Month: January 2021

Storming of Capitol a threat to republican democracy

Last Wednesday, we saw the worst passions of the American republic storm through the doors of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

For hours, people around the world watched as protestors transformed into rioters who ransacked various congressional offices, posed for photos on the House floor, and terrorized hundreds of congressmen and women, senators, staff, journalists, and Capitol Police.

One woman, a protestor and rioter from Arizona, was shot and killed by Capitol Police. Three others died due to medical emergencies, according to Washington Police Chief Robert Contee.

The march outflowed from a “Stop the Steal” rally held by President Donald Trump in the hours prior, decrying the results of the 2020 election and fueling various allegations of voter fraud and manipulation.

He urged his supporters at the rally to turn their attention to Congress, which was deliberating the final tally of the Electoral College votes.

What transpired at the Capitol Wednesday was something no one should tolerate in a liberal democracy. The ransacking of a seat of the federal government, by any force or group of individuals, is an act of aggression that should be prosecuted.

It was, no doubt, a result of demagoguery and a violent urging by Donald Trump.

There are many items of concern that my organization and I have broadly agreed with President Trump: on questioning the role of the World Health Organization early on in the pandemic, dismantling burdensome regulations that quash innovation, pushing for the safe and orderly opening of the economy after devastating coronavirus restrictions, and more.

At the same time, we have opposed the Trump administration when it was needed most: disastrous tariffs that raise prices for all consumers, drug pricing plans that will set back innovation while making drugs more expensive, and a federal vaping flavor ban that will deprive former smokers of the ability to choose a less harmful alternative.

Personally, I have opposed Trump’s desire to severely restrict and reduce immigration. My family immigrated to the U.S. some 30 years ago, and we have enjoyed a much more fruitful life because of it.

But those policy arguments and disagreements are secondary to the very real threat of a violent parade of hysteria through the halls of the Capitol.

We advocate for ideas to improve society based on the rule of law and democratic order. We use the means of free expression, free assembly, and the right to petition our government to ensure that policies that help every consumer and every citizen will be the law of the land.

Seeing a mob trample into the primary seat of one of America’s branches of government achieves none of that, and should be rightly condemned.

Our decentralized republican democracy based on a time-honored Constitution, a system that is unique to the United States and has allowed for some of the most promising economic and social innovation in the world, was threatened. And we cannot excuse these actions in the slightest.

From this point forward, we must restore the rule of law and advocate for liberal democratic principles to advance the American project.

That President Trump should continue to serve out the last two weeks of his term, after this insurrection and rebellion in our nation’s capital, is unacceptable.

Whether it be through his removal from office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment by Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet, or articles of impeachment in the House and swift conviction by the Senate, something must be done to show to the world what happens when order and liberty are transgressed in a representative liberal democracy.

When the actions of certain individuals go too far, and when demagoguery threatens the very system that allows us to freely enjoy our liberty and pursue happiness how we see fit, that is an appropriate time to use the tools at our disposal to rectify injustice.

Let us hope justice conquers after the events of last week.

— Yael Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

We should not monopolise consumer information

Letting legislators alone decide what consumer information is causes multiple problems…

Expanding consumer access to information is meant to be a cornerstone of informed policy and decision-making. 

Rather than adopting paternalistic rules, lawmakers and regulators in liberal democracies should reflect the will of the people and ensure that consumers and citizens are able to always access more, not less, information on labels and products. 

Obviously, distinguishing what information is “accurate”, especially when it comes to products we buy and sell, is a canard. Let’s look to health and warning labels. Mandated by governments, these serve a distinct purpose: they inform consumers about the dangers of consumption – or of overconsumption – of certain products. 

For instance, for alcohol, the industry has long implemented health warnings for pregnant women. This has been done voluntarily and in a self-regulating manner. Initiatives such as these demonstrate that private industry possesses an instinct towards corporate responsibility, and they should be encouraged to inform consumers on similar health challenges in a variety of ways. 

We believe that more can be done to allow consumers to seek information online. The marked increase in supermarket goers scanning food items, whether it is a bottle of wine or a box of rice, has shown there is a desire to be better informed and conscious about the things we consume. That’s a great development.

When it comes to regulation on this information, we should encourage an approach that avoids overburdening the administrative state with challenges it cannot overcome or solve.

