Nel's New Day

April 21, 2019

Earth Day 2019

Tomorrow is the 49th anniversary for a global event in 193 countries. Although hundreds of millions work to save the planet every day, April 22 is set aside as a day of action. As the Earth Day website explains:

“People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.”

Last year’s theme was to End Plastic Pollution. One goal was to reduce the annual use of 500 million plastic straws in just the United States. In July 2018, Seattle became the biggest city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws, and Starbucks plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020. McDonald will ban plastic straws at UK and Ireland restaurants, and the 1,000 U.S. locations of  the food service company Bon Appétit Management will follow suit. Thanks to a Girls Scout, Alaska Airlines was the first airline to phase out plastic straws and stirrers. Shelby O’Neil created Jr Ocean Guardians for her 2017 Girl Scout USA Gold Award Project to share her passion in saving oceans and marine life for the future. Other airlines–American, Delta, and United–are following Alaska’s lead.

Getting rid of straws may have seemed a minor task because they comprise only 0.025 percent of the eight million tons of plastic going into the ocean each year. But it’s a simple beginning. From there, governments are decreasing the use of single-use plastic bags for shopping by adding fees for them or replacing them with paper bags. The town where I live passed an ordinance to do this a few days ago. Kroger is just one major company doing away with plastic bags for its shoppers. Using reusable shopping bags can drastically cut down on the one trillion plastic bags used world-wide every year.

Another reduction in plastic is to reuse water bottles instead of single-use ones. One person using a refillable water bottle can save an average of 170 bottles each year. And the single-use bottles have poisonous chemicals that aren’t present in glass or stainless steel reusable bottles.

Other ways to avoid plastic use is to pack food in glass containers, avoid snack foods with excess packaging, and skip plastic flatware. Hopefully, restaurants where you eat will use cardboard for takeout food instead of plastic. Buying products in cardboard containers will cut down on single-use plastics.

A particularly vicious form of plastic comes into microbeads used in most cosmetic items. UK has joined other countries in banning the product that is killing marine life who mistake the tiny particles for food. Ethique Beauty became plastic free in 2012, preventing three million bottles, jars, and tubes being sold and aiming for ten million by 2025. The United States has banned microbeads only in rinse-off cosmetics.

Founded in Bandon (OR), the Washed Ashore project creates sculptures from plastic materials washed up on beaches. It has a traveling art exhibit to create an awareness about the world’s growing plastic pollution problems.

Another 30 ways to recycle stuff.

Last year’s Earth Day theme to reduce plastic proliferation set progress into motion, and activists will begin work on this year’s theme, “Protect Our Species” which are rapidly disappearing from climate change, deforestation, poaching, pollution, pesticides/herbicides, and consumption.

One species that people might want to protect is that of humans. Because of the huge corporation Monsanto, people are getting cancer from its pesticides that contain glysophates. Products from popular foods for children–breakfast cereal, snack bars, and from popular companies such as Quaker, Kellogg, and General Mills–to “adult beverages” of wine and beer contain the cancer-causing chemical. To sell its genetically-modified seeds for plants that won’t be damaged by glysophates, Monsanto engineered varieties of corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, and more crops. Over 90% of all soybeans and over 70% of all corn grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, and the majority of these plants are tolerant to glyphosates. Originally people assumed that these crops were safe for human, but studies–not those paid for by Monsanto–show them to be endocrine disruptors causing birth defects, reproductive impairment, and DNA damage.

Another way to save the planet is to saving marine animals which might slow climate change because they store carbon in their bodies; their carbon-rich waste products sink into the ocean to fertilize and protect marine plants. Sea stars are just one of the marine species rapidly dying off. [Photo by Sue Hardesty]

On its 50th anniversary in 2020, the Earth Day network is organizing a “Great Global Clean Up,” which it hopes to be the largest environmental volunteer event in history. The goal is to remove billions of pieces of rubbish from streets, beaches, rivers,and parks, and is being launched across US cities in 2019. With its SOLVE project, Oregon is already ahead of the project. Founded 50 years ago in 1969 by Gov. Tom McCall, the goal of reducing and cleaning up litter and vandalism throughout the state expanded in 1984 to the first statewide citizen Beach Cleanup in the nation, an event that has spread to all 50 states and 100 other countries. The Oregon beach cleanup now takes place twice a year.

To celebrate Earth Day–every day, every year–hold yourself accountable and vow to save the planet for the future. [Photos: The Moon – Sue Hardesty; The Ocean – Ann Hubard]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 22, 2019

DDT: Week 113, Part 1 – Raging, Losing

The biggest news today is that Robert Mueller has finished his report, but no one except AG Bill Barr knows what’s in it. More news when some is released.

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) doesn’t know what his officials are doing. He tweeted:

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

Technically, the Treasury Department announced the sanctions yesterday, not today, but Fox may not have told DDT. Asked about DDT’s change, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “President Trump likes Chairman Kim.” Sanctions on Chinese shipping companies that helped North Korea evade international sanctions fought North Korea denuclearization. Even national security adviser John Bolton considered the sanctions “important.”

DDT started the week with 29 raging tweets on Sunday before and after he made a rare appearance at church where he wore a red tie to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day green. His fury was directed  against General Motors, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Saturday Night Live (the Christmas rerun), some Fox hosts (while supporting Jeanine Pirro), President Obama (along with FBI, DOJ, and CIA), Google, the Paris Climate Agreement, and others. DDT’s vitriol against McCain continued for the entire week during a press conference with his South American doppelganger, Brazil’s new autocrat Jair Bolonsaro, and in front of a Lima (OH) audience at a tank factory. By Wednesday, he began whining about how he didn’t get a “thank you” for McCain’s funeral and claimed that he had to “approve” the event. Congress approved McCain’s lying in state in the U.S. Capitol for three days; DDT only arranged for transport. After that diatribe, McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, shared a hate-filled tweet sent her that used obscenities to attack McCain and their daughter Meghan McCain.

Some Fox shows criticized DDT for his McCain comments. Neil Cavuto called out Republicans for not offending McCain, especially Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has gone all out in defending DDT as part of Graham’s re-election campaign. In a Friday interview with Fox Business Maria Bartiromo, DDT attacked her for asking him about his attacks:

“You shouldn’t have brought it up. Actually, I thought you weren’t supposed to bring it up, but that’s okay. Fake news every once in a while.”

Fox is officially fake news, according to DDT. His anger continued during his departure to Mar-a-Lago later that day when he ignored Fox reporters other than glaring at them. Republicans who have kept quiet about DDT’s diatribes may struggle with their votes if Sen. Chuck Schumer introduces a bill renaming the Russell Senate Building for McCain, especially because it would switch the name from honoring a Democrat, Richard Russell, to a Republican. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may not let the bill come up for a vote.

With Congress on recess and everyone waiting for the Mueller report, DDT had nothing to do this week except rant, sometimes against the husband of his counselor, Kellyanne Conway. The courts, however, sometimes ruled against him.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch swung to the left in supporting the rights of Native Americans, permitting the Yakama Tribe’s 1855 Treat rights to travel the public roads without being taxed on the goods brought to the reservation to Washington from Oregon, agreed when the U.S. took most of the Yakima land.

A U.S. District judge blocked drilling on 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming because the Department of Interior auctioned the land for fossil fuel leasing without any consideration of climate change risks, violating the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The decision is the first ruling against DDT’s business-first, climate-last agenda and will certainly be appealed.

