University Network for Environment and Health (Reduas) said; “what we have complained about for years was confirmed and especially what doctors say about the sprayed towns and areas affected by industrial agriculture.

Cancer cases are multiplying as never before in areas with massive use of pesticides,”

Dr. Fernando Manas of the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Group at the National University of Rio Cuarto, is investigating the effect of agrochemicals. He doesn’t think the cancer cases in agricultural areas are a coincidence.

Researchers at Río Cuarto have studied the people of Córdoba for eight years and have confirmed, in fifteen scientific publications, that people exposed to pesticides suffer genetic damage and are more prone to cancer.

Manas points out that glyphosate – the herbicide that underpins most GMO cropping – and its major degradation product, AMPA have been detected in lakes, soils, and even in rainwater in these most affected regions.

Government and industry refuse to act

Damian Verzeñassi a doctor and professor of social and environmental health at the, Faculty of Medical Sciences in Rosario says; “The study of Córdoba matches the surveys we conducted in eighteen industrial agriculture areas. Cancer has skyrocketed in the last fifteen years.”

He is scathing about the failure of government and industry to take preventative action.

“They keep demanding studies on something that is already proven and do not take urgent measures to protect the population.

There is ample evidence that the agricultural model has health consequences, we are talking about a production model that is a huge public health problem.”

Avila Vasquez demands urgent government action to prohibit aerial spraying, ensure that no terrestrial applications are made within 1000 meters of houses, and to prohibit the use of agro-chemicals and spraying machinery in urban areas.

But these could only be initial measures to curb the excessive and extreme use of pesticides which is blighting the health of Argentina.

The only real long term solution is to change the GMO driven, intensive, industrial agricultural system that Argentina and other countries have become wedded to and to put in place a genuinely sustainable, agro-ecological alternative.

Lawrence Woodward

(From a GMWatch translation)

Sources:

http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15506-cancer-deaths-double-where-gm-crops-and-agro-chemicals-used

http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/sociedad/3-249175-2014-06-23.html

Originally published on GMeducation.org by Lawrence Woodward. Click here to view the original.

Jane Brody has long been the personal health editor for the New York Times.  Her columns are syndicated in more than 200 major newspapers across the country.  Time Magazine called her the “High Priestess of Health.” In a column, she wrote about the loss of her husband, and about the struggle of loneliness that ensued.  She also wrote about discovering John Robbins’ book, Healthy at 100, and finding it to be of significant value in her journey. Read her story, and what she learned from Healthy at 100 about the healing power of healthy relationships, by clicking here.