Just Eat It: Big Money Spends Millions to Convince Washington It’s None of Our Business What We Put In Our Mouths November 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food.
Tags: abby zimet, DuPont, genetically modified, gmo, gmo labelling, monsanto, roger hollander
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Farmers Rally at White House to Protest Monsanto’s GMO Empire January 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food.
Tags: agri-business, agriculture, food, food democracy, food labeling, genetically engineered, genetically modified, gmo, monsanto, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: this is not a very high-profile issue, but it affects each and every one of us. We all eat food! Under capitalist economic relations, huge amounts of wealth (capital) accumulates, and this creates a kind of unstoppable power that has the capacity to smother small and independent enterprise. The result is that the interests of those who own and control capital trump the interests of the general public. The destruction of our environment and the material destruction caused by endless war are far more dramatic than the contamination of our food supply, but, as we used to say, “we are what we eat.”
As court hears pivotal case for small farmers and organic seed growers, opponents to industrial agriculture speak out
Hundreds of small farmers and advocates for organic seed growers gathered outside the White House Thursday, calling on President Obama and other lawmakers to come to their aid as they continue their fight against Monsanto, one of the world’s largest, most powerful—and to them sinister—industrial agriculture corporations.
(Image: Ecowatch.org) The farmers and citizens assembled demanded the end of Monsanto’s “campaign of intimidation against America’s family farmers” and their relentless push for GMO (or genetically engineered-GE) crops. The rally followed a court hearing earlier in the day in the ongoing and landmark Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto case, in which OSGATA and other plaintiffs sued the biotech firm for its continual and aggressive harassment of organic farmers and independent seed growers.
“Family farmers need and deserve the right to farm. We have a right to grow good food and good seed for our families and our communities without the threat of trespass and intimidation,” Jim Gerritsen, an organic potato farmer from Maine and President of OSGATA, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the enthusiastic crowd.
Since 1997, Monsanto has sued, or brought to court, more than 844 family farms over “patent infringement” after their GMO seeds spread to nearby farms. The legal battles are more than most small farmers can battle, and Monsanto’s size and financial muscle make it nearly impossible for individual farmers to fight back. Many are forced to settle and submit to Monsanto sanctions.
“We need Court protection so that our families will be able to carry on our farming tradition and help keep America strong,” said Gerritsen.
Those that gathered called for President Obama to fulfill his promise to support the labeling of all GMO products, and also halt pending approval of GE salmon until independent long-term safety tests can be conducted.
“America’s farmers deserve to be protected from unwanted contamination of their crops and the continued harassment by biotech seed giant Monsanto,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots farmer advocacy group and plaintiff in the case.
Additionally, he said, “our current regulatory structure here in the U.S. has failed America’s farmers and consumers. The Obama administration needs to do the right thing to protect our farmers and make sure that new GE crops go through rigorous safety tests,” said Murphy. “It’s time that President Obama live up to his campaign promise to Iowa farmers in 2007 and label genetically engineered foods. It’s the least that he could do.”
And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
The protest suggested an uptick in efforts to demand labeling, which was defeated in a California ballot initiative in November. Creve Coeur-based Monsanto spent at least $8 million in an industry-wide effort to sink the California proposition.
Vermont state Sen. David Zuckerman said at the rally that he is leading an effort in his state seeking legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified food.
Organic farmers, who are pressing a lawsuit against Monsanto, often complain that their products are threatened by wind-blown pollen from genetically altered crops.
“We want and demand the right of clean seed not contaminated by a massive biotech company that’s in it for the profit,” Carol Koury, who operates Sow True Seeds in Asheville, N.C., said at the rally.
Complete background on the OSGATA et al v. Monsanto lawsuit is available here.
Outcry as Walmart OK’s Monsanto GM Corn August 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Health.