A federal judge ruled against implementation of DDT’s transgender military ban because one of the injunctions against the ban still exists. In all four federal cases against the ban last year, judges issued injunctions. One injunction was lifted in March, and the Supreme Court overturned two others. Although An appeals court overturned another injunction in January, the judge said that the appeals court ruling could change because plaintiffs have until March 29 to ask for a rehearing. The Defense Department had set April 12, 2019 as the date to block transgender recruits signing up for the military, and military service members are already prevented from transitioning.

The Connecticut supreme court ruled that victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre can sue Remington Arms on the basis that the company irresponsibly marketed the weapon used in the shooting to high-risk individuals, violating state law. One argument was one of standing, whether a person without a business relationship with the defendant can sue for unfair trade practices, but the court ruled that people injured by unfair trade practices—in this case, families killed in the shooting—can sue. Manufacturers of weapons are the only U.S. companies that cannot be sued for their products’ deaths and injuries, according to a law passed in 2005.

The government has dropped charges for all 191 protesters at DDT’s inauguration who did not plead guilty, removing the possibility that each one could serve over 60 years in prison. Twenty-one of those arrested took guilty pleas.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed an Alabama court by unanimously agreeing to recognize a lesbian couple’s legal adoption of a child in Georgia. The couple has separated, and the one who gave birth to three children argued that Georgia was wrong in granting joint custody to her former partner. Justices required that Alabama must give “full faith and credit” to another state’s court decision. Thirty states grant “second-parent adoptions” to same-gender couples through laws or court rulings. Hundreds of thousands of adoptions have been granted since the mid-1980s, and approximately 65,000 adopted children live with a lesbian or gay parent.

By not hearing an appeal from a Hawaii B&B, the high court ended a 12-year-old lawsuit. A lesbian couple won their suit after they were turned away from the lodging because of their sexual orientation. The decision may affirm non-discrimination laws against Q people despite “religious freedom” claims.

The second blow against Monsanto, this one a unanimous decision from a federal jury that weedkiller Roundup was a large factor in causing a man’s cancer, might end up in over 4,000 lawsuits against the company. A second phase of the trial concerns whether Monsanto is responsible. Another cancer patient was awarded $78 million. Recent analysis of glyphosate, an ingredient in Roundup, shows that the EPA was wrong in declaring it safe by disregarding the scientific evidence about its carcinogenic dangers.

DDT sees most of his policies knocked down by federal judges because they don’t meet minimums of legal reasoning. Normal win rate is 70 percent; DDT’s rate is 6 percent. Judges point out that policies lack legitimate explanations for policy shifts, facts, and public input while putting ideology over governance.

German officials have called for the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador to Germany, DDT-appointed Richard Grenell, for his interference in Germany’s politics. Wolfgang Kubicki, speaker of Germany’s Bundestag, asked the German foreign minister to “declare Richard Grenell persona non grata immediately.” Carsten Schneider, parliamentary manager of the Social Democrats Party, said Grenell is a “total diplomatic failure” who was acting like a “brat.” Grenell claims he wants to “empower” conservative movements in Europe, threatens sanctions regarding a German-backed pipeline, and urges German companies to stop operations in Iran.

Marine commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that DDT’s deployments of troops to the southern border posed “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.” Neller also wrote that the “unplanned/unbudgeted” deployment and funding shifts to support border security forced him to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries and delay urgent repairs at bases. According to Neller, hurricanes severely damaged Marine Corps facilities and housing in North Carolina and Georgia, and Marines are already short $1.3 billion for recovery operations requiring service members to work “in compromised structures” as hurricane season is three months away. In their testimony next week before the House Armed Services Committee, Shanahan and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may be asked questions about Neller’s statements.

DDT’s new privatized VA program is so flawed that it threatens to disrupt health care for about 75,000 veterans every day, according to an independent study from U.S. Digital Service, hired to help federal agencies improve their technology. The software to determine who is eligible for the program can lengthen each appointment by five to ten minutes by generating errors, running slowly, or crashing. The report also indicated that there is insufficient time to test the tool and address errors. Last year, the VA’s software caused veterans to be evicted and ruined their credit scores. Last year, three men from Mar-a-Lago oversaw the IT division because it lacked a permanent chief.

The Republicans in some states are trying to put DDT on the ballot in the general election with no primary, but 18 states are considering legislation that would keep candidates for president and VP off the 2020 general election ballots if they don’t release their income tax returns.

DDT’s approval rating from the conservative Gallup poll is back down to 39 percent in the first half of March. Not a good week for DDT.

June 18, 2018

Courts Feature DDT’s Problems

Today’s post is about recent legal decisions and lawsuit filings, but I’ll begin with the separation of children from their families at the Mexico border.

  • A letter to the editor complained about Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for not doing his job because he tried to visit to incarceration facilities for these children. This is part of his job.
  • NPR, which now gets large donations from far-right contributors such as the Koch brothers, allowed statements that children are better off being separated from their parents with no one explaining the physical and emotional damage of the separations.
  • Yesterday DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Today she backed down at a White House briefing but supported the lies of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) by blaming Democrats and adding other lies of her own.

People watching nothing but conservative media such as Fox are spared horrific tapes of the cries of abducted children separated from their parents. A six-year-old girl kept repeating her aunt’s telephone number and pleading for someone to call her. When the call was finally made, the aunt in El Salvador could do nothing because she and her daughter cannot get asylum in the U.S. because the DOJ no longer accepts people fleeing from gangs and domestic violence. The six-year-old’s mother will probably be deported without her daughter.

As bad as things are for DDT, the courts are pursuing him. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against DDT, his three oldest children, and the Donald J. Trump foundation because DDT’s charity allegedly engaged in “illegal conduct” by raising over $2.8 million to influence the presidential election in DDT’s campaign. The suit calls for dissolving the foundation, repaying the $2.8 million along with other penalties, a 10-year ban on DDT serving as director of a New York nonprofit, and a one-year ban on his serving on a nonprofit board for each of his children. Prison could also be a possibility. Underwood also sent referral letters to the IRS and FEC, listing potential law violations for more investigation and legal action.

Summer Zervos’ defamation civil suit for DDT accusation that his sexual assault victims are liars can continue, according to New York’s Supreme Court. Zervos’ lawyer said that they look forward to the “discovery process,” which could reveal information that DDT is hiding.

Rudy Giuliani tried to defame Stormy Daniels because of her profession as an adult film star, saying that she cannot be trusted. In return, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted his 500,000+ followers in a search for Giuliani’s porn-watching habits.

An Emoluments Clause lawsuit against DDT for taking gifts from state and foreign governments, a case with no direct precedent, should be decided by the end of July. DDT’s legal team claims that DDT cannot be sued, that his proceeds are not emoluments, and that he has donated his profits to the Treasury. DDT has no evidence for his statement that he made only $151,470. In another emoluments case, 200 congressional Democrats state that DDT has to ask Congress for the right to receive emoluments. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington failed its first round in an emoluments claim for having no standing, but the group is appealing. Any case that manages a requirement of discovery is victorious because DDT has thus far hidden his financial records.

A federal judge in Seattle refused to stay an earlier injunction halting DDT’s transgender military ban while the government is appealing because the government has no new arguments. The judge is one of four issuing preliminary injunctions against Trump’s transgender military ban.