Many legislative proposals on what information must be provided to consumers are laboriously updated and concocted and can have unintended consequences. For instance, while the food pyramid was once a standard model in school curricula for decades, it is now recognised to have been entirely inaccurate in its advocacy for a healthy diet. 

We see a similar problem with mandatory labelling suggestions such as the “Nutri-Score”, which lays out the nutritional value of a product, without necessarily promoting healthy products. The green-to-red scale of the Nutri-Score misleads consumers by signalling that highly nutritious food is automatically healthy food. The same goes for over-labelling. Consumers’ attention should be on the most important aspects and qualities of a product rather than an arbitrary score that simplifies nutritional science. An inflation of health and warning labels could diverge attention of consumers away from the key take-aways of health advice, and lead them to ignore them all together.

When it comes to labelling, public health advocates insist that a plethora of studies prove the effectiveness of specifically pictorial health warnings. But is this true? This assumes that the warning is already being looked at, which is not self-evident. Just as in the case of medicine, for a drug to be effective, it seems obvious that the patient will have to take it in the first place. Take the example of this 2018 study, which examined the amount of respondents who were actually aware of the warning labels for alcohol.

“Eye-tracking identified that 60% of participants looked at the current in-market alcohol warning label […]. The current study casts doubt on dominant practices (largely self-report), which have been used to evaluate alcohol warning labels. Awareness cannot be used to assess warning label effectiveness in isolation in cases where attention does not occur 100% of the time.”

These are people who purchased the product, and were actually not aware of what the warning label said or indicated. But how can that be? How is it possible that people ignore the warning label that has been specifically designed to catch their attention and change or modify their behaviour?

The WHO working document “Alcohol labelling A discussion document on policy options” portends the necessity of “good design” when it comes to warning labels.

“There are four message components that may be considered when developing an effective health label, each serving a different purpose: (i) signal word to attract attention; (ii) identification of the problem; (iii) explanation of the consequences if exposed to the problem; and (iv) instructions for avoiding the problem. The visual impact of the label can be enhanced by using large, bold print; high contrast; colour; borders; and pictorial symbols.”

But bad design alone cannot be the only explanation for decreased awareness among consumers. Take the example of safety instructions on aeroplanes. Frequent flyers know that after 2 flights a week or more, these warnings and indications about the location of life jackets become background noise. An inflation of warning labels can desensitise those who are meant to be aware of them, because of a lack of nuance. The messages “coffee can be bad for your health” and “smoking can be bad for your health” don’t frame a hierarchy of health hazards. In fact, put next to each other, both messages could imply that both are equally damaging and to be avoided. We know that’s not the case.

More than anything, we should not try to make health warnings trivial and overstated. If they become less meaningful to consumers, we run the risk that important health warnings will be ignored by the average consumer. As such, information provided to consumers should never be monopolised by governments alone. Rather, we should allow different brands and products to provide accurate information where necessary, for the consumers’ sake.

Originally published here.

There is an easy way to make medicine instantly cheaper

Exempting drugs from VAT is a great tool to give patients a break.

COVID-19 has heightened public awareness on the question of drug prices. After vaccine prices had been leaked to the public by Belgian minister Eva de Bleeker, questions arose on the costs associated with creating vaccines. This is essentially a similar debate when it comes to the prices of all drugs.

The question of how to reduce the cost of drugs has led some to make interventionist suggestions. Many blame the greed of the pharmaceutical industry for drug prices, when in reality the truth is much more complicated. To some, the question is about intellectual property rights. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is running a campaign on access to medicines that distorts the realities of the drug market, while calling for solutions that would undermine scientific innovation. The “Access to Essential Medicines Campaign” seeks to increase the availability of medicines in developing countries by tackling the issue of price and intellectual property rights. In the eyes of MSF, producers and researchers are getting rich on the backs of those who can least afford it.

In reality, drug prices are a result of many considerations: the development costs, the amount of patients able to receive it, intellectual property rights (though not in the sense that MSF would have you believe), and… taxes!

Informed patients will know that all but one European country charge VAT on over-the-counter (OTC) medicine and prescription medicine. Germany charges as much as 19% VAT on both types of medicines, while Denmark ranks the highest, with rates at 25% – that is a fifth of the total price for a drug! There is only one country that does not charge VAT on prescription or over-the-counter drugs: Malta. Luxembourg (3% each) and Spain (4% each) also show that modest VAT rates on drugs are not a crazy idea but something millions of Europeans already benefit from. Sweden and the UK both charge 0% VAT on prescription medicine, yet 25% and 20% respectively on OTC.

