Category Archives: SCIENCE
Some cynics write off citizen action including petitions and sign-carrying protestors. They don’t believe such small efforts can make any big difference. But the more than 600,000 people of Dutch city Rotterdam disagree. Their efforts, which began with a petition, have led to a “green initiative” in their city including the banning of Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship product.
The petition campaign was called “Non-toxic Sidewalks for Our Children.” With support from that country’s Green Party, concerned citizens were able to make a significant change for their city and their future.
As we know, Roundup (glyphosate) is a dangerous pesticide that is used all over the world. Though its maker, Monsanto, would have you believe there’s nothing to be afraid of, research says differently. As a matter of fact, glyphosate has been connected to numerous health problems including respiratory distress, cellular damage, and even cancer. Check out this article which outlines just 7 nasty effects of pesticides.
“It is bad stuff and I’m glad we’re giving it up,” says Emile Cammeraat, Green party leader in the council. “The producer Monsanto also provides genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto’s own plants are the only thing RoundUp doesn’t kill. In such a business district as you want to be, no Roundup is simply necessary, as there are organic alternatives.” (Translated by Fritz Kreiss)
Global consumers are getting wise to the dangers of Roundup and the GMO seeds designed to resist it. They don’t want Monsanto and other GMO-seed giants taking over the global food supply and have started grassroots resistance movements around the world. The problem lies in getting enough people to take actual action against the seed giants and local, state, and federal lawmakers who support them in one way or another.
Collectively, the people of Rotterdam were able to make their voices heard, essentially eliminating glyphosate from their local environment. There’s no reason similar cities in other areas of the world couldn’t do the very same thing.
Comically, the U.S. government has recently decided to increase the allowable amount of glyphosate in U.S. food crops, just as another place bans the substance. The new rule allowing for even greater use of this damaging ingredient would take existing limits on glyphosate and dwarf them with new, higher ones. These limits would truly only work to benefit the interests of one, and it’s not the American people, but Monsanto – the giant corporation who is making millions off of genetically modified crops and the destruction of agriculture and human health.
In addition to the Roundup ban, Rotterdam’s green initiative will provide new parks and play areas, and even get the city involved in planting fruit trees. There will be more flowers and environments to support bees and wildlife, and more places for the urbanites to take in nature without fear of contamination by Monsanto’s evil poster child
Digital carjackers met with Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg to demonstrate how they can program a Ford Escape’s computer systems and crash it pretty much by pushing a button. On Wednesday, Forbes posted the video to YouTube, and you’re probably going to want to watch it, so press that button.
Warning: For some reason Andy Greenberg thinks we want to know that he flew out to meet these dudes on an an airplane. I’ve seen enough airports in my life. If you have too, I advise you to skip ahead to about the 0.58 mark where we actually meet digital carjackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek.
The trio plus an unseen camera person test the 3,500 pound Ford Escape in the weedy parking lot of a South Bend, Indiana strip mall.
With Greenberg at the wheel, the digital carjackers mess with the reporter’s mind by making his dashboard show more gas in the car than he actually has or by making his speedometer read 199 miles per hour.
The scariest stunt involves making the brakes fail with a melodramatic bellow — fortunately at 5 miles per hour so that nobody is hurt.
There’s much, much more in Greenberg’s article available online as well in the August 12 issue of Forbes.
The takeaway seems to be that bad guys can mess with your car computer just like they can with any other computer. And I don’t see why not.
However, what Greenberg, Miller, and Valasek may — or may not — know is that they have just fueled the flames of a thousand burning candles of conspiracy.
From what I’ve seen of Los Angeles, that kind of death isn’t too unusual.
But some people have speculated that he was killed because of his opposition to what he called the surveillance state.
I have no reason to believe that’s true. Andy Greenberg doesn’t mention Michael Hastings in the video or the online copy of his article.
But YouTube viewers of the videos are not so circumspect. Comment after comment reads: “RIP Michael Hastings” or “Hum… so is this what they did to Hastings when he was assassinated by the government goons?”
On May 27 this year, almost two million people in 436 cities across the world marched against what they believe is ‘corporate greed’ and an attack on human health. Increasing information about the adverse effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has left people appalled and outraged, however, it has had no effect on the growth and profits of the companies that are manufacturing these products.
In order to remind the world of this indifference and insensitivity of corporations towards the health and well being of innocent people, a video revolt has been organized. According tomonsantovideorevolt.com, ‘In an effort to generate even more awareness across the globe, the largest players in the natural health field are coming together to push this Monsanto Video Revolt into hyper space. Together, they are joining forces and asking YOU to help even further on July 24th, 2013, in the Monsanto Video Revolt.’
