Vol 2 Issue 1 No 3
www.cropwatch.org RED ALERT ISSUE
Copyright Ó Cropwatch July 2006
Editorial: Bad Science & The Regulators. (see below)
by Louise Summerton, in Green Chemistry & the Consumer Issue 7, 4-5 (July 2006).
§1. Editorial: Bad Science & The Regulators.
Trade sources quote increases in demand for natural commodities from botanical sources as functional ingredients in retailed products, across many areas of application. This is viewed with some alarm by producers of competing synthetic chemicals & pharmaceuticals, as their potential market erodes. Attempts to discredit natural products on safety grounds are rife, often driven by the unseen hand of corporate lobbying. A more discernable hand is the controversial lobbying organisation Sense About Science (SAS), who, on 26th Jan 2006 at a venue provided by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) headquarters in London attempted to persuade invited journalists and “lifestyle media” writers, that (synthetic) chemicals are safe and not that much different to natural chemicals in many respects (in reality a thinly disguised attack on natural products). Cropwatch subsequently wrote to the RSC, to find out why this independent learned society with expert committees which deal with natural products, had given these media scientists a platform, when others (such as the Welcome Trust) had refused to co-operate with the project at the beginning. The RSC subsequently privately replied that the assembled audience were pre-informed (via notes on seats etc) that the views subsequently expressed were not necessarily supported by the RSC. However you will note that the converse argument – an overview of why synthetic chemicals may present considerable toxicological risks to consumers & society at large – remains unpresented by the RSC, who have in our opinion, failed to provide any real balance on this issue. We recall the words of George Monbiot writing about SAS: “…the establishment, always politically naïve, appears unwittingly to have its interests represented in public by the members of a bizarre & cultish political network. Far from rebuilding trust in science & medicine this group’s repugnant philosophy could finally destroy it.” (Monbiot 2003).
A further manifestation of the discrediting of natural products is provided by academics lining up to score brownie points with potential industrial sponsors, or with learned societies, by attempting to attack natural therapies & natural ingredients via various published studies. These reports often tell us more about their poor grasp of the subject and their lack of scientific competence. One such example is a newsreport which turned out to be based on a poster presentation by Martin (2006) of Middlesex University. This alleged that aromatherapy had apparently ‘failed’ because there was no observed pain relief (delivered by the hypothetically conceived routes involving either distraction or an emotional route) associated with the reactions of sixty healthy men breathing lemon oil odour from an AromaCube to combat induced pain (arms immersed in ice water). We don’t understand why this item was seized on by several science editors of UK national newspapers & magazines: Martin misunderstands the term “aromatherapy”, mistaking it for aromachology, and also fails to understand that the task of the trained aromatherapist (strangely absent in this study) is to select the essential oils that a client might respond to; from our familiarity with aromatherapy oils, lemon oil is an unlikely choice for most subjects. Martin is quoted as saying at http://quinnell.us/b2evolution/index.php/all?cat=78 “the results suggest that pain relief that occurs with aromatherapy is due to other factors such as concomitant massage”. We would like to point out that this bizarre experiment has nothing to do with aromatherapy, but Cropwatch would be delighted to put him in touch with some experience professional aromatherapists should he ever decide to do a properly designed study. One further quote from an earlier published paper by Martin (Martin et al. 2004) shows why some enlightenment about a working definition of aromatherapy is most necessary, since the authors confuse it with music therapy: “Most aromatherapy as practiced, however, involves interventions other than olfactory stimulation such as massage and/or exposure to relaxing music.”
Safety Regulators too, are acting against natural products worldwide with a speed and vigour that is quite breathtaking. All 20 EU Commissioners including Jacques Santer you will remember resigned en masse on March 16th 1999 after a fraud, incompetence & cronyism scandal. Even now the EU is still struggling with EU Court of Auditors, who still have not signed off their accounts, eleven years in a row. The whole regulatory machine is presently influenced by an estimated 16,000 lobbyists on corporate expenses, and the bureaucracy has an obedient Brussels press in tow, which makes little trouble for them. We don’t have a figure for Brussels lobbyists representing (truly) independent scientific opinions (supposing there are any), but there is no shortage of calls for this (see for example http://www.indsp.org/ISP-FP7endorse.php). Meanwhile the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in the US reports in a members circular as we go to press that concerning the FDA who are in trouble over protecting the nation’s health via interference from political appointees) “Almost one in five scientists surveyed (by the UCS) responded, “I have been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or my conclusions in an FDA scientific document.”
With this as a background, Cropwatch is presently detecting something of a sea change in the air. Bad regulatory decisions are starting to be questioned by a suspicious public, and even some leading aroma & cosmetic companies are quietly saying they will not implement ‘stupid’ EU legislation resulting from them. There is an appreciation that EU’s bureaucratic machinery is becoming too powerful and needs to be slowed down. An independent body desperately needs to be set up to see if changes in legislation are actually necessary, rather than creating continual career opportunities for diplomats, civil servants, toxicologists, dermatologists, eco-toxicologists etc. etc. More seriously we need to consider if DG-Sanco/SCCP are ‘fit for purpose’, and based on the investigations Cropwatch has so far managed to carry out, we have clearly illuminated poor comprehension of vital subject areas leading to flawed decision-making.
In this issue we look at a few areas where things are going distinctly pear-shaped; unfortunately it is the tip of the iceberg, but at least there is a wider appreciation amongst EU consumers of a deep incompetence at the heart of the decision-making process.
Martin N., Jalmbrandt M., Jorgnesen H., Furnham A. (2004) “Beliefs About Aromatherapy: A Comparison between Traditional Chinese Medicine & Herbal Medicine Students.” Journal of Health, Social & Environmental Issues 5(1), 11-16.
Martin N. (2006) “The Failure of Aromatherapy? The Effect of Exposure to Odour on the Perception of Pain” BPS 2006.
Monbiot G. (2003) “Invasion of the Entryists” Guardian 09.12.2003.
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