Distortion of science to promote protectionist agendas happens. Many countries are applying trade embargos against exporters as a result of isolating and identifying low-pathogenic strains of avian influenza in non-commercial birds in nature reserves or zoos following intensive surveillance. By Simon Shane
The emergence of a controversy in India involving alleged contamination of two multinational brands of carbonated beverages with pesticides is cause for concern.
An advocacy group The Center for Science and Environment, has publicized analytical findings purporting to show levels of pesticide contamination “24 times above the legal limit” for unspecified compounds. On evaluation of this claim it was determined that the upper level imposed by the Government of India is 0.1ppb (part per billion) for any single compound and not more than 0.5 ppb for total pesticide content.
To appreciate the magnitude involved in the maximum limit, 0.1 ppb corresponds to 1 drop of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool or 4cm in relation to the circumference of the Earth.
Notwithstanding the doubtful validity of the standard, the Central Science Laboratory affiliated to the Government of the UK was unable to support the claims made by the laboratory in India with respect to the identity and level of the pesticides. A select panel appointed by the Ministry of Health of India has recently rejected the study conducted by the CSE, indicating omissions of data and deficiencies in procedures.
The results of the initial assays have stimulated the State of Karnataka to institute legal proceedings against the two multinational manufacturers. The State of Kerala has banned the production and distribution of the brands and other States have removed products from public buildings. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology is sponsoring embargos of the two products and finds common cause with the Quit India Campaign which opposes multinational companies.
Distortion of science to promote protectionist agendas is not confined to beverages. Many countries are applying trade embargos against exporters as a result of isolating and identifying low-pathogenic strains of avian influenza in non-commercial birds in nature reserves or zoos following intensive surveillance. The fact that the nations imposing restrictions contrary to WTO regulations, may in fact be subject to endemic AI or fail to implement their own surveillance systems is conveniently ignored.
Other instances come to mind which have impeded trade. A laboratory in Russia claimed in 2004 to have detected radiation in consignments of leg quarters from the USA. Regulatory officials in China allegedly isolated E.coli O157:H7 from US processed poultry in 2005, a finding which was not verified. Consignments of poultry meat from diverse countries have been rejected on the basis of finding Salmonella spp. or Campylobacter spp. which are ubiquitous.
Impeding trade without valid scientific justification in the guise of protecting national flocks or consumers is cynically wrong.
By: Simon Shane