One of the significant roadblocks towards more patient access to drugs is the unfair tax policies of some EU member states. Before talking about eroding intellectual property rights and price setting across the block, we should discuss whether we should have a VAT on medicines.

Especially on prescription medicine, where cancer drugs can reach substantial price levels, VAT rates of up to 25% significantly burden patients and their health insurance. 

On prescription medicine, there is little sense in first charging value-added tax, and then have national health insurance providers pick up the tab. As for OTC medicine, the implication that just because it isn’t prescribed, it, therefore, isn’t an essential good, is a blindspot of policy-makers. Many OTC meds, ranging from drug headache pain relief, heartburn medicine, lip treatments, respiratory remedies, or dermatological creams are not only essential medicines for millions of Europeans; they often act as preventative care. The more we tax these goods, the more we are burdening MDs with non-essential visits.

Zero VAT on medicines is a question of fairness. Everyone is burdened with the costs of the COVID-19 lockdowns. While we have become one-sided in our analysis of which medical problems are important, we need to understand that other medical treatments are needed as we speak, and that they represent a burden on all patients.

It is time for European nations to agree on a binding Zero VAT agreement on medicine or at least a cap at 5%, which would reduce drug prices in the double digits, increase accessibility, and create a fairer Europe.

Originally published here.

There’s no scientific need to expose Australians to suffering. We need vaccine reciprocity now

Getty Images

As the city of Brisbane once again goes into full lockdown, borders remain closed, and businesses nation-wide are being decimated, the Australian bureaucracy still refuses to allow its citizens access to the Covid-19 vaccine citing their own approval timetable. The good news is that the fix is easier than many think, and includes valuable lessons for any future pandemic Australia may face.  

With merely 28,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths, Australia has been fairly well shielded from this global pandemic. But the price individuals and the whole economy paid for this is high: Australians are not allowed to leave the country, while tens of thousands of Australians are stranded overseas, unable to return home. Thousands of businesses have closed, and the tourism and hospitality industries have been devastated. State border closures have led to tragedies such as twin babies dying as border closures prevented the mother from giving birth at a hospital near her. Another mother miscarried after border closures prevented her from accessing immediate medical care. Other families were prevented from visiting their children in intensive care, and the list goes on.  

Bizarrely however, Australia’s government and regulatory bodies seem to be content with this strategy and seem to have no desire to get society back to normal. Until last week, the federal government was not contemplating rolling out inoculations until the end of march — a decision fortunately revised to mid-February but either way, Australia is months behind the global efforts to start vaccinating, and it suggests Australia’s regulatory agencies are not currently prepared to act as quickly as needed in a future pandemic. An international comparison shows how drastic the regulatory backlog is down under:

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (approved an effective COVID19 vaccine on December 2. By early January the same regulator allowed two additional vaccines to be used by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists around the country. And while the UK was the fastest to approve these highly needed vaccines, other countries followed quickly and managed to roll out mass vaccination at lightspeed. The UK, EU, Japan and Canada are rolling out vaccines, and as of writing three Middle Eastern countries spearhead the global race to immunize wide parts of society; Israel has vaccinated nearly one-fifth of its population, with a plan to have every citizen vaccinated by the end of March, the United Arab Emirates have provided 9 per cent of its resident with at least one jab, and Bahrain holds the third place with having reached 4 per cent of its people so far. 

Despite the international success of vaccine rollouts, and the opportunity it presents to save both lives and the economy on which people’s lives depend, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration initially announced that it will approve the first vaccine only by late March 2021. That is nearly four months later than the UK’s or United States’ approval. Prime Minister Morrison has now announced that they will bring the approval forward to mid- or late-February but that still is still over a month longer than it needs to be  

These continued delays show the dangerous exceptionalism Australia’s government applies in this global public health crisis. Can the government really justify prolonged lockdowns, COVID cases, and deaths if there are already multiple effective vaccines used across developed countries?  There is no reason for the TGA to come to different conclusions than the UK’s MHRA, the US’ FDA, and the EU’s EMA: Australians are not a separate species who will somehow react differently and need additional studies. Bureaucratic inertia and a refusal to alter rigid timetables despite the circumstances, and a nationalist belief Australians need to do everything ourselves, is a degree of arrogance that comes at a great cost.   

