03 July 2010

The German chemical industry and the precautionary principle

Bisphenol A is an organic compound with similarities to hormones. It is used in plastic containers, plastic baskets and other plastic goods as a softener, giving the products flexibility. Suspected to be harmful to humans for many years, it has come into the limelight since about 2008 when reports appeared in the press about possible harmful effects. A 2010 report from the United States Food and Drug Administration raised further concerns regarding exposure of fetuses, infants, and young children.

The German magazine Spiegel now reports that three weeks ago the president of Germany's Federal Environment Authority suggested that producers of plastic articles containing Biphenol A should begin to use alternative softeners as a precautionary measure. This further illustrates what I said in the postscriptum to my course: that society has to move from unlimited innovation to protection of the health of our planet. A suggestion from a government authority is of course only a small timid step in that direction, and because it does not have the power yet to enforce precautionary action it is met with blanket opposition from industry: The expert for product safety of Germany's Chemical Industry Federation says that "from the point of view of customer protection" there is no reason for a ban.

Real protection of the health of our planet and its inhabitants will only come when the onus of proof shifts from the government to industry and the role of science shifts from limitless innovation to verification that new products do not pose harm to users and environment.

Source: Der Spiegel nr. 24 of 14 June 2010 p. 16: "Gesundheitsrisiko Weichmacher?"