By Corinne Lepage - 1st February 2013
There can be no European progress without public confidence in European institutions
The European environment agency’s new report shows the danger of maintaining the scientific status quo, writes Corinne Lepage.
The consequences for health, the environment and the economy of political denial can be serious, such is the conclusion drawn by the new report by the European environment agency, entitled ‘Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution and innovation’. Based on the highly in-depth analysis of some 20 topics, ranging from lead in petrol and the impact of certain pesticides, from Bisphenol A to nanotechnologies, this report examines the reasons why early signs of risk have constantly been swept aside, resulting in thousands of deaths and environmental destruction, sometimes irreversible, on a massive scale and causing huge public expenditure.
The report shows how denial is perpetuated with the arrival of new technologies and products. It then goes on to explain how errors in methodology are constructed so as to maintain the status quo, irrespective of the advancement of knowledge and how the same studies give rise to conflicting conclusions thanks to the power wielded by lobbyists not to mention some scientists. The report thus upholds the position of all those fighting conflicts of interest in centres of expertise by highlighting the way in which scientific knowledge is financed to ensure that any scope for a second opinion or peer review and the reasonable evaluation of any negative studies, where applicable, are reduced to a minimum. Consequently, as far as Europe is concerned, less than one per cent of the €700bn of public expenditure on nanotechnology, biotechnology and national information and communication technology research has been directed towards risk research.
The report lays bare the way in which whistle blowers have been systematically ignored and discredited in their work and in their private life so as to delay what they had discovered would being taken seriously. Such organised denial originates from a number of industrial sectors whose interest in keeping their toxic products on the market is only matched by the extent to which they refuse to accept any liability or responsibility for the social cost involved. Each and every MEP should read this report and ask themselves about their level of responsibility. When the public good demands that priority be given to human life, in the long term, and innovation in the sense of human progress, burying one’s head in the sand is tantamount to political negligence.
The fact that this report has been produced points to the benefit of there being a European agency which is government funded and not undermined by conflicts of interest and the presence among its experts of individuals with industry links.
The timing of the report is opportune for three reasons. First, it illustrates the benefits for European consumer health of maintaining natural resources, of environmental quality and of European expertise where this last may be relied upon. Second, there can be no European progress without public confidence in European institutions. Finally, it sets out a rational vision of how innovation, scientific knowledge and economic development can go hand in hand if the priorities adopted are the right ones, and appropriate tools are put in place.
Lastly, the report proposes that a scientific debate be launched, based on the publication of all studies and the online publication of gross figures so that information can be shared. The lessons afforded by this report mean that it is now possible to leave the lobby-biased debate behind and place the true choices now facing society fairly and squarely on the table.
Corinne Lepage is a member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee