Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (26 August) . . Page.. 3213 ..
MR CORNWELL (continuing):
environment by identifying potential risks posed by gene technology...Community confidence will be encouraged by the knowledge that-
under this legislation-
gene technology is adequately regulated.
I have no objection to anything that has been said in that or in this bill. However, there has been some comment here about the precautionary principle and I would like to read from and article in the Institute of Public Affairs Review by Andrew McIntyre, who is the public relations manager for the IPA in reference to the precautionary principle. He makes the point that most people today cannot begin to grasp just how appalling the physical environment and living conditions were in Europe barely 100 years ago. He said:
...it is impossible to imagine what our world would have been like if the Precautionary Principle had been adopted a few hundred years ago...There would be almost nothing of what we today take for granted, from penicillin and antibiotics, through electricity, telephones and computers, right down to knives and even fire! Forget about hot showers and breakfast food, let alone genetics, quantum mechanics, space exploration and pesticides. Common household bleach? "You mean you're going to allow poison gas into my house?"The problem is that there is nothing we do or explore or experiment with that has no theoretical risk, and nearly everything carries some actual risk. But the Precautionary Principle effectively outlaws anything with risk.
I can give four examples. Penicillin comes immediately to mind. Were the precautionary principle adopted at the time, penicillin would not have been given to the first trial patient after so little testing in animals. No doubt it would have been tested on other animals, and yet subsequently penicillin was found to be toxic to guinea pigs. In this scenario, would we have been too cautious ever to try out the wonder drug on humans? Even the live Salk polio vaccine carried a 5 per cent risk of infecting the very disease that it was designed to prevent.
The modern contraceptive pill is another example. Not only would the contraceptive pill for women never have come to light, but it is precisely because of the precautionary principle that we still have no such pill for men. The emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford, who is the father of the modern contraceptive pill, said that had he been forced to deal with the restrictions and interference that are common place these days in biomedical research he would never have set to work on the birth control project.
Finally, DDT. We forget that DDT actually saved millions of humans from dying of malaria. It is now conveniently forgotten that DDT eradicated the disease from the entire Mediterranean region.
Mr Speaker, there is a long list of things that, if we had followed the precautionary principle, we would not have in the world of today. I commend the article in volume 55, No 2, of June 2003 of the Institute of Public Affairs Review because I think it puts the whole question of the precautionary principle into perspective.