Chemical Industry is mounting a major Campaign against Precautionary Principle

December 2004

The chemical industry is mounting a major campaign against the precautionary principle. They have hired two attack-dog public relations firms, Nichols-Dezenhall, and Wirthlin WorldWide, to discredit precaution in the minds of the public. They started laying the ground work for this campaign four years ago, and now they are ramping up their attack. (For some eye-popping documentation, see

http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=492 and

They have developed a consistent "party line" that they are repeating at conferences, at public hearings, and in the media. They use consistent down-home language to make precaution seem foolish, unnecessary and dangerous.

They have developed a series of stories that they tell to illustrate why precaution is a bad idea. Their favorite story is the one in which the Peruvian government hears that chlorine is dangerous. The Peruvians act on this knowledge -- they take "precautionary action" and stop chlorinating their water supply -- which causes several thousand deaths from cholera.

I heard this story told almost two years face by a professor at Stanford University, and the same story told this summer by a professor at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Neither of these esteemed scholars checked their facts before telling the story. If they had, they'd have found out the story was bogus and untrue -- a piece of fiction intended to scare people away from the precautionary principle.

Now the anti-precaution campaign is gaining traction. Letters to the editor have begun to appear in newspaper across the country. In the most recent issues of Rachel's we analyzed some anti-precaution nonsense planted in the New York Times Nov. 21.

Their plan is simple: they are attacking the precautionary principle itself as unnecessary and extremist; they are attacking the advocates of precaution as extremists and uninformed Chicken Littles; and they are claiming that "risk assessment" is totally precautionary. Not long ago, I heard a representative of the American Chemistry Council (formerly, the Chemical Manufacturers Association) tell an audience of 200 people that the chemical industry doesn't need the precautionary principle because it is already fully precautionary.

So we've got our work cut out for us:

** We've got to debunk risk assessment and show how it has caused enormous harm to human health and the environment;

** We've got to catalog how the precautionary principle is being used by sensible people around the country and, indeed, around the world;

** We've got to develop common-sense, plain-language arguments of our own so people can write their own letters to the editor advocating precaution.

** We've got to continue to expose what the chemical industry is up to.


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Dezember 2004

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