- Breast cancer and the environment
- Herbs & supplements – EU data shows they’re super safe
- GM toxins found in the blood of mothers and babies
- New infographic bursts the bubble for natural health detractors
- Soya – how the world’s healthiest food is making us sick
- The Precautionary Principle, World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), UNESCO
- Use and Abuse of the Precautionary Principle, Institute of Science in Society
The Precautionary Principle – a common sense approach to toxic chemicals
NYR Natural News
Who decides what risks you will take with your health and your life? And on what information is that decision based?
Among human beings, there used to be common sense precepts that provided guidance, for instance, “Better safe than sorry” and “Look before you leap”.
To this day, doctors still take an oath that promises to “First do no harm”. But if studies show that medical error is in fact the fifth leading cause of death in the US, and the fourth leading cause of death in the UK (see our chart, Causes of Death in the UK, based on 2011 data from the Office of National Statistics). It is reasonable to wonder just how many take the oath seriously any more.
Although there is a prevailing trend in our culture towards less cautious life philosophies, at heart, most of us want to keep ourselves and our families safe from environmental poisons. Yet, there is still an erroneous belief that environmental toxins are things that are ‘out there’. It’s a belief that makes it difficult to get to grips with the idea that there are no longer any barriers between what is out there in the wider environment and what is polluting the immediate environment in your home, school or office.
Healthier than ever?
Over the years, our lack of care for ourselves, our planet and the wellbeing of future generations has allowed manufacturers to get away with selling us everyday products, including food, cosmetics and household cleaners, that are laced with poisons. It has allowed industry and agriculture to get away with polluting our waterways and soil.
Worse, it has allowed governments to get away with providing heavy subsidies to these polluters while at the same time refusing to fund studies into the cause and effects of pollution, and completely ignoring the impact this environmental onslaught has on the planet and its inhabitants.
As a result, we now live in a world overwhelmed with toxic substances. They are in our air, our water and our food. People who protest against such actions are inevitably labelled hysterics and scaremongers.
We are told repeatedly that humans are healthier now that at any other time during our evolution. And yet, if we are so healthy, why are we popping so many pills? How is it possible that, in 2009 sales for the top 20 drug companies topped $437 (£273) billion, twice the 2001 figure of $248 (£155) billion. That’s a 56% rise.
For us as individuals it translates into a mind-blowing spend on prescription drugs. America spends $307 billion a year, that’s $841 million a day on mediating it’s people. In the UK according we spend £22 million a day.
For years, the environmental and public health movements have been struggling to find an idea that will give concerned individuals the opportunity to find their common sense again, a concept that acknowledges, but ultimately overrides, scientific uncertainty about cause and effect, and shifts the burden of proof of relative harm or safety from the consumer to the polluter.
The issue of scientific uncertainty is, in fact, an enormous barrier in the campaign to protect human health from the threat of a toxic environment.
When environmental groups and individuals speak out against potentially harmful practices, they are inevitably asked to supply ‘proof’ of harm (in contrast the polluters, who rarely have to supply data, in some cases, not even safety data for the chemicals they produce or use). Yet, ‘conclusive’ studies – as defined by the medical and scientific communities – into the harmful effects of pesticides, and other harmful substances are sometimes hard to find.
One reason for this is that not all of the current studies into environmental toxins conform to that ‘gold standard’ of medical research, the double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Indeed, it may be impossible to construct such a trial around environmental toxins.
Since we are all exposed to a greater or lesser extent, it would be impossible to find a large enough and healthy enough group of non-exposed individuals to compare results with. What’s more, the ethics of exposing trial participants to known carcinogens to see how long it would take for them to become sick would be highly questionable.
These difficulties have, for a very long time, worked in favour of polluters. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that no clear-cut evidence of harm is the same as evidence of safety.
Likewise, as our understanding of the body grows, it becomes apparent that the harm caused by environmental toxins can, initially, be very subtle.
In contrast, most scientific research is constructed to measure the gross and obvious changes in people’s health, and regulations and other actions to protect human health are usually implemented only after evidence of significant harm – for example, mass deaths and clusters of severe illnesses, usually accompanied by lawsuits – has been established.