Sound Science Just an Excuse

“Sound science.” Sounds reasonable. But according to Bruce Lourie, “sound science” is a phrase coined by industry. Its aim is to block action to regulate toxic substances as long as any question can be raised.  

           “In Canada, we're interpreting risk management the way most other countries don't. Wherever there is any kind of uncertainty, even the slightest uncertainty ... it's continually used as an excuse to not act. That's a serious problem, and that's where precaution comes into play.


            “[W]e see sound science referenced in federal documents. “Sound science”, if you read any of the literature on it, was a term created by industry deliberately to interject uncertainty and doubt into decision-making. So the fact that we have “sound science” still in our federal documentation suggests that we're really lining ourselves up with the kind of language that industry uses deliberately to undermine action.


            “... I did a survey of about 30 people across industry, government, NGOs, the legal profession and academics. The only people who thought sound science was a valid word were the people in government. Even people in industry recognized it as a deliberate strategy to delay action.


           “... I would say that CEPA [the Canadian Environmental Protection Act] has not facilitated precautionary action at all in Canada, particularly with respect to substances management. Unless we can address the inherent barriers to precaution, particularly our rigid application of risk management and false concepts such as sound science, I really don't think we will get there.  ... We need to make sure that uncertainty isn't used as an excuse for inaction and that we truly apply precaution.


           “Given a survey of most countries, I would imagine that CEPA would be probably one of the least precautionary pieces of legislation dealing with toxic substances.”

Bruce Lourie is an environmentalist working with the Ivy Foundation in Ontario. The comments above are excepted from Lourie’s presentation to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on June 6, 2005. The committee was investigating the precautionary principle and its importance in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act .