Australians should demand mutual recognition of vaccine approvals (also called reciprocity) in vaccine approval with all regulatory agencies based in OECD countries. The costs of delaying the vaccination rollout are simply too high to justify the ongoing arrogance of the TGA. Given that all reputable medicines agencies across the OECD have already given their blessing, patients in Australia should receive immediate access to immunization shots. 

As a new and more virulent strain of Covid-19 has already begun circulating in Australia, the need for a vaccine has become even more urgent, particularly given evidence released today has proven the vaccine is effective against this mutation. Future COVID cases, deaths, and economic bankruptcies could be quickly prevented if the government acts swiftly by burying its ego. In addition, the next pandemic is likely to come sooner than later. A more agile vaccine approval system needs to be in place by then, so we can quickly respond to any potential future challenges. Reciprocity among OECD countries is an easy fix. Accepting our partners approval of vaccines is Australia’s quick and easy way out of the current situation and will ensure a swift and safe return to normal.

Admitting Australian’s don’t have to do everything ourselves will save lives and is the only moral course of action for the Government to take.  

Fred Roeder is a health economist and Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center. Tim Andrews is the Founder of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and presently Director of Consumer Issues at Americans for Tax Reform.  

Originally published here.

Airlines need to be held accountable for reimbursements

Consumers are entitled to receive reimbursements, especially because of bailouts.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of EU member states were asking for changes to ticket cancellation policy rules, effectively exempting airlines from refunding their customers. As it stands, airlines have a week to fully refund their customers for cancelled flights. Additional compensation rules apply for long delays and other inconveniences. When consumers book flights, they anticipate these protections to be upheld.

Consumers who have purchased tickets at a precise moment in time did so under existing rules and regulations. The European Union cannot retroactively change these policies — this is a rule of law issue above all else. Consumers should not be forced to pay for the poor bookmaking of airline companies. COVID-19 is undoubtedly a disaster for airline companies, but that doesn’t mean that the obligation to refund consumers should be willed away by the stroke of a pen. It’s also important to point out the incredible hypocrisy on the part of policymakers. 

EU policymakers spent most of 2019 lecturing consumers about flights, and are now rigging the rules of commerce for the benefit of airline companies. It is outrageous that airline companies are getting special treatment when hotel and event bookings are not. Retroactively changing the terms of a contract is a severe blow to consumer trust and consumer protection. This move decimates the consumer trust in existing and incoming protections entirely and puts a question mark of the actual authority of law-makers.

The refund mechanism has since been sped up by many airlines, but mostly because billions in bailouts have been transferred all throughout spring and summer. Some airlines are going to receive additional funds as lockdowns and travel restrictions continue. In that context, airlines also need to be held to their word when it comes to refund policies.

That said, compensation policies aren’t what consumers need. Passengers can expect compensation for their flight cancellation, between €250 and €600 depending on the length of their route. This has been the reason for significant disputes and has proven to make neither companies nor passengers happy.

This compensation scheme is a government-mandated insurance policy, which increases the price of the ticket, despite passengers not wanting generalised insurances. How can I say that with confidence? It suffices to take a look at how many people conclude voluntary travel insurances upon checkout. The result of the compensation scheme has been long court battles, in which passengers rightfully demand the funds that they were promised. The procedures here are too costly for consumers to engage in them themselves, but resorting to large law firms leaves them with only a percentage of their expected compensation. While the policy sounds good in theory, it doesn’t work in practice. Instead, private travel insurances give consumers better leeway to act. 

However, while compensation rules can be controversial (and do not apply in cases of natural disasters), it seems fair and just that passengers are reimbursed for flights they did not get to take. This is not an argument from a David vs. Goliath perspective of the big company vs. the small consumer, but rather from the principle of contract law — i.e. rendering the service.

As I wrote in a letter to airline CEOs back in June:

“We want to be in the air with you as soon as possible, but please do your part and commit to the rule of law and don’t force us to bring you to court. Hundreds of millions of taxpayers across the world are already helping you through government bailouts. We do our part to advocate for fewer levies and taxes paid on airfares and against silly bans of domestic flights, like the ban being discussed in France right now. This will make the sector more competitive and will allow us, consumers, to fly more with you.”

Originally published here.

Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

[UK] ADVANCING OUR HEALTH: PREVENTION IN THE 2020s

What ideas should the government consider to raise funds for helping people stop smoking?