The day after the official end of net neutrality in the United States, an action allowing more profit-making to internet servers, a George W. Bush-appointed judge approved the $85.4 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner with no conditions. The owners of DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T mobile and broadband, Cricket wireless, etc. will now possess HBO, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers Studios, a stake in Hulu, etc. The judge ruled that the merger did not violate antitrust laws because of the consumer welfare standard that examines only consumer costs. Monopolies are now legal; for example, ultra-conservative Sinclair Publishing can move into almost all the local markets across the nation. Comcast entered a bidding war with Disney for Fox TV and movie assets. T-Mobile, which partners with Netflix, has a deal to buy Sprint. Leon’s ruling also leaves Aetna open to join with CVS, and other health corporations can merge.

In another permit for a huge merger earlier this year, the German pharmaceutical and chemical company Bayer can buy agricultural giant Monsanto, creating the world’s biggest pesticides and seeds monopoly.  After the $66 billion purchase, just three megacorporations–Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont, and Syngenta-ChemChina–will control 61 percent of global seeds and pesticides production, worrying farmers about prices with no competition. Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have trapped farmers into dependence and reliance on chemicals.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not decide on two gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. The non-decision gave Wisconsin to the Republicans and Maryland to Democrats. For Wisconsin, the high court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that challenges must come from each district by voters with standing because the court’s role is only for “individual rights.” The case was sent back to a lower court to determine whether plaintiffs existed in all districts. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch wanted to end the Wisconsin case. An unsigned opinion stated that the Maryland case is at a preliminary stage but that the lower court was not wrong in refusing to order the congressional maps redrawn. The next Supreme Court decision about gerrymandering could come from North Carolina where the GOP controls 10 of 13 congressional districts.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly struck down Minnesota’s ban on political apparel in polling places with the 7-2 ruling that the law was too broad. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a state may prohibit some apparel, but it must have a “reasonable” line. An example is the California law that defines political information.

Last week, a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself left in place a lower court decision supporting the salmon rights of 21 Northwest Native American tribes who sued Washington state for the replacement of almost 1,000 culverts. The decision, that the state cannot impede the salmon that tribes have a right to fish, could affect development, construction, and farming practices in the Northwest by engaging tribes in decision-making.  Tribes may also look at other treaty rights outside fishing and hunting, such as the preservation of national parks and opposition to pipelines.

Healthcare specialist Mark Horton’s lawsuit against St. Louis-based Midwest Geriatric Management, now pending in the 8th Circuit Court, comes from the company’s pulling his job offer after it discovered he is gay. Major companies such as Microsoft and Airbnb joined EEOC to support Horton’s case; conservative states oppose it. The 2nd Circuit Court ruled that the Civil Right Act protects LGBTQ workers.

A federal judge in Missouri this week upheld a state law restricting access to medication to induce abortions as the case awaits trial.

A California appeals court reinstated the state’s right-to-die law until a lawsuit goes to court. A lower court had blocked the law on the grounds that the legislature could not pass the law during a special session limited to other issues. Oregon was the first to pass a death-with-dignity law in 1997 before it was joined by Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.

Kentucky is suing Walgreens for allegedly aggravating the opioid crisis as both distributor and dispenser in filling huge quantities of prescription narcotic pain medication. This is the sixth opioid-related lawsuit filed by Kentucky. Other states are doing the same—Florida, Delaware, and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Massachusetts is also suing Purdue Pharma and 16 of the OxyContin maker’s executives for misleading doctors and patients about the risks of opioids. Alabama filed a suit against the company four months ago.

A federal judge blocked Indiana from immediately purging registered voters with personal records elsewhere on the faulty Crosschecks computer program.

A question about citizenship abruptly added to the 2020 census with no vetting has brought lawsuits from over two dozen states and cities in opposition. The subsequent release of 1,320 internal memos, emails, and other documents sheds light on this decision. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the cost of the last-minute addition would be insignificant, but John Abowd, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, conservatively estimates the expense at $27.5 million. The question came from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known for his work to disenfranchise progressive voter. He objected to undocumented immigrants being used to determine the number of congressional seats, despite the fact that this constitutional practice has been used since the first census in 1790.

Earlier this year, Kobach was fined $1,000 for misleading the court about documents in a folder he took to a meeting with DDT soon after the presidential election. Kobach said he paid the fee “out of his own pocket,” but he used a state credit card issued to Craig McCullah, deputy assistant secretary of state under Kobach, for the payment. McCullah, in Ukraine deployed with the Oklahoma Army National Guard when the payment was made, was not told about it. Kobach was also found to have disobeyed orders to notify thousands of Kansans that they were legally registered to vote in 2016. He is running for governor of Kansas.

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was suspended from the bench for 32 counts of lying and using his public office for personal gain. Those seem to be actions reserved for the president of the United States.

May 28, 2016

Environmental Hope for Movement from the Right

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 10:03 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Is it possible that the political pendulum in the United States is swinging away from the ultra-right side back to the central? There are a few pieces of hope in the fight against ag-gag laws, Monsanto, and big corporations.

Thanks to conservative lawmakers and a ruling by U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, Idaho taxpayers are stuck with paying $250,000 in legal fees for its unconstitutional “ag-gag” law. The law’s intent was to prevent people from filming the inhumane animal abuse on big agricultural farms. Idaho was the most recent state in the trend to outlaw undercover investigations, and the first to suffer the overturn of its law because of the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. An appeal for the Idaho ruling would go to the usually liberal 9th Circuit of Appeals.

The far-right group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), created by the Koch brothers, drafted a model bill so that conservative lawmakers could take it back to their legislation. These laws maintained that photographing the animal abuse was not only illegal but those convicted were listed on a “terrorist registry.”

Twenty-six states introduced these bills, and seven of them passed it into law. Because Idaho’s law was overturned on federal constitutional grounds, the ruling will most likely set a strong precedent for legal ag-gag challenges throughout the nation.

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Wyoming’s law made it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. “Data collection” means “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.” Warned that the law might be unconstitutional, lawmakers amended it this spring to just private lands where anyone in Wyoming, whether resident or visitor, who takes a photo of a polluted stream to report it to any agency can get a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The law is now in the courts.

The worst state law may be in North Carolina: it covers not only agricultural business but also all other workplaces in the state. According to the law, people secretly taping abuses of people in nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, group homes, medical practices, charter and private schools, veterans’ facilities, etc. can be sued for bad publicity and required to pay a fine of $5,000 each day that the person gathers and/or records information without the business owners’ authorization. The law exempts people who directly report abuses to owners or state authorities, but the information cannot be legally disseminated to the public. The law is being challenged, perhaps successfully. The Idaho judge wrote that activists who pose as employees to gain access to farming operations  “actually advance core First Amendment values by exposing misconduct to the public eye and facilitating dialogue on issues of considerable public interest.”

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Animals are not the only ones abused in agribusiness. Poultry industry workers are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom” in corporate efforts to optimize the speed of production. According to a new study, people avoid drinking liquids for long periods of time and wear diapers at work so that they can “urinate and defecate while standing on the line.” and “wear diapers to work.” Processing companies include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, and Perdue. The industry is also trying to increase the regulation of 140 birds per minute by another 35 birds per minute. OSHA mandates employee access to bathrooms, but some of them are forced to wait for over an hour to be relieved or not have any relief at all.

