Guy’s News: Baby orcas & the rarity of certainty

Last year a dead orca was washed ashore on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland. PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) levels in its body were 20 times greater than what scientists consider manageable for cetaceans. The 20-year-old whale had not bred in its life; indeed observers have not seen any orcas born in British waters for 25 years and there is strong evidence of impaired reproduction in many sea mammals from heavily polluted European waters. PCBs were manufactured and marketed as coolants, lubricants and sealants by Monsanto and others for 30 years until their ban in the 1970s, when their toxicity could no longer be denied. The stability and persistence which contributed to their industrial value means they still pollute our oceans and waterways, and have accumulated in top predators globally. Clearly testing and regulation were inadequate. Manufacturers profited and moved on; the planet is still paying the price.

A recent report commissioned by the EU suggests the dangers posed by pesticides are underestimated and that the systems of safety assessment are flawed. The collective damage to our nervous systems and the consequent loss of IQ alone is valued at a staggering £125bn per year. I am a little sceptical as to how they arrived at that figure, but once again the NFU made my blood boil with their response: “It is important to point out that this report makes it quite clear that our understanding in these areas is limited, the evidence is not conclusive, and the significance of the findings for public safety is unclear.” So should we carry on using nerve toxins and endocrine disrupters until it is clear? Surely we don’t need 100% certainty to restrain the quest for profit at any cost?

Certainty is rare; perhaps there’s only a 50% chance that we are substantially underestimating the risks of pesticides, perhaps the chance of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is only 80%. Yet for those with power to knowingly expose our planet and future generations to such risks in the name of profit is psychopathic. I am so tired of hearing farmers and businesses lobby for less regulation when there is such evidence that we need more. Sometimes it will be wrong and prove over-cautious, but that is a small price to pay for the times that it proves right.

Guy Watson

21 responses to “Guy’s News: Baby orcas & the rarity of certainty

  1. Andrew Gilhespy

    Thank you for raising this and for fighting for the synthetic industry – NFU included – to be recognised for the damage it is doing to our health.

  2. Dear Guy,
    I couldn’t agree more!
    Apex predators are vital to the healthy functioning of our eco-systems.
    what a tragedy that the British waters are so polluted that they are possibly fertile.
    Thank-you for taking the lead in producing healthy food that is free of potentially harmful chemicals.

  3. Yes yes yes. Thank you Guy. A voice of reason in an increasingly mad world.

  4. Superb piece, Guy. The problem I find is getting the message through to the great British public. I don’t preach, but even a mention of anything “environmental” to most people is received with a glazed look and a swift change of subject.

  5. As usual commecial interests prevail.

  6. As usual, commercial interests prevail.

  7. This is all so scary, but I have heard no mention of it during the election. Heaven help us if we leave the EU regulations behind, a UK government will never take it seriously enough to put it before profits. We were known as “the dirty man of Europe” before we joined the EU, people have such short memories.

  8. Thank you for standing up for commonsense and reason, Guy.

  9. Well said, Guy. I will share on Facebook. One of the reasons we needed to stay in the EU.

  10. My family and I recently moved here from America. After a short search we “discovered” Riverford and received our first box this week! As if the wonderful produce wasn’t enough, your commentary here assures me we’ve found some nourishing family on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks, Guy.

  11. I can’t leave your well put points Guy, without adding my support. It was concerns about pollution which took me into the environmental movement in the 1970s. The pollutants come and go, industry keeps adding more, and as you illustrate (with PCBs) it takes so much longer to first recognise and prove their dangers, and then to get rid of them. We are so, so many on a small planet, do let’s keep it clean!

  12. Thanks, Guy, as always you are a beacon of light!
    I wonder whether the NFU’s addled response is symptomatic of the lowering of IQ referred to in your blog.

    Brexit, Trade Deals and Election – the beginning of the end of organic farming without fast and effective political action.
    Please see GM Freeze Manifesto about Cross Contamination and please take action.