We believe that innovate harm-reducing alternatives can not only help people reduce harmful exposure, and even help them quit smoking regular tobacco, but also achieve that goal without the need for government funds. 

The UK’s permissive approach to e-cigarettes has shown a positive impact. According to the NHS, between 2011 and 2017, the number of UK smokers fell from 19.8% to 14.9%. At the same time, the number of e-cigarette users rose: almost half of these consumers use e-cigarettes as a means of quitting smoking. Public Health England has confirmed that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than conventional cigarettes. Therefore, consumers should be afforded the choice of vaping. 

We also do not believe that an aggressive approach to the matter will help with smoking cessation. Strict anti-tobacco measures have shown to be regressive, and tend to push and seal consumers in the black market for a long time. Smoking cessation is a difficult task, that can be achieved through harm reducing alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products, or snus (which is illegal in the European Union, except for Sweden). 

How can we do more to support mothers to breastfeed?

While breastfeeding is commendable, as it might advance the physical well-being of the child, it should be noted that not all mothers are able to provide the necessary quantity. This can lead to dehydration of the infant, leading to serious medical conditions. For those mothers, infant formula is a necessary alternative. We therefore support the continued zero-rating for VAT on baby milk.

Furthermore, the CCC supports the continuation of the Equality Act 2010, which allows mothers to breastfeed in all public places.

However, breastfeeding remains an individual choice of the mother, and can and should not be imposed. This is an intimate choice to be made by a mother, in which law-makers should not have a say.

How can we better support families with children aged 0 to 5 years to eat well?

It remains a continuous challenge to improve the nutrition of young children. This responsibility lies with the parents, you serve the function of caretakers and educators. In the age range of 0 to 5, this responsibility is most pronounced, and should be taken seriously. The Consumer Choice Center believes that parents have a moral obligation to inform themselves about healthy nutrition for their children. However, the reversal of the food pyramid has shown that institutionalised nutritional guidance can lead to adverse effects. The Harvard School of Public Health has pointed out that the food pyramid “conveyed the wrong dietary advice”. It also says: “With an overstuffed breadbasket as its base, the Food Guide Pyramid failed to show that whole wheat, brown rice, and other whole grains are healthier than refined grains.” The CCC is therefore sceptical about the idea of government-advised diets for children.

The obligation of parents to make informed choices about the nutrition of their children does not end at the age of 5. Quite on the contrary, as children get to the age of being able to be active in sports, they need to be encouraged to do so.

In October last year, Public Health England indicated that more than 37 percent of 10 and 11 year-olds in London are overweight or obese. It is often mistakenly argued, for this age, that this is caused by high energy intake, but the obesity rates are dependent on the physical activity, which according to Public Health England has decreased by 24 per cent since the 1960s. Daily calorie intake in the UK is also decreasing each decade.

Furthermore, the government should look towards relieving regulatory measures that increase the price of healthy foods.

How else can we help people reach and stay at a healthier weight?

It is often mistakenly argued that the obesity crisis is caused by high energy intake, but the obesity rates are dependent on the physical activity, which according to Public Health England has decreased by 24 per cent since the 1960s. Daily calorie intake in the UK is also decreasing each decade.

Physical activity is therefore paramount. Local government should foster and encourage the creation of outdoor fitness places, and facilitate the creation of interesting and safe public walkways, which can be used for physical exercise. The CCC also believes that community sports programmes should be a part of the government strategy on tackling obesity.

Have you got examples or ideas that would help people to do more strength and balance exercises?

Physical activity is paramount. Local government should foster and encourage the creation of outdoor fitness places, and facilitate the creation of interesting and safe public walkways, which can be used for physical exercise. The CCC also believes that community sports programmes should be a part of the government strategy on tackling obesity.

What are the top 3 things you’d like to see covered in a future strategy on sexual and reproductive health?

As of now, the UK applies a VAT rate of 5% on condoms. The Consumer Choice Center supports an exemption of these products from VAT. Condoms are not luxury sanitary products — they are essentially for advancing sexual and reproductive health, and guarantees the choice of consumers.

[UK] The regulation of genetic technologies

Currently, organisms developed using genetic technologies such as GE are regulated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding. Do you agree with this?

Answer: No – they should not continue to be regulated a GMO

Please explain your answer, providing specific evidence where appropriate. This may include suggestions for an alternative regulatory approach.