In the world of chemical pollution, Monsanto has been assessed $46.5 million in damages by a St. Louis jury because of the company’s negligence in handling toxic and carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs. PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago, and Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. Even after Monsanto learned about the product’s dangers, long before it was banned in 1979, the company told the public that PCBs were safe and continued to sell the compounds.

Lawsuits are piling up against Monsanto, the most recent from Long Beach (CA), the eighth city to sue the biotech behemoth after Portland (OR), Seattle, Spokane, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland. These cases are pending. Long Beach’s federal lawsuit states that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs are “widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms” including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans.” The complaint also stated:

“PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff.”

GOP lawmakers are trying to protect Monsanto with the “Monsanto Rider” in the Toxic Substances Control Act reauthorization bill that would give the chemical giant permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs.

The conservative World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a report stating that glyphosate, an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans. After WHO’s announcement, California plans to add glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals. Other bad news for Monsanto came from a 2014 Sri Lankan study showing a possible link between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease that killed thousands of farm workers in Central America. Monsanto not only produces Roundup but also adds the herbicide to its genetically modified seeds that cover the United States. Latvia and Greece have joined other European countries to reject GMOs.

In March, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a House bill that would have prevented all states from having GMO labeling laws. Almost 90% of people in the U.S. want GMO food to be labeled, but the agrichemical industry returned to the Senate with its zombie bill to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act to nullify state labeling efforts. Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer, and ConAgra are among the top ten donors spending over $100 million to defeat GMO ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and California.

A year ago Monsanto agreed to pay $600,000 for its failures to report the release of severe toxic chemicals from its Idaho plant between the years 2006 and 2009. The cost won’t be a problem for Monsanto: the company reporter $1.5 billion in profit during just 2013.

Voters in tiny Hood County (OR), population 22,675, scored a huge victory over Nestle, another international corporation  worth over $247 billion. The battle started eight years ago when the gigantic company tried to buy water rights to Oxbow Springs in a state sometimes suffering from drought. Protesting environmental groups were joined by four Indian tribes by claiming treaty rights and raising concerns about future salmon populations. The ballot measure crafted by Nestle’s opposition banning commercial water operations in the county passed with 70 percent of the vote in the May 17, 2016 primary election.

Nestle’s lure was 50 jobs at $10 per hour with no benefits; the company spent $105,000 fighting the initiative. If Nestle had won, it would have paid less than residents for the water. Julia Degraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch, said, “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles. It really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.”

The town of Cascade Locks, population 1,148 and an unemployment of 19 percent, passed the measure by 58 percent. Nestle targets economically depressed areas to make billions of dollars in profit and leaves the area with environmental, infrastructure, and other costs.

May 13, 2016

Hopeful Environmental News

 

GOP presumptive heir has campaigned on the position that he will let his advisors tell him what to do, and his newest advisor in helping him draft energy policy is climate change skeptic and drilling advocate Rep. Kevin Cramer from North Dakota, a major oil drilling state. Cramer stated that his white paper will show the dangers of burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will present these ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck (ND) later this month. According to Cramer, the earth is cooling, not warming.

While Trump’s train chugs on, environmentalists have recently received good news.

Methane gas: The EPA announced new rules to significantly reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities as well as those undergoing modifications. It’s a first step in this area because the direction, finalized later this year, is only for these wells on federal lands and not for existing ones. The regulations will cover only 25 percent of the oil and gas equipment. Methane gas worsens smog, asthma iin children, and cardiovascular disease while increasing premature death.

Fracking: The industry has suffered a $4.2 million jury award over alleged groundwater contamination from fracking. Cabot Oil and Gas Co. is supposed to give the money to families in Dimock (PA). Popular support for fracking is also shrinking to 36 percent of people in the nation last March from 40 percent the prior March. Federal regulators are also working on new environmental rules for the industry that has experienced a long price slump. The oil and gas industry is under much greater scrutiny that at the beginning of its boom ten years ago.

Renewable energy: Last Sunday morning Germany got 90 percent of its electricity demand from renewable power. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time: the country averages 30 percent of the country’s power from solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Yet that average is over 230 percent higher than in the United States that gets only 13 percent of its electricity from these energy sources. At the fourth-largest economy in the world, Germany’s $3.7 trillion GDP is higher than any European country or US state. As clean energy grew in Germany so did its economy. The country, with about as much sunshine as Alaska, outpaces the U.S. in solar although the U.S. has four times the population of Germany. German individuals drive the “energy transition” because the government opened the market to utilities, businesses, and homeowners. In contrast, the U.S. restricts clean energy through high taxes and fees on its installation and use, much of these restrictions from control on solar energy by fossil-fuel owning Koch brothers. Florida is just one example.

Coal terminals: A five-year struggle between coal and Native Americans has resulted in denial of federal permits for the biggest proposed coal terminal in North America at Cherry Point (WA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the project would violate the nation’s treaty obligations to protect Lummi fisheries and ancestral lands. The project would have overloaded the capacity of BNSF railways by adding 16 trains per day and increase the possibility of rail collisions by 22 percent through Cowlitz County and Washington. The increase in train activity would cause road delays at between four to six crossings. The company behind the project, Millennium Bulk Terminals, is still hoping to have a terminal at Longview (WA), but it had to pull its proposal when it was discovered that the company planned to ship 60 million tons of coal annual instead of the 5.7 million tons on the applications. Since Millennium applied for permits in 2012, Arch Coal, a minority shareholder, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

New clean electric generation in the United States: Last year, wind turbines and solar panels accounted for more than two-thirds of all new electric generation capacity added to the nation’s grid in 2015. The other third was natural gas fueled by natural gas. It was the second year that U.S. investment in renewable energy outpaced that of fossil fuels. The cost of emissions-free wind energy, the cheapest energy source, has dropped by two-thirds in the last six years. Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas—home states to GOP lawmakers fighting the curtailment of climate-warming carbon emissions—benefited the most from clean energy. In the past ten years, coal has dropped from providing half the nation’s electricity to one-third, and large banks will no longer finance new coal mines or coal-fired power plants. U.S. coal mines not employ only 56,700 people down from a peak of times that many employees; solar employs more than 210,000 workers, and wind energy has another 77,000 employees.

This week, the EPA issued a report that Monsanto’s Roundup, made with glyphosate, doesn’t cause cancer, but it pulled the report, marked FINAL, with the excuse that they weren’t finished. The question is whether they were being pressured by business because evidence is growing that the product is carcinogenic, as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the product.  Four Nebraska farmers agree with WHO and are suing Monsanto, claiming that its project gave them non-Hodkin’s lymphoma. Monsanto made $4.8 billion from Roundup sales last year, and more than 85 million pounds of glyphosate was applied to U.S. crops in 2007, more than double the 85 million pounds in 2001. Glyphosate is applied to “Roundup-ready” crops that are genetically modified to resist it and used on more than 100 varieties of crops in commercial agriculture. The complaint states:

 “Glyphosate is found in rivers, streams, and groundwater in agricultural areas where Roundup is used. It has been found in food, the urine of exposed persons, and in the urine of urban dwellers without direct contact with glyphosate.”