  14. 2012 This plan is full swing and the end of organic farming has started….
    George Freeman MP, a strong advocate of GM crops, hosted the meeting and Roger Williams MP also attended.

    The summary of the meeting, written by the ABC, an industry body, shows plans to:

    *Spend more taxpayers’ money on R&D for GM crops and on education”.
    *Promote GM crops in developing countries.
    *Remove regulatory and political barriers.

    The document states that education should include “more focus on plants and biotech on the syllabus at all levels” and describes “availability of funding for investment and education” as one of the barriers to growing GM crops. The wording suggests that the industry is looking for more taxpayers’ money to be spent on R&D for GM crops and on promoting GM crops in schools.

    Please see GM Freeze Manifesto about cross contamination and please take political action. Thank you.

  15. It’s so easy isn’t it. Many people unknowingly are living surrounded by PCB’s, much of which they might have deliberately added to their properties before the 1990’s.
    For many, many years, the personal and environmental dangers of common wood treatment agents ( Pentachlorophenol) was understood and publicised. Despite this, manufacturers, and regulators fell back on their “Not 100%” argument.

    I needed to treat parts of an old timber house in the 1980’s and was having none if it. The evidence was plain.
    Sadly, my then neighbour and millions of others laced their properties with PCB’s, under the guise of woodworm treatments ( Rentokil et all.), and those treatments will remain there until one day the fitting timbers decompose into the waterways and the sea.
    Some died, some were badly affected, others live on, compromised and never knowing.
    If you own a gorgeous old timber house, or even something more ordinary, which may have been “improved” in the 70’s and 80’s, be aware.

  16. Agreed – whatever happened to the Precautionary Principle .. ?

  17. Defence of the Precautionary Principle needs to be multi-pronged and immediate. Brexit starts Monday.
    Regulatory environment

    40.In our Regulation of life sciences report, before the EU Referendum in June 2016, we examined the pros and cons of the EU regulatory regime for collaboration, access to markets and costs.87 We concluded that the precautionary principle had been “wilfully misused” in the formulation of EU life science policy-making, notably for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and that a change to a more scientifically-grounded ‘process-based approach’ to regulation was needed. In our subsequent Leaving the EU report in November we heard that with Brexit “a substantial amount of work will be needed to review science and technology-related legislation, regulations and projects”,88 but also that there would be the opportunity, as some witnesses put it, for the UK to “create a distinctive, attractive environment for research and innovation” and become “a global leader in scientific regulation”.89 The UK, we heard, could become “an exemplar for public dialogue and engagement with science”.90 We concluded that “the Government must seek to capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, including in terms of setting regulations to facilitate accessing markets and research collaborations beyond the EU”.91

    41.Last September, in anticipation of the Green Paper, the Royal Society warned:

    To prevent regulation acting as a barrier to applications that have public support, it is essential that legislation regulating the research and innovation sector is designed to respond effectively to future challenges and account for fast developing technologies. […] It is critical that we identify those areas of regulation where alignment with EU rules is most important for the UK’s competitiveness, and that UK experts remain fully engaged in shaping the development of standards and regulations.92
    See Scientists for Global Responsibility – Universities for Sale.
    Many very specialised establishment scientists and establishment trained students will want to replace the precautionary principle with an innovation principle. Please see above post…i.e. The summary of the meeting, written by the ABC, an industry body, shows plans to:
    *Spend more taxpayers’ money on R&D for GM crops and on education”.
    *Promote GM crops in developing countries.
    *Remove regulatory and political barriers.

  18. Hello Guy, I assume you know about the work of the Ethical Consumer on the NFU.

    It’s great to read your commentary on this stuff as I am constantly disheartened (as comments from others show too) by the apathy and disinterest of family and friends who are intelligent enough to know better.

    My solution would be to burn down the NFU HQ and parade their executives naked down Whitehall, but I suspect that’s not practical or legal. What can be done?

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