The United Kingdom should strive to be in line with the Cartagena Protocol, and not treat organism developed using GE as GMOs, if they could have been produced through traditional breeding. An accurate risk-assessment should be based on the individual organism, not on the technology that produced it. In that sense, the UK should diverge from existing EU legislation, and the associated ECJ ruling of 2018.

Do organisms produced by GE or other genetic technologies pose a similar, lesser or greater risk of harm to human health or the environment compared with their traditionally bred counterparts as a result of how they were produced?

Please provide evidence to support your response including details of the genetic technology, the specific risks and why they do or do not differ. Please also state which applications/areas your answer relates to (for example: does it apply to the cultivation of crop plants, breeding of farmed animals, human food, animal feed, human and veterinary medicines, other applications/ areas).

The question does not do the complexity of the issue justice. Making general statements of safety for all products derived through genetic engineering is not possible, nor desirable. In fact, the perspective of regulating by technology, not by organism, is a failure of EU policy, which should be revisited. The technology of genetic engineering is a means to an end, of which we cannot make blanket statements.

Are there any non-safety issues to consider (e.g. impacts on trade, consumer choice, intellectual property, regulatory, animal welfare or others), if organisms produced by GE or other genetic technologies, which could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding methods, were not regulated as GMOs?

 Yes

Please provide evidence to support your response and expand on what these non-safety issues are.

Non-safety issues that are to consider is the legality of GMOs restrictions in the jurisdictions of trading partners. If the European Union does not allow for the import of gene-edited organisms because of its GMO Directive, then this has trade implications that can activate international dispute mechanisms.

There are a number of existing, non-GM regulations that control the use of organisms and/or products derived from them. The GMO legislation applies additional controls when the organism or product has been developed using particular technologies. Do you think existing, non-GM legislation is sufficient to deal with all organisms irrespective of the way that they were produced or is additional legislation needed? Please indicate in the table whether, yes, the existing non-GMO legislation is sufficient, or no, existing non-GMO legislation is insufficient and additional governance measures (regulatory or non-regulatory) are needed. Please answer Y/N for each of the following sectors/activities:

Cultivation of crop plants: Yes
Breeding farmed animals: Yes
Human food: Yes
Animal food: Yes
Human and veterinary medicines: Yes
Other sectors/activities: Yes

Source: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chain-directorate/the-regulation-of-genetic-technologies/

Локдаун 3.0

Восьмого січня, під кінець різдвяних свят, в Україні почався другий локдаун. Постановою Кабінету Міністрів від 9-го грудня 2020-го року було встановлено перелік обмежувальних заходів на період локдауну, серед яких, наприклад, заборона діяльності кафе, барів, та ресторанів та різного роду закладів культури та спорту.

Однак, найбільш контроверсійною стала заборона купівлі-продажу товарів, які не були визначені як такі що є першої необхідності. Тобто під час локдауну українські споживачі не можуть купити товари, які не відносяться до продуктів харчування, лікарських засобів, виробів медичного призначення, засобів гігієни, засобів зв’язку, ветеринарних препаратів, кормів.

«Для мене знайомство з новими правилами локдауну почалось дуже несподіано в магазині АТБ, коли я побачила такі товари, як колготи, сміттєві пакети та освіжувачі повітря заклеяними стрічкою. Звичайно, український уряд не є інноватором, адже схожі заборони існували або досі існують по всій Європі. Але, як завжди, ми взяли те, що роблять розвинуті країни і спаплюжили це», — коментує менеджер з досліджень Consumer Choice Center Марія Чапля.

Крім закладів харчування і культури які і так зазнали багато збитків через карантинні заходи, в програші так само опинився вибір споживачів. Сама по собі ситуація з неможливістю купити ті самі мішки для сміття є просто абсурдною, адже саме продукти харчування є зазвичай причиною довгих черг, а не колготи чи книжки. Тобто, локдаун б’є по вибору меншості споживачів, які прийдуть до супермаркету, щоб купити товари, які не речами першої необхідності. Чи є це справедливо? Hi. І, напевно більше до теми, чи сприятиме це якось покращенню ситуації з ковідом? Ні.

«Якщо коротко, то цінність — суб’єктивна, а тому те, все, що для одного споживача є необхідним не може бути визнане таким, що ним не є. Навіть в час ковіду держава не має права визначати, що має місце бути на поличках супермаркетів, а що ні», — пояснює експерт.

