I have been following the recent political upheaval around US beef with slight bemusement. While there is certainly some risk attached to US beef, it appears rather small, as so far about 200 people have died globally of diseases associated with mad cow disease, most of them in Britain.
While I do not want to dispute the rights of Taiwanese to choose what kind of foods end up in their pots, what bemuses me is that in environmental issues, the actual associated risks often bear no relation to the political outrage created.
If thousands of demonstrators are willing to protest against US beef, should not hundreds of thousands show up to demonstrate against the thousands of toxins that are dumped into the Taiwanese environment and invariably end up contaminating plants, animals and eventually humans?
This stark reality was again made clear last week when thousands of poisoned ducks were slaughtered because industrial toxins had been indiscriminately dumped. Surely the health risk of eating chemically contaminated food is much higher than eating US beef. So how come the public and the media keep chasing the beef chimera when there is a much bigger monster out there?
Every year, the chemical industry invents thousands of new substances, all of which eventually end up in the environment, mostly with unknown consequences to environmental and human health. If I were to list all the diseases and causes of death associated with chemical pollution, I would run out of space here, but respiratory diseases caused by air pollution, cancers caused by toxic chemicals and brain diseases caused by heavy metals are just a few of the deadly consequences — throw in hyperactive kids, allergies or falling fertility for good measure.
As a concerned environmental scientist, I can only urge the public and media to inform themselves about actual risks from credible sources, such as the WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the US’ Environmental Protection Agency, and then act accordingly. However, it should be clear that the current policy of releasing chemicals into the environment and then waiting for the consequences is irresponsible at best and criminal at worst. Rather, the government should put the burden of proof on the chemical industry to demonstrate conclusively that a chemical will not cause environmental and health damage.
Otherwise, a chemical should not be produced, or, if produced, 100 percent recycled.
In the long term, it seems rather futile to try to manage the risk of chemical pollutants by trying to determine maximum levels of pollutants and risks to human health. This is simply impractical, economically impossible and scientifically unsound given the thousands of chemicals and their possible interactions in the human body.
Rather, we should revert to chemicals that are found in nature and can therefore be assimilated by natural cycles instead of accumulating to evermore dangerous levels. Here, new production philosophies such as biomimicry and “cradle-to-cradle” could create new jobs and save the environment. Our legacy to future generations can be a poisoned or a healthy planet — the choice is ours.
Bruno Walther is visiting assistant professor for environmental science at Taipei Medical University.
The National Immigration Agency on Monday confirmed that the majority of foreign residents in Taiwan would once again be excluded from the government’s stimulus voucher program. The NT$5,000 Quintuple Stimulus Voucher would be available to 140,000 foreign spouses of Taiwanese and 16,000 Alien Permanent Resident Certificate holders, but about 870,000 Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) holders would be excluded from the program, regardless of whether they pay taxes. The government has not offered any explanation, but some have speculated that the intention is to prevent migrant workers from receiving the vouchers. Many migrant workers are from Southeast Asian countries and work as
Within the span of a generation, a new super-rich class emerges from a society in which millions of rural migrants toiled away in factories for a pittance. Bribery becomes the most common mode of influence in politics. Opportunists speculate recklessly in land and real estate. Financial risks simmer as local governments borrow to finance railways and other large infrastructure projects. All of this is happening in the world’s most promising emerging market and rising global power. No, this is not a description of contemporary China, but rather of the US during the Gilded Age, from about 1870 to 1900. This
I first met Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in 1999, when I was Acting Director of AIT, as Darryl Johnson had just left and Ray Burghardt had not yet arrived. She was a young aide for then-President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). President Lee just had enunciated a new theory, which came to be known as the “state-to-state” principle, in an interview with a German newspaper. Beijing had predictably gone berserk and was trying to get Washington to come down heavily on President Lee. In the midst of all this, Tsai and I met to discuss the situation. I took a liking to this
It might have been an inelegantly, even ineptly, executed pivot, gratuitously alienating key allies, but by leaving Afghanistan and forming a security pact with Australia and the UK in the Indo-Pacific, US President Joe Biden has at least cleared the decks to focus on his great foreign policy challenge — the systemic rivalry with China. Yet the concern now is how quickly this rivalry could escalate, especially regarding Taiwan. The linchpin of the US alliance system in south-east Asia, Taiwan is the biggest island in the first island chain, the group of islands that keeps China blocked in. It is China’s