Tags: agricultgure, califoirnia, California, consumer protection, food watch, genetically modified, gm corn, gmo, monsanto, prop 37, proposition 37, roger hollander, wal-mart, walmart
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Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that despite protests from environment and food-safety advocates, it will not restrict sales of genetically modified corn in its stores.
The corn will not be labelled and consumers will not be notified that the sweet corn they are buying are engineered by agro-giant Monsanto and genetically-altered (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) to resist the toxic impact of being sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“A lot of people who were their customers explicitly said we don’t want you to carry this product, and I think it’s unfortunate that they chose not listen to that feedback,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. The consumer group had submitted a petition to Wal-Mart with 463,000 signatures, she said.
Consumer advocates argue that too little research has been done on to be certain of the effects such products can have on those who eat or them, but say certain troubling health trends correspond to the rise of GMO foods in the marketplace. At the least, they argue, such products should be labeled so consumers are aware of what they’re purchasing.
“How would you ever know if there are adverse health effects?” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. “There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996. Is it connected to genetically engineered foods? Who knows, when you have no labeling? That is a problem.”
Earlier this year, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills said they would not carry or use the genetically modified sweet corn.
In California this year, a state referendum is up for a vote that would require all GMO products to be labelled so that consumers are aware if modified ingredients are contained in the products they buy. The chemical pesticide companies and companies like Monsanto are fighting hard against the measure, fearing that if California, the country’s most populous state, passes such a sweeping consumer protection laws other states will likely follow.
The initiative, Proposition 37, will be voted on in November.
Dow and Monsanto Join Forces to Poison America’s Heartland February 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment, Health.
Tags: 2.4-d, agent orange, agrochemicals, dow chemical, environment, food, genetic engineering, genetically modified, genetically mofified corn, herbicide, monsanto, pesticedes, richard schiffman, roger hollander, usda
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In a match that some would say was made in hell, the nation’s two leading producers of agrochemicals have joined forces in a partnership to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D, one half of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, which was used by American forces to clear jungle during the Vietnam War. These two biotech giants have developed a weed management program that, if successful, would go a long way toward a predicted doubling of harmful herbicide use in America’s corn belt during the next decade.
The problem for corn farmers is that “superweeds” have been developing resistance to America’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, which is being sprayed on millions of acres in the Midwest and elsewhere. Dow Agrosciences has developed a strain of corn that it says will solve the problem. The new genetically modified variety can tolerate 2,4-D, which will kill off the Roundup-resistant weeds, but leave the corn standing. Farmers who opt into this system will be required to double-dose their fields with a deadly cocktail of Roundup plus 2,4-D, both of which are manufactured by Monsanto.
But this plan has alarmed environmentalists and also many farmers, who are reluctant to reintroduce a chemical whose toxicity has been well established. The use of 2,4-D is banned in several European countries and provinces of Canada. The substance is a suspected carcinogen, which has been shown to double the incidence of birth defects in the children of pesticide applicators in a study conducted by University of Minnesota pathologist Vincent Garry.
Researchers say that the effect of 2,4-D on human health is still not fully understood. But it may be a risk factor for conditions like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain leukemias, which were often found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the chemical could have “endocrine disruption potential” and interfere with the human hormonal system. It may prove toxic to honeybees, birds and fish, according to research conducted by the US Forest Service and others. In 2004, a coalition of groups spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network, wrote a letter to the EPA taking it to task for underestimating the health and environmental impacts of 2,4-D.
Large-scale industrial farming has grown dependent on ever-increasing applications of agrochemicals. Some have compared this to a drug addict who requires larger and larger fixes to stay high. Herbicide use has increased steadily over time as weeds develop resistance and need to be doused with more and deadlier chemicals to kill them. This, in turn. requires more aggressive genetic engineering of crops that can withstand the escalating chemical assault.
Many agricultural scientists warn that this growing addiction to agrochemicals is unsustainable in the long run. The fertility of the soil decreases as earthworms and vital microorganisms are killed off by pesticides and herbicides. They also pollute the groundwater and compromise the health of farm animals that are fed with the chemical-infused grain.
