Precautionary Principle Epic Fail

ChickenLittleCredit: DisneyA new report, "Impact of the Precautionary Principle on Feeding Current and Future Generations," by the Center for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), looks at how the precautionary principle has been applied to various modern farming and food production practices and finds that its safety harms have outweighed any benefits. The report points out the the pernicious principle is fatally ambiguous, applied arbitrarily, and thoroughly biased against new technologies. The CAST expert panel specifically deconstructs unscientific evaluations based on the precautionary principle of the safety and benefits of modern agricultural chemicals, genetically modified crops, and food irradiation.

The report concludes...

...for the millions of people who are lacking adequate nutrition today, and the many millions more who will suffer as a result of the growing food demand-supply gap projected over the next few decades, the PP [precautionary principle] does more harm than good. New technologies of many different types that can produce safer, more abundant foods, and wider distribution of those technologies, are crucial to decreasing the number of hungry and under-nourished people in the world now and in the future. The evidence summarized in this Issue Paper has demonstrated that the PP holds back technology, innovation, incomes, environmental improvements, and health benefits, while increasing trade disruptions, risks, and human suffering. The PP has been tried but has failed as a risk management strategy. It is time to move beyond it.

Well past time. For more background on the unscientific stupidity of the precautionary principle, see my article, "Precautionary Tale."

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  • sarcasmic||

    Profits are evil, ant the PP stops big corporations from making profits. Mission accomplished.

  • some guy||

    Don't be silly. The PP just makes sure that the right corporations make profits.

  • T||

    The report points out the the pernicious principle is fatally ambiguous, applied arbitrarily, and thoroughly biased against new technologies

    Wasn't that the whole point? It was a club for watermelons to use against things they didn't like. GMO bad! iPhone good!

  • Ron Bailey||

    T: GMO good! AND iPhone good!

  • Enough About Palin||

  • some guy||

    ...and the many millions more who will suffer as a result of the growing food demand-supply gap projected over the next few decades...

    Hasn't the food demand-supply gap been consistently decreasing for a long time now? Why should we believe projections of growth in the demand-supply gap?

    You don't need to use scare tactics to convince a reasonable person that the PP is retarded.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Oh noes - eventually supply will begin to outstrip demand and the malthusians will cry! The demand-supply gap is growing! (which gap was no specified.)

  • Ron Bailey||

    sg: Yes, so far. But I interpret CAST as asking: why make it more difficult and expensive to supply food in the future by restricting safe technological developments like biotech crops and food irradiation?

  • some guy||

    Oh I agree. I just think they should have left the clause I highlighted out of that sentence entirely. We already know that some people are starving right this minute and there's no reason to believe some people still won't be starving in 2025 or 2050. Why bother mentioning some bunk projections? I guess it's a pet peeve of mine.

  • sarcasmic||

    All the technology in the world won't help people who are starving because they live in corrupt Third World hell-holes.
    GMO doesn't matter if you can't import the seeds or keep what you grow.

  • some guy||

    Any reduction in food price should help marginally. Also there are hungry people in first world countries, just not very many of them. Finally, higher yields means less land used for agriculture, thus more land that can be used for nude rocket buggy racing or whatever. So even the wealthy benefit.

  • JW||

    thus more land that can be used for nude rocket buggy racing

    Go on....Are you looking for investors?

  • some guy||

    Well, I'll need enough to buy off God knows how many regulators, so YES!

  • sarcasmic||

    Also there are hungry people in first world countries, just not very many of them.

    And only by their own choice. Seriously. Between churches and food banks, there is no excuse for someone to go hungry except stubborn pride.

  • RickC||

    I've actually known a few who were too lazy to avail themselves of even free food. Now that is lazy.

  • fried wylie||

    Can't be all that hungry then.

  • T||

    Wasn't it Amyarta Sen who more or less proved that in the 20th century, people starved when it was politically expedient for them to do so? Actual food was available, but those troublesome folks didn't get none because fuck 'em, that's why.

  • Matrix||

    I still do not understand the hostility towards irradiating food. It will destroy the stuff we don't want in our food... like harmful bacteria and parasites. It also makes food last longer by slowing down spoilage and decay. What, do they think we're going to glow because we eat irradiated food? It's not fucking radioactive!

    Besides it makes it safer to eat "undercooked" foods.

  • sarcasmic||

    Because radiation is bad. Chemicals are bad. They're bad because they're bad. Baaaaaaad!

  • some guy||

    Yeah, very few people understand the difference between irradiation and radiation.

    People also don't understand the meaning of the word nuclear, that's why they don't call them NMRI machines.

  • ||

    Me: "Are you really willing to let millions go without food they could otherwise have access to just so white western liberals can feel better about themselves?"

    Prog: "Yes. Yes I am."

  • sarcasmic||

    Prog: "Why do you want people to eat poison?"

  • JW||

    I was going to say something similar.

    Colonialism never really went away. It was just replaced with the conscience of the modern progressive.

  • T||

    We can't ever put down the White Man's Burden, can we? Someday...

  • RickC||

    I tried to explain this concept to a liberal leaning friend right before she left for Mozambique a few years ago to bring education to some village. She couldn't grasp that she was still just carrying the same old W.M.'s Burden. The program she worked on, funded by USAid btw, was a failure (this from her own mouth post experience).

    Interestingly, it wasn't the first aid experience for her that turned out badly. The first, also in Mozambique, was with a NGO of Euro origin. She came back from that one and told me the NGO functioned like a cult, with no dissent allowed.

  • creech||

    Prog: "No, I just think SNAP should become a worldwide program funded by the Kochs and all you other monocle-wearers."

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    Can't really blame hard PP (teehee) for anyone starving, theres more than enough food with just todays technology to feed even the 9billion projected. In the first world cultures of high meat consumtion, overconsumption, and wastefulness contribute. And in 3rd world culture of violence and lack of law and order contribute as well. Fixing these would provide more than enough food for everyone and then we could afford to test the gmo or new pesticide to make sure it isn't a particularly sinister product.

  • R C Dean||

    So, if I'm tracking, this:

    its safety harms have outweighed any benefits

    means that the Precautionary Principle violates itself, as those proposing its application cannot meet the burden of proof that applying it will not cause harm to the public.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    good stuff right there, thats why I like to read the comments here.

  • Rasilio||

    The problem that PP advocates always miss is that it applies equally to both sides of any question where it is applied.

    If we do x we must assume that all possible harms of x would be realized before we decide to do x

    is logically equal to

    If we do not do x we must assume that all possible harms of not doing x would be realized before we decide not to do x

    therefore the precautionary principal is worthless as an evaluation tool.

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