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Blog

A precautionary tale

This is an article published on the Society of Biology blog on 28th March. You can read the full piece here.

Ahead of the Society of Biology’s upcoming Policy Lates event on the precautionary principle, Tracey Brown of Sense About Science gives her view on some of the issues surrounding the principle and its application.

What would you say if I suggested farmers start using a compound that could mess with your hormones in order to improve crop yields? I’ve conducted some pretty strict testing which indicates that it is safe but I can’t be sure; I haven’t got evidence that shows it is completely safe for you to be exposed to it over many years – I may never have evidence to put any hypothetical harm beyond doubt.

But that doesn’t matter, because the answer’s no anyway, right? We’re not going to take the chance. Now, how about if I told you that this compound would replace one that is persistent in waterways and which is being sprayed with increasing frequency because its effectiveness has dropped as the fungus it kills has evolved resistance? (All that extra spraying demonstrably harming ladybirds and other beneficial insects.) And, by the way, when I say mess with your hormones, I mean in doses that you’ll never be exposed to. In fact if you want to go into the detail a bit, what I really mean is that it has been shown to interact with the endocrine system, as many things you encounter on a daily basis do – including much of your food – and there’s no evidence that this particular interaction is harmful.

Continue reading this article here.