These impacts are poised to grow. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures reveal that herbicide use rose by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008. Significantly, nearly half of this increase (46 percent) took place between 2007 and 2008 as a result of the hawking of new herbicide-resistant crops like the new corn hybrid developed by Dow.
Nobody knows what effect introducing this hybrid would have on the health of American consumers. Corn laced with high levels of 2,4-D could taint everything from breakfast cereals to the beef of cattle, which concentrate the toxin in their flesh. Given that corn and high-fructose corn syrup are key elements in so many processed foods, some public health experts warn that all Americans will soon be guinea pigs in an ill-conceived mass experiment with one of the staples of our food supply. America’s agriculture department, the USDA is considering deregulating Monsanto’s new genetically modified corn variety (the one which will be used in conjunction with the 2,4-D) and is accepting final public comments on the matter until the 27th of this month.
Until recently, herbicide-resistant crops were popular with farmers who benefited from higher yields and nearly effortless management of weeds. But now that the weed problem is coming back with a vengeance, some are reconsidering the wisdom of this chemical-intensive mode of farming. Dow biotech corn costs nearly three times more than conventional seed. And the projected doubling of pesticide use in the years ahead will be expensive, as well as destructive to farmland and ecosystems.
There are viable alternatives to chemical-intensive farming, time-tested methods like crop rotation, use of cover crops, and other practices which allow farmers to compete naturally with weeds. The time has come for farmers to revive the knowledge of their ancestors in this regard.
Some agricultural scientists advocate developing a system of integrated weed management to replace the unsustainable use of chemicals. But the big agrochemical companies have no interest in supporting the sustainable agriculture that would put them out of business. So long as there are billions of dollars to be made in selling herbicide and herbicide-resistant genetically modified seed, there won’t be much research money available to explore the natural alternatives to the destruction of our nation’s heartland.
Monsanto, Agent Orange Creator, Returns To Vietnam February 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Health, History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, environment, genetically modified, gmo, history, monsanto, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam history, Vietnam War
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Monsanto ready to sell GM crops and weed-killing chemicals in Vietnam; Many outraged
Multinational agricultural biotech corporation Monsanto, known as the creator of chemical weapon Agent Orange, is attempting to infiltrate Vietnam once again — this time as GMO dealer.
Agent Orange, used for chemical warfare in the Vietnam War, is estimated to have killed 400,000, deformed 500,000 and sickened another 2 million.
“BA VI, VIETNAM: Handicapped orphans are fed by the medical staff at the Ba Vi orphanage. These young children represent the 3rd generation of Agent Orange victims more than 30 years after the war in Vietnam, where a battle is still being fought to help people suffering from the effects of the deadly chemical.” – Global Post (Photo Paula Bronstein / AFP/Getty Images)
“Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other chronic diseases during the war that ended in 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross,” Thanh Nienn News writes.
30 years after the war, three generations have suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.
Now, as Monsanto seeks to reap profits in Vietnam once again, this time through agribusiness, many are speaking out against the corporation as well as the potential effects of the GM seeds and herbicides that Monsanto seeks to sell.
* * *
Thanh Nienn News in Ho Chi Minh City reports:
No biotech company has yet got the official green light for selling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but it does not assuage the fears that Vietnam could end up with another tragic legacy from a company that once caused many deaths in the country, environmental activists say.
It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War, they pointed out. […]
In 2006 the government approved a blueprint that envisaged covering between 30 percent and half of the country’s agriculture lands with the controversial gene-altered crops by 2020.
Only three companies – Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer – have been licensed to carry out lab research and tests in Vietnam, the minister’s statement said.
Monsanto accounts for almost one-quarter (23 percent) of the global proprietary seed market.
[Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Rinh, former deputy defense minister, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange] is also worried about the weedkiller Roundup Monsanto plugs for use along with its crops.