Last year California was the first state to label Roundup as a carcinogen, and Monsanto sued the state to fight this designation. Cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other blood cancers, including lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia, B-cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The farmers’ lawsuit isn’t the first: Monsanto faces at least 700 lawsuits against Monsanto or Monsanto-related entities regarding cancer caused by PCBs that the company manufactured until the late 1970s. California federal judge Vince Chhabria has also refused to dismiss a lawsuit about Monsanto’s causing cancer with Roundup.

More and more media sources no longer have journalists but instead rely on press releases from companies who benefit from lying about science. Even most existing journalists aren’t well enough trained in science to spot misinformation.  In an attempt to disseminate accurate scientific information, a group of scientists are now fact-checking scientific information in the media through a new project called Climate Feedback. They started on a small scale over a year ago and are now crowdfunding $30,000 to build the project’s capacity with new weekly feedbacks. Associate Editor Daniel Nethery said:

“Several aspects of the online media environment make it particularly conducive to the spread of misinformation. In the race to attract the most clicks, editorial standards may suffer, qualified journalists who carry out rigorous research may become cost-ineffective, and eye-catching headlines — ‘click bait’ — can trump more sober reporting of the facts.”

Nethery and co-founder Emmanuel Vincent plan to hire a dedicated editor and encourage accurate science writing through a Scientific Trust Tracker to guide readers sources with “journalists with integrity.” An example of their work can be found in their analysis of James Taylor’s article in Forbes, “2015 Was Not Even Close To Hottest Year On Record.”

Climate Feedback will need a lot more money in this election cycle!

December 13, 2013

Push Back at Monsanto

The island of Hawaii has emerged victorious over a monster corporation: Mayor Billy Kenoi signed a bill last week that prevents biotech companies from operating on the island and bans any new genetically-altered crops other than papaya. In October Mexico banned, on an interim basis, planting genetically-engineered corn; last July Italy became the ninth European country to ban Monsanto’s GMO corn.

Europe is so unwelcoming that Monsanto has pulled eight of its nine pending applications with the European Commission. The company plans to continue its conventional seed business there and will try to renew approval to cultivate the one GM corn variety commercially grown in Europe. Its original application, approved in 1998, was the last one to be accepted there.

Millions of small-scale farmers in Africa have repeatedly objected to using GMO crops and want their governments to ban them. Traditional African farming systems developed a diversity of seed varieties to deal with farming challenges. Seeds have been bred for flavor and nutrition as well as adaptation to different soils and weather patterns, a far better system than GMOs. Another problem for African farmers is that saving Monsanto’s GMO seed is illegal while 80 percent of African farmers save seed that they have bred.

Monsanto, the producer of the killer defoliant Agent Orange with annual overall sales of $14.86 billion, claims that the corporation is “a sustainable agriculture company,” but Southeast Asia disagrees. Genetically-modified seeds destroy the soil while demanding repurchasing because of the renewable traits. Since 1995, 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after insurmountable debt derived from Monsanto’s cotton. Many farmers killed themselves from pesticides intended for their crops. Part of the debt came from Monsanto’s unbelievable increase for a kilogram of cotton seeds from 7 to 17,000 rupees in just the year 2009.

GMO cotton cannot be intercropped with food crops, requires irrigation instead of being rain-fed, creates new pests demanding 13 times more pesticides than the traditional cotton, and fails to meet the claims of 1500/kg/year when farmers were able to harvest only 300-400/kg/year.

Another problem waiting to happen is the “golden rice,” a genetically-engineered variety designed to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Millions of dollars have been spent to develop this instead of solutions such as food supplements and fortification. “Golden rice” can easily contaminate non-GE rice, and traditional and organic rice farmers will lose their markets, especially export markets. Any unexpected hazardous effects could put people and food security at risk in countries around the world. For example, a diet based solely on rice could make malnutrition worse. When researchers fed the experimental “golden rice” to children in China, they failed to tell parents what their children were eating.

Europe is denying the applications with good cause. More and more evidence is emerging that Roundup, Monsanto’s top-selling pesticide destroys vital human intestinal bacteria and contributes to rapid increase of food allergies and serious human diseases including cancer, autism, neurological disorders , Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Children and elderly people are most susceptible to this poisoning.

Pigs fed GMO corn and soy feed had a notably higher rate of severe stomach inflammation, according to a recent study. Rats fed GMO corn died prematurely after developing tumors. A 2012 French study regarding these tumors, an investigation into the “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.

As soon as the study was published, Monsanto raised concerns of bias and choice of rats. Although the researchers stand by their study, Wallace Hayes, editor-in-chief of the publishing journal retracted the study. An exhaustive investigation of the study resulted in no findings of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of data, but that the study was inconclusive. It is to be noted that the journal that retracted the study had recently appointed biologist Richard Goodman as associate editor. Goodman worked for Monsanto for seven years and has a history of supporting GMOs.

In the late 1990s, the scientist Marc Lappé, found that Monsanto’s claims that the increase of yields from their technology was highly overstated. After he wrote Against the Grain, Monsanto threated the publishers if they were to release the book. A year ago Monsanto bought out Beeologics, which had been concerned with studying and protecting bees from “colony collapse disorder.”

Insects are becoming far more resistant to GMOs, requiring the use of more and more pesticides. Sales of corn insecticide doubled in 2012 because of the rootworm resistance in the U.S.  The EPA recently raised the permitted levels of Roundup residue on grains and vegetables to more dangerous levels because of the growing resistance.

Last summer the World Food Prize Foundation awarded a Monsanto executive the “Nobel Price of food” for creating GMOs. The award is given to “outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.” In 2008 Monsanto gave $5 million to the foundation making the award, which favors industrial agricultural. Maintaining seed diversity and promoting healthy soil ecology are essential to “real food security” and a strategy more than worthy of recognition.

Farmers achieved a victory against Monsanto last summer after a court ordered the corporation to not sue farmers for patent infringement as they discover GE contamination. With that decision, farmers can now sue Monsanto for damages in a contamination problem without being concerned about a countersuit of patent infringement. A possible case is the discovers of Monsanto wheat in a crop, wheat that was discontinued several years ago.

Maine, along with Connecticut, has passed a GMO labeling law. There isn’t much chance of these laws going into effect, though, because they have three caveats:

  • Four other Northeastern states must enact legislation.
  • One must border Connecticut/Maine (respectively).
  • The four Northeastern states must have a combined population of at least 20 million.

Maine’s law requires one from New Hampshire; Connecticut can use Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts (which contains one of the world’s leading biotechnology hubs), and Rhode Island. All these states must pass the same law to reach the population unless New York decides to opt in.

Between 60 and 70 percent of all food sold in the United States is genetically engineered, but none of these foods is labeled as such. In last November’s election, Washington state came close to passing a law that would require food labeling of GMO products. Although 93 percent of the people in the United States support food labeling, the $22 million for anti-labeling advertising swung the vote in Washington at the last minute. Sixty-four nations, including all of Europe, have labeling requirements. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) is now planning to block labeling across the United States through federal law.

Much has been written about secret surveillance since Edward Snowden released records from the National Security Agency. Most people don’t know that corporations such as Monsanto and Wal-Mart also spy on activists and non-profit groups with little fear of retribution. These companies employ former CIA, NSA, FBI, military, and police officers to monitor and infiltrate groups critical of the corporations. According to a report from Essential Information:

“Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.”

