Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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March 31, 2004

EU Commissioner Byrne: No Zero Risk Society

In a recent seminar on public risk perception, the EU's Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner David Byrne made a revealing statement. He told us that there is no such thing as a zero risk society.

While I agree with what he says, I find it interesting that this statement comes at a time when the EU is discussing controls of toxic chemicals and when there is pressure from the chemical industry to water-down the proposed controls.

In contrast, when the EU was quietly passing restrictions to the availability of vitamins and minerals in food supplements just two years ago, the talk was different: "... the most important aim of the Directive is to ensure a high level of protection for the consumer", said Byrne on that occasion. The directive will be limiting availability of supplements based on alleged reasons of "consumer protection". No safety issues on vitamins or on natural products in general have been raised with any degree of seriousness, yet the controls were slapped on without mercy, benefiting ultimately the multinational chemical/pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Double talk? Double standard?

Now here is the recent statement from Commissioner Byrne who tells us we must face the risks [of chemicals] because otherwise, "there is a very real danger that an “anti-science” agenda may take root in European society". Just wondering why sometimes it is ok to have a risk and other times it is not...

There is no zero risk society

(Original available here)

Science has an important role in shaping public attitude to risk

Despite the development of a very important corpus of EU and national legislation to protect EU citizens against currently identified risks, several studies show that contradictory opinions about perceived risks remain important among national stakeholders groups.

“Unfortunately, because of the inconsistencies and contradictions in how the public perceives risk, all our efforts may not be enough. If we fail to make progress [in understanding risk perception], there is a very real danger that an “anti-science” agenda may take root in European society – leading to a society hampered and restricted by a collective neurosis, lacking in self confidence, resistant to innovation and unwilling to embrace change. We must not be deluded by the sometimes seductive, yet false, notion of a zero risk society,” said Commissioner Byrne.

Mr. Arias Cañete told the conference; “In the developed world, the taking of risk is not only an intrinsic condition of life, it is also essential to economic and social development. The key is to know what level of risk we can accept."

See also related articles:

EU Commissioner snubs nutrition

Managing Risk Perception - Trust and Transparency

EU to extend concept of medicine - eliminate "borderline products"

Risk Free Vitamins - How Safe is Safe Enough?

Are RDA Nutrient Levels Safe?

London High Court Hears EU Supplements Challenge

According to this article in 'Alive', ill feeling towards the EU could 'reach the point where it threatens the EU itself'. No wonder with the kind of legislation that is being introduced, quite apart from whether the legislators and the Commission believe they are acting in defense of consumer choice and safety...


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Wednesday March 31 2004
updated on Tuesday December 21 2010

URL of this article:





Readers' Comments

See also: The Medical Mafia rules:

Posted by: Chris Gupta on March 31, 2004 05:47 PM


Thank you, Chris, for the reference. Here's a comment received by e-mail and my answer to it:

First the comment:

I'd say that Mr. Byrne is a rather confused person. I don't have a clue what he's saying. I guess he was trying to hide something he didn't want to say in clear(er) terms.

And here my answer:

Byrne either has not much in his head or he is not honest.

In fact, his statement was made at a time when the big petrochempharma producers are pushing for a relaxing of the rules - as the EU is discussing a directive that will require the compulsory safety testing and approval of a lot of chemicals on the market.

So Byrne, after making sure we don't get poisoned by too much of a good thing (vitamins and other nutritious goodies) is now having to go in the opposite direction. That is because his paymasters, the petrochempharma people, have two arms that both want the best of the regulatory world: Pharma wants no supplements = protect the consumers, and Petrochem wants to poison us without too much trouble = consumers should't be such spoilsports.

That is what apparently the new subject of "risk perception" is all about: Consumers have to be taught to properly perceive the different risks they face. Presumably we should be much more afraid of the occasional side effect from taking a supplement than we are of - let's say - breathing in cancer-causing benzene or finding chemical residues in our drinking water. Anyway, Byrne was speaking at a risk perception conference - incredible what distortions of reality we're supposed to accept in the name of someone making a fat profit!

Posted by: Sepp on March 31, 2004 07:20 PM


Another comment by e-mail, from a friend in New Zealand:

Don't forget to point out that use of supplements is voluntary --- chemical residues and additives is involuntary... big difference in Risk Management terms... higher risks are acceptable if people knowingly engage an activity and can bail out if they want...

For the record, ten people have died in NZ climbing on and around our largest mountain this summer ... 200 in total ever... not one call for regulation or banning of such voluntary activity...

Posted by: Sepp on April 1, 2004 03:02 PM


Here is yet another comment received by e-mail:

This is typical of our double speak politicians. Nowadays you can take almost everything they say to mean the opposite. Frightening when people don't realise this.

Posted by: Sepp on April 1, 2004 04:59 PM


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