“By introducing [GMOs] paired with toxic weed killers, the tragic legacy of Agent Orange might repeat itself,” he warned. […]
The U.S. Airforce spraying ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant over the countryside of Vietnam. Originally termed “Operation Hades,” the spraying program was renamed “Operation Ranch Hand” to improve public relations.
Jeffrey Smith, author of the bestseller Seeds of Deception and founder and executive director of the California, US-based NGO Institute for Responsible Technology, said: “It is not inconsequential that a new genetically modified corn up for review is designed to be tolerant to the herbicide 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange.
“This means that much higher amounts of toxic 2,4-D will drench the agricultural lands where this new crop is planted.
“It would be a harsh and ironic consequence if Vietnamese people suffer from birth defects from both of these Monsanto products, Roundup and Agent Orange.”
* * *
The Global Post reports:
Monsanto is, of course, highly aware of Agent Orange’s reputation and has fought numerous lawsuits filed by chemical’s victims both Vietnamese and American. The chemical, commissioned by the U.S. military, was dumped over jungles to kill vegetation and rout communist forces.
In Monsanto’s own primer on the Agent Orange era, it casts the chemical as patriotic — it was meant “to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers,” Monsanto says — and contends that the matter “should be resolved by the governments that were involved.”
Keeping Monsanto out of Vietnam already appears to be an uphill fight.
A Vietnamese legislator and former deputy defense minister has, according to Thanh Nien, faced evasion when he tried to raise the issue with the [government].
I refuse to believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one September 20, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy, Humor.
Tags: capital punishment, chevron, constitution, corporate greed, corporations, corporations are people, death sentence, democracy, dow, exonmobil, mitt romney, monsanto, nestle, pfizer, supreme court, texas executions, walmart
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Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan Goes to Bat for Monsanto, Sides With Conservative Justices May 13, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Criminal Justice, Environment, Health.
Tags: agriculture, alfalfa, biotech, clarence thomas, elena kagan, food, genetic engineering, john roberts, joshua frank, monsanto, roger hollander, scalia, supremen court, usda
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(Roger’ note: Suprme Court Justice Nominee ElenaKagan is known for her penchant for hiring white males at Harvard, her support for violating the constitution and international law with respect to torture, habeas corpus and executive power; and now we see how friendly she can be to huge corporate interests when they are challenged by environmentalists and health advocates. Thank you, President Obama.)
Thursday 13 May 2010
(Photo: Harvard Law Record)
Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop grown in the United States and Monsanto wants to control it. On April 27, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could well write the future of alfalfa production in our country.
Fortunately, for those who are concerned about the potential environmental and health impacts of genetically engineered (GE) crops, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is not yet residing on the bench.
For the past four years, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a Washington DC-based consumer protection group, and others have litigated against Monsanto and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the company’s Roundup Ready alfalfa. The coalition has focused their fight against Monsanto’s GE alfalfa, based on concerns that the plants could negatively impact biodiversity as well as other non-GE food crops.
In 2007, a California US District Court ruled in a landmark case that the USDA had illegally approved Monsanto’s GE alfalfa without carrying out a proper and full Environmental Impact Statement. The plaintiffs argued that GE alfalfa could contaminate nearby crops with its genetically manipulated pollen. Geertson Seed Farm, with the help of CFS, claimed that the farm’s non-GE crops could be damaged beyond repair by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.
Monsanto’s well-paid legal team appealed the court’s decision, but, in June 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous ruling and placed a nationwide ban on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.
“USDA should start over and truly evaluate the contamination of non-GM alfalfa and the potential affects on seed growers, organic and natural meat producers, dairy producers, and conventional and organic honey producers,” said farmer and anti-GE advocate Todd Leake shortly after the ruling.
Monsanto, however, didn’t back down and appealed the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court. In stepped Elena Kagan, whose role as solicitor general is to look out for the welfare of American citizens in all matters that come before the high court.