«Локдаун в Україні є економічно невиправиданим, а тому абсолютно недоцільним. Як раніше було підраховано міністерством економіки, в місяць підтримка підприємців в галузях, по яких б’є локдаун обійдеться нашій державі в близько 20 млрд грн. Як для економіки, яка розвивається, це дуже велика сума, яка рано чи пізно транслюється в великі податки для середньостатичних українців та малого бізнесу. Таким чином, погіршуючи стан речей ще більше і зменшуючи економічну свободу якої і так дуже мало. Зупиніть локдаун, врятуйте вибір споживачів і малий бізнес», — підсумувала Чапля.

МІСЬКА ВЛАДА

Думки щодо запровадження локдауну серед місцевої влади розділилися.

Міський голова Черкас Анатолій Бондаренко, який торік запам’ятався своїм бунтом проти  центральної влади, що запроваджувала карантин, пообіцяв після різдвяних свят розібратися з додатковими обмеженнями.

«Уряд запроваджує жорсткий локдаун. Але мені здається, що йому насамперед потрібно визначитися, які товари продаватимуться, а які не продаватимуться; які супермаркети працюватимуть, а які — ні. Тому що виходить так, органи місцевого самоврядування знову повинні на себе брати і вирішувати. На тлі нинішнього зниження кількості хворих, я вважаю, що запровадження жорсткого локдауну не на часі. У Черкасах немає великого скупчення людей, захворюваність контрольована», — заявив він 6 січня під час онлайн-звернення у Facebook.

У коментарі медіа міський голова Івано-Франківська Руслан Марцінків, який раніше вирізнявся незгодою жорстким карантинним рішенням уряду, повідомив, що нині місто дотримуватиметься локдауну.

«Те, що не забороняє урядова постанова, працюватиме у місті. Це — громадський транспорт, різдвяний каток, дитячі садочки та інше. Що стосується роботи непродуктового ринку, то, на жаль, своїм рішенням ми не можемо нічого відмінити. Раніше намагалися щось роботи, але були заведені кримінальні справи і доводилося закривати роботу ринків. Тож під час цього локдауну нікого не наражатимемо на небезпеку. До речі, на рівні Асоціації міст України не погоджувалося рішення про запровадження посиленого карантину. Взагалі я проти посилення карантинних обмежень у нинішніх умовах. Адже в Івано-Франківську різко зменшилася «ковідна» статистика. Приміром, 5 січня у місті зафіксували 16 нових випадків Covid-19. Це дуже мало, оскільки був час, коли за добу виявляли 450-500 хворих з коронавірусом», — зазначив він.

Марцінків додав: на 1 грудня 2020 року бюджет Івано-Франківська втратив 220 млн грн через епідемію Covid-19, що становить майже 10% від усього бюджету міста.

БІЗНЕС

«Карантин 2020 частково вже загартував український бізнес та підготував нас до нових реалій. Ми розуміємо, що завдання номер один для всіх лідерів — забезпечити безпечні умови праці для своїх співробітників, частково перевести процеси в онлайн та стартувати робочий рік» — коментує бізнесмен Василь Хмельницький.

Він радить,  мінімізувати витрати, менше ризикувати грошима та шукати нових постачальників з більш вигідними умовами. «Якщо ви орієнтовані на імпорт — намагайтесь знайти українські аналоги. Їх немає? Якщо є попит на ринку на цей товар, для вас це хороша можливість самому почати його виробляти»? — говорить Хмельницький.

«Робіть усе можливе, аби зберегти та мотивувати вашу команду. Люди — головне в бізнесі. Домовтесь про зменшення оплати на період карантину але компенсуйте різницю, коли все налагодиться. І уникайте песимістів, які постійно скаржаться на карантин та кризу, ваш успіх залежить і від настрою. І, найголовніше, що б не відбувалось — будьте завжди чесними та відкритими, дотримуйтесь зобов’язань. Зі співробітниками, партнерами, кредиторами. Карантин пройде, а  репутація залишиться», — резюмує підприємець.

Originally published here.

Le Québec peut être un leader du plastique sans Trudeau

Au cours de la pandémie, le plastique est devenu un mal nécessaire pour répondre aux contraintes sanitaires.  