Monsanto has purchased many members of Congress who try to pass amendments preventing state labeling laws and anti-lawsuit measures regarding Monsanto to the farm bill. Earlier this year under the guidance of former Monsanto lawyer Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO, the House passed the Monsanto Protection Act that allowed crops with GMO seeds to be planted and sold, regardless of a judicial order.

Fortunately, Congress seems incapable of passing almost any laws. Sending the budget bill to the Senate, once pro forma, was considered a miracle this past week. Let’s hope that Congress continues its pattern of  “first, do no harm.”

September 27, 2013

Zombie Monsanto Law Must Be Stopped

A piece of good news hiding among the lack of Cruz Control antics this week is the Senate’s decision to drop the Monsanto Protection Rider. Last March Monsanto paid Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) $64,000 to put a rider into the must-pass farm bill to protect companies that sell GMOs from any lawsuits. The Secretary of Agriculture was instructed to allow the cultivation and sale of GMO crops even though they posed a potential risk to farmers of nearby crops, the environment, and human health. Monsanto wrote the language for the rider and then gave it to Blunt. That exemption for companies such as Monsanto, however, disappears in just four days.

The House put the Monsanto Protection Rider back into the House version of the short-term appropriations bill, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that also including the defunding of  Obamacare. But that rider was stripped from the appropriations bill that the Senate returned to the House.  Some of the Democrats who voted against the rider may be hurt in their upcoming elections. For example, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), appointed to the Senate in 2012, knows the danger that genetically-modified crops present to his state.

A new group, the New Democrat Coalition, may be more supportive of protecting Monsanto and GMOs. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) knows how bad GMOs are for his state agriculture. A member of the New Dems, Colleen Hanabusa, plans to primary Schatz and follow the group’s support of big business through lowering their tax rates, eliminating regulations, and establishing the Trans Pacific Partnership described as “the wish list of the top 1 percent.” In their advocacy of big corporations, the New Dems see biotech as the “future of the U.S.,” pushing to extend patents and give corporate welfare to the companies.

GMO companies want to keep people ignorant of the contents of their food. don’t even want to let people know what is in their food. Here’s what many people don’t know:

  • Labeling genetically engineered foods (GMOs) will not cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
  • Buying certified organic products does not let consumers avoid GMOs because food companies are permitted to use the term “natural” for products with GMOs.
  • Labeling laws will not result in new lawsuits against farmers, food producers, and store owners about food label terminology. It’s actually Monsanto that continually sues farmers across the country for growing their own seeds.
  • Labeling GMOs will not create a “bureaucratic nightmare” for grocers and retailers.
  • Genetically engineered do pose health safety risks. A study showed that GMO corn sprayed with Monsanto’s Round Up herbicide resulted in massive tumors, organ failure, and premature death in rats. Other studies link these foods to allergies, organ toxicity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, birth defects, high infant mortality rates, fertility problems, and sterility.
  • GE foods are not as, or more, nutritious than organic foods that contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids that help ward off heart disease, essential fatty acids, and essential minerals. GMO corn has 14 parts-per-million (ppm) of calcium while non-GMO corn has 6130 ppm, or 437 times more. Non-GMO corn also has 56 times more magnesium and seven times more manganese than GMO corn.
  • The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and other respected medical and health organizations do not conclude that GE foods are safe.
  • We do not need GMOs to feed the world because GE crops don’t lead to greater crop yields. Conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops.
  • The creation of GE seeds is not comparable to the cross-breeding that our ancestors did to create hardier versions of heritage crops. Cross breeding is the product of guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are created in a laboratory using high-tech and sophisticated techniques. One of these techniques involves gene-splicing which is used to cross a virus or a bacteria with a plant. These untested, unnatural creations are the antithesis to what our ancestors did, and what responsible farmers do: cross-pollinate different varieties of the same plant to help naturally bring forth desirable characteristics.
  • GE crops do not reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides. In fact GE crops greatly increase the use of these toxic chemicals. According to a new study by Food and Water Watch, the “total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GE crops — corn, cotton and soybeans — increased 10-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012” with the overall pesticide use rising by 26 percent from 2001 to 2010. The use of GE crops are now driving up the volume of toxic herbicides needed each year by about 25 percent.
  • GE crops are harmful to the environment. In addition to polluting the environment with herbicides and pesticides, GE crops lead to biodiversity loss and the emergence of “super bugs” and  “super weeds” that threaten millions of acres of farmland, thus requiring the need for even more dangerous and toxic herbicides. GMO use endangers many critical species, including the honey bee, frogs, birds, fish and the Monarch Butterfly. The island of Molokai in Hawaii has had its air and water quality destroyed by Monsanto’s almost-2000-acre test facility. Worldwide, people in areas around GMO farms report horrific bloody skin rashes, an uptick in asthma, and toxic pesticides that leach into the groundwater.

A recent study shows that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, may be “the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment” because it damages cellular systems throughout the body. It’s also the most popular herbicide on the planet and therefore likely to be pervasive in the world’s food supply. Scientists reported “signature of sarin” in Syrians who died several weeks ago, the same signature as the contents of Roundup.

A 2012 study published in the journal Archives of Toxicology shows Roundup to be toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications. Industry regulators and long-term studies look at glyphosate in isolation, instead of looking at Roundup’s full formulation, which includes secret added ingredients. These “confidential” and unlabeled ingredients, when measured as a whole, affect all living cells, including human cells.

Genetically-engineered seeds are available for three of the four major crops in the U.S.: corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Planting GE wheat seeds is illegal, but an Oregonian farmer found GE wheat growing in his fields last June, 12 years after Monsanto stopped its field trials. That one discovery risked the possibility of wheat farmers in Oregon not being able to export any of its crops because other countries such as Japan and China don’t want GE crops. The farmers could lose up to $3 million.

This month, a broker rejected an alfalfa crop in Washington state after testing positive for the genetic presence of Roundup Ready. The fourth-most widely grown crop in the United States, alfalfa has a value of about $8 billion; exports hit a record high of $1.25 billion last year. Washington is one of the nation’s biggest export alfalfa producers. In addition to being unable to export alfalfa to many countries, farmers may not be able to sell the crop for feed to domestic livestock because of GM contaminants.

Jack Heinemann, a New Zealand scientists, thinks that people may not be able to contain GE crops. A GE rice variety never commercialized was exported to France in 2006, and GE corn unapproved for human consumption showed up in Taco Bell taco shells.

The FDA reported that Monsanto concluded the wheat it tested was safe. With the reemergence of the wheat, Monsanto assures consumers that the FDA declared the safety of this wheat over a decade ago. In essence, Monsanto told FDA that the wheat is just fine so they are now saying that the FDA says that the wheat is safe.

Another danger comes from pharma crops, those engineered to produce pharmaceuticals or a toxic industrial compound. The USDA approved almost 400 field tests of these crops starting in 1991. In 2002, stalks of corn designed to produce a pig vaccine were mixed with $2.7 million worth of Nebraska soya beans for human consumption.

Large GMO companies such as Monsanto don’t want people to know that rat poison is an ingredient in their food products, and they don’t want people to file lawsuits against them if someone accidentally finds out. The House has voted to let Monsanto put poison in their seeds with impunity. Tomorrow they will probably hold the country hostage so that GOP House members will continue to be paid for their GMO support. Monsanto also spent $4.5 million to defeat an initiative to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods—in just one state.