Unfortunately, Kagan opted to ditch her duty and instead side with Monsanto. In March 2010, a month before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, the solicitor general’s office released a legal brief despite the fact that the US government was not a defendant in the case.
As Kagan’s office argued, “The judgment of the court of appeals should be reversed, and the case should be remanded with instructions to vacate the permanent injunction entered by the district court.”
Despite numerous examples of cross-pollination of GE crops, Monsanto argued during the April 27 court proceedings that this was highly unlikely to occur. CFS and other plaintiffs are concerned that a federal law could be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Courts in Oregon and California have already argued in previous cases that GE seeds must also be studied as to the potential impact on other conventional and organic crops.
Surprisingly, it seems that Kagan does not support a thorough study of GE seeds and their potential impact on environmental and human health. In doing so, Kagan has sided with conservative justices on the court who appeared skeptical that the lower courts had made the right decision in banning GE alfalfa.
During the Supreme Court hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether the Ninth Circuit had the authority to issue a ban on GE alfalfa. Roberts contented that the court ought to have instead remanded the issue back to the USDA. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia took his defense of Monsanto even further, stating, “This isn’t the contamination of the New York City water supply,” he said. “This isn’t the end of the world, it really isn’t.”
Apparently Scalia and Roberts aren’t up on the latest scientific analysis that Monsanto’s GE crops have, in fact, bred new voracious super-weeds, which have forced farmers to “spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand, and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.”
“Bowing to pressure from Monsanto and the other biotech companies, our federal agencies approved [GE] corn and cotton without requiring any mandatory testing for environmental impacts,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the CFS recently wrote. “And the expected happened: a few years later, independent university researchers – again not the government – discovered that this [GE] pesticide was potentially fatal to Monarch butterflies and other pollinators … Without mandatory government testing, we’re clueless about the universe of keystone pollinators and other species that are being decimated as the [GE] plants continue to proliferate in our fields.”
The Supreme Court’s decision on Monsanto’s alfalfa ban will likely come early this summer. Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself from the case because his brother Charles Breyer oversaw the lower court’s decision against the company. Unsurprisingly, Justice Clarence Thomas, who once worked in the legal department for Monsanto, did not recuse himself from the matter.
While Elena Kagan has no experience on the bench and has provided the public with little to no information about where she stands on some of the most important issues of the day, the fact that she came to bat for Monsanto two months, at a time when the company is reeling from negative press, may shed some light on how she could rule in future GE cases if she’s confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice.
Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes October 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, chemical warfare, dave lindorff, dioxin, dow chemical, geneva conventions, james dao, monsanto, new yori times, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam defoliation, vietnam veterans, Vietnam War, War Crimes
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On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases-Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.
Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.
This is another belated step forward in the decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to acknowledge the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (It is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins-most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets-an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)
Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam-the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.
According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.
Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam-a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.
One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the way, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.
It may seem a pathetic stab at principle given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions). He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.
But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million hectares-12% of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25% of the southern half of the country-might be a war crime.
Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.
The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such aid was ever given.
Dao says he didn’t mention significance for Vietnamese dioxin victims of the VA’s decision to recognize three new diseases as being Agent Orange-linked, because “my beat is veterans,” and because he only had 800 words in which to cover his story. That may be true (though surely the Vietnamese at least deserved a one-sentence mention). But back on July 25, when the Times ran a story (by Janie Lorber, not by Dao) about the finding by an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine linking Parkinsons, ischemic heart disease and leukemia to Agent Orange, upon which the latest VA decision was based, it also failed to mention the Vietnamese victims. In that case, the lapse was simply journalistically inexcuseable, since it was about a new medical finding, not a policy decision regarding the treatment of veterans.