Qu’il s’agisse de l’équipement de protection individuelle, des boîtes de repas à emporter ou encore des cloisons en plexiglas dressées afin de protéger les clients au restaurant, il est devenu omniprésent. 

L’ubiquité de cette matière n’est pas nouvelle, mais son utilité dans l’ère de la COVID est marquante. Pourtant, cela ne change rien quant à son caractère polluant. Personne ne souhaite répandre cette matière dans la nature, surtout pas dans nos fleuves et autres cours d’eau. 

C’est la raison pour laquelle le premier ministre du Québec François Legault a annoncé l’élargissement du système de consigne. Ce faisant, il cherche à mieux recycler les bouteilles de plastique. Le ministre de l’Environnement, Benoit Charrette, a aussi révélé des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastique des entreprises dans l’espoir de mieux recycler leurs déchets. 

Il y a aussi des centaines d’entrepreneurs québécois dans l’industrie du recyclage qui deviennent de plus en plus efficaces et grossissent à vue d’oeil. L’usine de Lavergne à Montréal en est un bel exemple, tout comme Plastiques GPR de Saint-Félix-de-Valois. Ces deux entreprises comptent des clients partout à travers le monde et aident à faire rayonner le Québec. 

La popularité de ces initiatives est le fruit des efforts de l’industrie et du gouvernement du Québec. 

Le plastique n’est pas toxique

Il semble aujourd’hui qu’Ottawa cherche à aller se chercher une part de cette gloire. En octobre, le gouvernement de Justin Trudeau a déclaré qu’il désignerait le plastique comme une substance toxique selon l’annexe 1 de la Loi canadienne sur la protection de l’environnement. Cela interdirait l’utilisation d’articles en plastique à usage unique tels que les sacs en plastique, les pailles, les bâtonnets à mélanger, les ustensiles et les récipients de polystyrène. 

Cette décision du gouvernement nous inquiète pour deux raisons. Tout d’abord, nous savons tous que les produits en plastique ne sont pas toxiques. Ce n’est pas comme l’amiante et le plomb, deux autres produits déjà identifiés par cette loi. Pourquoi reléguer une matière d’une si grande utilité au même statut que des substances cancérigènes ? Cela ne fait aucun sens. 

Ensuite, cela fait fi du travail des entrepreneurs et entreprises innovantes cherchant des solutions concrètes pour résoudre le problème de pollution, notamment en travaillant sur le cycle de vie de ces manières. Bannir ces matières ou les considérer « toxiques » vient éliminer les solutions privées qui ont été développées par nos entrepreneurs et innovateurs locaux. Ce rejet des solutions innovantes est inquiétant. 

Qui plus est, Ottawa vient empiéter une fois de plus sur les efforts des provinces pour lutter contre ces matières résiduelles. Le Québec et l’Alberta ont déjà mis en place des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastiques. Ces plans conçus localement répondent mieux aux besoins de leurs citoyens que ceux imposés par Ottawa. 

La reclassification du plastique est loin d’être une bonne solution. C’est plutôt une démarche cynique du gouvernement Trudeau visant à justifier son empiétement sur un domaine de compétence provinciale et répondre maladroitement aux demandes des groupes environnementaux. 

Un bien indispensable

S’il est nécessaire d’applaudir les efforts pour réduire la consommation de plastiques, il est tout aussi important d’être réaliste : le plastique est un bien indispensable, et la pandémie nous l’a rappelé. L’important est de s’assurer qu’il ne se ramasse pas n’importe où et puisse être réutilisé ou bien recyclé. 

C’est grâce au génie québécois que nous pourrons disposer de notre plastique de façon responsable, et non grâce à une prohibition du gouvernement fédéral. Au lieu de laisser les provinces gérer leurs approches et les innovateurs trouver des solutions efficaces, le gouvernement fédéral a choisi la voie paresseuse de l’interdiction pure et simple de certains produits. Cela nuit à tout le monde, et particulièrement à nous tous, consommateur. 

Cette reclassification vient aussi créer une réelle incertitude sur ce qui pourrait être ajouté à la liste des produits toxiques dans un futur rapproché. 

Le Québec a montré qu’il est un leader dans le recyclage du plastique. Il est crucial qu’Ottawa lui permette de le demeurer. 

Yaël Ossowski, Directeur adjoint à L’Agence pour le choix du consommateur, un groupe mondial de défense des consommateurs

Originally published here.

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