For the past six months, no farmer could sue Monsanto for the damage to their crops, but Monsanto was able to sue farmers if seeds accidentally migrated into their fields. This has to stop. Zombie bills are those that seem to have a life of their own, that keep rising up. The zombie bill of the Monsanto Protection Rider needs to be eviscerated–permanently.

April 8, 2013

Can Monsanto Be Stopped?

Over four decades ago I went on a free ride at Disneyland called “Adventures thru Inner Space” sponsored by Monsanto. Forty years, I didn’t know anything about the company—just that it provided a “free ride” once I paid to get inside the amusement park. Little did I know that Monsanto, that started as a small chemical company in 1901, would grow into a huge biotechnology seed company that would be destructive to our environment and our food supply.

Monsanto originally made its fortune selling saccharin to Coca-Cola before it moved on to producing DDT (now banned in the United States) and Agent Orange, an herbicide and anti-defoliant that killed or maimed 400,000 people and caused another 500,000 children to be born with birth defects after its use during the Vietnam War. Its most recent money-maker is selling genetically-engineered seeds complete with herbicides and pesticides. Because of its dangers, people have tried to legislate ways to label food as genetically engineered, for example the failed California’s Prop 37, but Monsanto has been successful in defeating these efforts.

rootworm-300x203Monsanto spent $4.2 million last year to kill the ballot initiative that would bring California’s laws in line with those passed in Japan, China, the European Union, and Australia, which already require labels on genetically modified foods. In the United States, 91 percent of voters support GMO labeling, yet the FDA does not require safety studies before approving genetically-modified foods. Because of the danger of these GM foods, the EPA decided to look into the problem of “superweeds” and “superworms” that resist Monsanto chemicals.

The latest species of worm that has evolved to withstand pesticides are called “armyworms” because their infestation is like a military onslaught. The only answer farmers have at this time is to drastically increase the use of toxic chemicals on their crops.

Thanks to an anomymously-added rider to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, now signed into law, Monsanto is immune from any lawsuits against its poisoning the public. Nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act, this law was even written by Monsanto and then slipped in with neither hearing nor review. President Obama signed the protection for Monsanto into law because it was part of the federal budget Continuing Resolution, necessary for continuing the government operations. Members of Congress who might have opposed it have said that they were unaware that it was part of the bill.

More people are familiar with the new law thanks to a segment on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, in which he said that these lawmakers operate “with the same level of awareness as a flatulent grandpa.” He further quipped, “The laws in the most powerful nation on Earth are written with the same level of accountability as Internet comments.”

Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution states that a seed approved by the USDA but challenged by a court ruling can still be used and sold until the USDA says otherwise. A USDA spokesperson said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked for a review of section 735, “as it appears to preempt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) proposed an amendment to remove the rider out of the CR, but it never came to a vote. He slammed the House of Representatives for “slipping  ‘corporate giveaways’ into a must-pass government funding bill.” He wrote in a statement:

“Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better. These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill.”

bluntRep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is taking credit for the biorider, saying that he “worked with” Monsanto to craft it. Monsanto’s office is located in Missouri, and the company has contributed generously to Blunt’s campaigns.

A serious problem of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds is that farmers cannot use seeds from their crops in the next year. Because Monsanto has patent rights, they are claiming—in the U.S. Supreme Court—that farmers that buy previously harvested soybeans for planting are infringing on Monsanto’s rights. Approximately 90 percent of the country’s soybeans are subject to this ruling because of being genetically modified, giving Monsanto a virtual monopoly to control access to this crop.

The case of Monsanto v. Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, surrounded the issue that all Monsanto seed buyers must sign a “Technology Agreement,” prohibiting them from saving and replanting the seeds or doing research on the seeds, and pay a technology fee.

As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself although he is a former Monsanto lawyer.  Bowman got his seed from his local grain elevator to plant as a high-risk crop after he harvested his wheat. Losing in two lower courts, Bowman is the using the argument of patent “exhaustion,” meaning that the patent owner has no rights to an item after an initial authorized sale of that patented item.

Monsanto also claims that it controls the pollen from Monsanto corn, also dominant in U.S. crops, and seeds distributed by animals, winds, or waterways and mixing with non-GMO plantings. The company maintains that the seeds of Monsanto seeds retain the company’s exclusive patent rights until perpetuity. If Monsanto wins its case—and with its money it is likely to do so—then almost all farmers will be forced to pay Monsanto for all their seeds. Monsanto has the ability to sell seeds that cannot re-propagate, meaning that farmers cannot use its existing crops to plant seeds during the next year.

Monsanto doesn’t stop there. Their products include herbicides, pesticides, and biocides that make soil toxic and water poisonous. Their genetically-modified products have not had enough testing on the health impacts.

Bill Maher put it well in his “New Rules” section: “If you are one of the millions of Californians who voted against labeling genetically modified food, you can’t complain when it turns out there is horse meat in your hamburger.” In his description of mislabeled foods, he said:

“Did you know your Chilean sea bass is neither Chilean, nor bass, nor from the sea? …. And your Mahi-Mahi is really made of mercury drenched bottom feeders like tile fish …. And if you like sushi, you really don’t know what you are eating because those fish are mislabeled 74% of the time.”

If there is any good news about this whole debacle, it is that the Monsanto Protection Act has been passed for only six months because the budget bill is in effect for only six months. It’s up to the people in the United States to stop this from happening again.

Other countries are fighting back against Monsanto’s control:

Five million farmers in India are suing Monsanto for as much as $7.7 billion for taxing the farmers to financial shambles with ridiculous royalty charges for “renewal” seed harvests, crops planted using seed from the previous year’s harvest.

Hungary destroyed 1000 acres of maize after the country found that it was grown with genetically modified seeds. Genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned in the country.

Peru has passed a 10-year ban on GM foods.

Argentina‘s tax agency is holding Monsanto responsible for  “slave-like conditions” among workers at a Monsanto contractor. Rural Power SA hired all its farmhands illegally, prevented them from leaving the fields, and withheld their salaries.

Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland have removed Monsanto seeds and banned them.

Poland is also taking action against Monsanto.

Congress is due to return after its latest two-week recess, and the Senate may begin debate on gun legislation tomorrow. Let’s hope that they decide to protect the people in the United States as much as they protect Monsanto.

 

July 26, 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Bees

Bees are in danger, and Gretchen LeBush, a San Francisco researcher, wants to know how many of the native bee population exists. Three years ago, she started a program that asked volunteers to spend 15 minutes on one specific day to count native bees, like bumblebees. This year it’s August 11. Actually, volunteers can do this a few days before or after the target date because the counting has to be done on a sunny day. With the disappearance of the honey bees, LeBush is hoping that a healthy native bee population could help solve the problem of dying bees.

Bees are vital to pollinate our plants, but many people don’t know how important. Thirty percent of all crops and 90 percent of all wild plants depend on bee pollination to reproduce. Bees are vital to pollinate such crops as apples, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, almonds, and even chocolate.

Researchers know that during the past few years, honey bees have suffered from colony collapse syndrome. Starting in the early 1990s, 17-20 percent of the bee hives were lost every year until 2007 when a massive loss decreased the number of hives in some areas over 50 percent. The number of bee hives went from 4.5 million in 1980 to 2.44 in 2008. In determining the cause, people have guessed at a number of reasons: stress, urbanization, cell and cordless phones, mites, etc. One major reason is genetically engineered plants, new herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides; each new untested generation of chemicals worsens the problem.