At this point, the only way the New York Times can salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation on this topic would be by having Dao, Lorber or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam. They could start by calling a veteran at Veterans for Peace or the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net
Colombia’s desert war March 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: andean parliament, coca, coca fumigation, cocaine, Colombia, colombia coca cultivation, colombia drugs, colombia fumigation, colombia pesticides, environment, environment amazon, glyphosate, grace livingstone, latin america drugs, monsanto, plan colombai, roger hollander, roundup, war on drugs
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The aerial assault on cocaine funded by the US is wiping out everything – apart from coca plants
The counter-drugs strategy of the United States is clearly failing. UN figures cited in the Guardian this week show that the cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, has surged in the Andes. The most dramatic rise has been in Colombia, the only country in the region that allows the use of pesticides to eradicate coca leaf – a policy promoted and funded by the US.
I recently received a disturbing email from southern Colombia warning that the fragile Amazonian soil could “soon be turned to desert”. They were the words of a Catholic priest, so I rang a church worker whose parish lies deep in the Amazonian state of Caquetá. Military planes targeting coca farms, funded by the US, had been spraying mists of pesticides over food crops, grazing animals and even areas where children were playing, she said: locals were complaining of breathing problems and rashes; “strips of skin” have been peeling off cows, and chickens have died; and maize, yucca, plantain and cacao crops have wilted and shrivelled. “We fear there will soon be a very serious food shortage in the region,” she said. The local parish has issued an urgent appeal.
The US has been funding the spraying campaign for more than two decades, but 70% of the world’s coca leaf is grown in Colombia. Glyphosate is the most frequently used pesticide; its biggest selling commercial formulation is Roundup, made by Monsanto. The company acknowledges that contact with glyphosate may cause mild eye or skin irritation. But independent studies have suggested a far greater range of symptoms, including facial numbness and swelling, rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, chest pains, nausea and congestion.
In Colombia, glyphosate is mixed with other chemicals, and because the exact composition has not been made public it has been impossible to test its toxicity. One addition, a surfactant, makes the corrosive liquid stick to the surface – leaf or skin – on which it is sprayed. The pesticide is used at higher concentrations than stipulated in the US, and is sprayed from above the recommended height of 10 metres. Farm workers in the US are advised to keep clear of weedkillers, yet in Colombia aerial spraying takes place with no warning, showering humans and animals with chemicals.
All Colombia’s neighbours – Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil – oppose the “fumigation” policy. The Andean and European parliaments have called for its suspension, as have numerous environmentalists, scientists and politicians in Colombia. But spraying has intensified since the launch in 2000 of Plan Colombia, the US-funded counter-narcotics strategy.
It was in that year that I first went to meet coca growers in Caquetá. One woman told me a familiar story. Sara’s parents were landless, and had travelled south to set up a farm. In this remote region, with no paved roads, they found that coca was the only crop from which they could make a living.
Sara showed me the weather-beaten wooden press she uses to grind the coca leaves. Peasants here turn the coca leaves into a paste, which is then sold on to a middleman who takes it to a jungle laboratory to refine it into cocaine.
Sara also grows maize, yucca, sugar cane and tropical fruit, but these products don’t make much money. It would take days to transport them along rivers or dirt paths to the nearest big market. In contrast, coca paste is easy to transport and, crucially, always in demand. But the peasants here are not rich. They receive just 0.1% of the final street price of cocaine.
The US focuses on one element of the trafficking chain, the poverty-stricken peasant. But the policy is not even effective. When their land is poisoned, peasants migrate and start growing coca again. They have no alternative. Spraying simply displaces the problem. Despite decades of spraying, coca cultivation in Colombia has grown by 500% since the 1980s, according to US state department figures. US politicians heralded a drop in cultivation after the launch of Plan Colombia, but the area of land covered by coca crops is now larger than when the plan was launched. Perhaps the clearest indication that the policy is failing is the falling price of cocaine, suggesting more, not less, of the drug is entering the US market.
Back in Caquetá, the church worker described how pesticides have run into rivers and streams, killing fish. Locals wait days before they dare drink the water. One of the most fragile ecosystems in the world “is being poisoned”.
• Grace Livingstone’s book America’s Backyard: the US and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror is published this month