Although real scientists have investigated the problem, chemical manufacturers employ their own scientists to refute factual information. These companies also purchase other businesses that could prevent this decline. Monsanto Co. , which develops genetically modified seeds, bought  Beeologics, biological research company that addresses the long-term well being of bees. Bayer CropScience, Sygenta, Dow Chemcial, Dupont, and others also lobby for the use of more chemicals to be used and for more genetically modified plants.

Neonicotinoids appeared at the same time as the honey bee decline. These nicotine-based pesticides, including the common imidachloprid, was supposed to be less toxic, but France and Italy have discovered differently and banned crop spraying with these pesticides. Germany has banned clothianidin because beekeepers found that it killed 50 to 60 percent of their bees. Even Slovenia has banned neonicotinoids. But the United States continues to approve its use.

It’s not as if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not known about the problems with these pesticides. Almost two years ago two EPA scientists, ecologist Joseph DeCant and chemist Michael Barrett, wrote an internal memo to the EPA’s insecticide risk management department expressing strong concerns that the pesticide is “highly toxic” to honeybees and warned their colleagues of “the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.”

Seven years earlier, the EPA gave Bayer only conditional approval of clothianidin for sale in 2003. That continued use started an ecological crisis that threatens the American agricultural system and the country’s food supply. Products that contain imidacloprid include Merit, Admire, Confidor, Connect, Evidence, Leverage, Muralla, Provado, Trimax, Premise and Winne. Imidacloprid was first patented in 1988, but it became much more popular in 2004 after the banning of diazinon, said beekeeper David Hackenberg. Bayer, which manufactures imidacloprid, claims that their product does direct kill the bees. Technically they may be correct, but, according to beekeepers observing the bees, the pesticide disorients the bees and causes them to disband.

Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture, found that imidachloprid causes bees to leave the colony and not return. He said that it “is highly unusual for a social insect to leave a queen and its brood or young behind.” The pesticide is designed to work that way. A method that imidachloprid uses to kill termites is that those feeding on the pesticide leave and can’t remember how to get home. Their immune systems also collapse.

A recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal of Environmental Science and Technology shows a strong link to the relationship between insecticides and mass die offs of honey bees. “Assessment of the Environmental Exposure of Honeybees to Particulate Matter Containing Neonicotinoid Insecticides Coming from Corn Coated Seeds” examined the technology used to plant the seeds and the use of neonicotinoid insecticides coated on corn seeds. Scientists determined the mass die offs may be caused by particles of the insecticide that reach the air when the drilling machines that are used for planting suck the seeds in and expel air, which contains the toxins. Researchers used different seeding methods and insecticide coatings, but all were found to kill bees that flew through the area.

Last March, Science magazine reported two studies about the devastation of bees. One explained that low levels of chemicals fog honeybee brains, making it harder for them to find their way home. Another study in that issue described how pesticides keep bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce new queens.

This past spring, 25 entomological, environmental and beekeeping groups filed a petition with the EPA contending the pesticide is an “imminent hazard” linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder. Yet, one week ago, with the information from studies showing the danger of the pesticide, the EPA denied this petition requesting emergency suspension of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide.

What happens with a sharp reduction in the number of bees? Reduced crop yields not only brings down the economy but also stops the exporting of food, resulting in famine. Shortage also moves high costs from rare metals to food to keep the precious substance for only the wealthy. A short term solution might be food rationing, but shortage of food causes hoarding and violence to obtain supplies which can result in death from starvation and killings. All this sounds dramatic, but the planet cannot afford to support 7 billion people without planning and care.

June 4, 2012

Corporations Oppose Genetically-Modified Food Labeling

A major problem with all the budget crisis and election news is that other important pieces of our lives are slipping through the cracks, leaving the conservatives to destroy our quality of life. A prime example of this is the current issue of herbicides. The USDA is close to approving a type of sweet corn genetically engineered to withstand 2,4-D herbicide, a major component of the highly toxic Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, which means that farmers can just spray the stuff on corn without killing it.

It’s great for farmers because the corn just blissfully grows while all the weeds and other plants will be killed. It’s a problem for humans because the herbicide is linked to reproductive abnormalities, birth defects, and several forms of cancer. Specifically, exposure to 2, 4-D is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lowered sperm counts, liver disease, and Parkinson’s disease as well as neurotoxicity and immunosuppression.

The accumulation of dioxins from this herbicide also stays in the food chain building up to dangerous levels of exposure in birds, animals, and people. The EPA reports that 2, 4-D is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the nation.

Herbicide drift is another issue from spraying liquid 2, 4-D that blows onto nearby crops and native plants, killing all these. Remember that corn is the resistant plant; everything else is killed. Animals dependent on these native plants may not survive. The run-off from spraying presents another serious problem when rain washing the herbicide from the sprayed plants then enters the water supply.

The USDA sees a need for Agent Orange herbicide because the glyphosagte in Round-up has been the reason for “super weeds,” resistant plants, in over 10 million acres of U.S. croplands. The country is not far away from weeds resistant to Agent Orange resistant weeds similar to other places in the world.

Dow and Monsanto sell both genetically engineered seed and herbicides to work with this seed; the companies will profit from the increased chemical pollution in the environment. Before the USDA stopped receiving comments from the public, it received objections from 365,000 individuals and 140 organizations.

So far, three large food companies have decided to not buy GE sweet corn for their food products sold in the US. These companies include Traders Joe’s, Whole Foods, and General Mills (Cascadian Farms and Green Giant products). Other major food retail companies have not yet decided whether to include the use of this new GE corn in their many food products. But consumers will never know whether the sweet corn they buy was treated with this herbicide because food doesn’t have to be labeled about whether the herbicide has been used.

Almost all food products in this country contain corn, starting out with all soft drinks that use high fructose corn syrup and continuing with beef and bacon.

The FDA is currently considering approval of genetically engineered salmon, which is engineered to produce growth hormones year-round to make the fish grow at twice its natural rate, and would be the first genetically engineered animal on supermarket shelves in the United States. Again consumers will be ignorant regarding the existence of these foods because of no mandate to label them as “genetically engineered.”

Another attack on our food is H.R. 872, The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, that exempts pesticide users who spray over water from the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. Classified by the far-right Congressional leadership as a “job creator,” the bill has passed the House of Representatives. Many pesticides are linked to higher cancer rates and other serious health risks in people. Fish and amphibian populations have been devastated by these toxins, which can be the last straw for endangered species already in crisis.

California may vote this year on GMO labeling; Oregon tried a decade ago but failed. In Great Barrington (MA), Cynthia LaPier makes her own stickers—“Warning! May Contain GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and furtively labels foods that she knows contain GMO’s.

On the other hand, Connecticut and Vermont have withdrawn bills to label GMO’s because of potential lawsuits from the powerful corporations. Eighteen states are considering these laws, however, and 50 countries worldwide have labeling laws for for GMO’s. Across the nation, 91 percent of the people want  labeling of genetically-engineered food.

Genetic modification is now moving from food into drugs: the FDA has approved the country’s first genetically modified plant intended for the treatment of a human disease, using GM carrot cells for Gaucher’s disease.

For more information, you can check determine which products have GMO crops as a base.

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