The website has also described the three basic steps involved for people who wish to join the revolt:
Step 1 – Create a video of any length detailing why you stand against Monsanto and GMOs at large. The video can be as long as you want – it’s your choice.
Following are two videos that have been posted as part of the protest:
And this is an animated video explaining GMO and its effects on health in a very interesting way. Have a look:
Do you have a video planned for the protest? Do share it with us.
Clean-tech discovery: Irish researchers split water into hydrogen and oxygen via new method
CRANN photo depicting the splitting of water via a new method developed by a research team at the institute
Hydrogen gas is being heralded as the next big thing in the race to come up with new greener energy sources. Now, researchers at the Irish nanoscience institute CRANN say they have developed a new method of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen more sustainably via water electrolysis.
The researchers, who are based at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded nanoscience institute CRANN, which is situated on the Trinity College Dublin (TCD) campus, are claiming their discovery will have a “significant” impact in the worldwide race to cheaply and efficiently produce hydrogen gas.
In scientific and clean-tech circles, hydrogen gas has been hailed as one of the main clean-energy sources of the future.
Prof Mike Lyons, a principal investigator at CRANN and TCD’s School of Chemistry, has worked with his research team to develop what they are calling new inexpensive materials based on iron and nickel oxide to split water into its components hydrogen and oxygen – a method known as water electrolysis.
Apparently, these materials from iron and nickel oxide are much cheaper, more readily available and more efficient than those used in current electrolysis methods.
Hydrogen gas has been pinpointed as one of the most innovative and greener alternative energy sources of the future. Its production using steam reforming of natural gas is still relatively difficult and unsustainable, however.
In contrast, hydrogen generation by water electrolysis could pave the way for a reliable, environmentally friendly method of large-scale production.
Prof Mike Lyons, principal investigator, CRANN, where he is leading a research team to come up with a more sustainable method for water electrolysis
The researchers at CRANN involved in the water-splitting project believe their methods are the first inexpensive and efficient methods of water electrolysis to be identified worldwide.
Their research has already triggered international interest and recently received ‘Hot Article Status’ in the chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP). Hot Article Status, it seems, is given to articles of high impact and high quality.
Prof John Boland, director of CRANN, said the results of nanoscience research is paving the way for revamping a range of industries – from medicine, to technology to energy production.
“Whether it is in lightweight coatings for wind turbines, or new sensors for solar panels, our methods continue to assist in the move to sustainable, alternative and clean energy supply,” he said.
A world first?
Boland believes Lyons and his research team’s method of splitting water is a “world first”.
“It truly has the potential to revolutionise the production of hydrogen gas and bring it one step closer as a realistic energy alternative,” he said.
Lyons has received funding to the value of almost €800,000 from SFI for this research.
“With my team of researchers, we are consistently striving to use well-known research methods to deliver unprecedented results,” he said today.
This method of water electrolysis, explained Lyons, takes the simplest of materials – nickel and iron – and uses them to “ground-breaking” effect.
“Hydrogen is the next clean-energy source and CRANN is leading the international race to find its best method of production,” added Lyons.
As well as his work at CRANN, Lyons also leads the Trinity Electrochemical Energy Conversion and Electrocatalysis Group. He has published two books and more than 110 papers, and has a h-index of 25, which demonstrates the worldwide impact of his research.
Hopes of a genetically modified crop bonanza in India are fading fast. Maharastra state has banned the use of a particular type of transgenic cotton made by industrial giant Monsanto, saying it’s a threat to people’s lives and to other crops.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been accused of bribing doctors in China in order to boost sales. Chinese government officials say they have uncovered evidence of a bribery scheme involving 700 travel agencies who were used to funnel as much as three billion yuan ($480 million) in payments.
“We found that bribery is a core part of the activities of the company,” Gao Feng, the head of China’s fraud unit, said. “There is always a big boss in criminal organisations and in this case GSK is the big boss.”
Allegations about bribes at GSK first surfaced in January of this year in a series of tips made by an anonymous individual to company officials. The whistleblower alleged that the UK company made payments of $249 to $490 to promote Botox, a toxin used for medical purposes as well as for cosmetic purposes to get rid of wrinkles.
Soon after, the Wall Street Journal says it reviewed documents from as late as April 2013 for an internal GSK project called “Vasily” to pay 48 doctors who promoted Botox with “either a percentage of the cash value of the prescription or educational credits” depending on how many sales they made. GSK officials were encouraged to discuss the scheme on personal email accounts.
“I recommend that everyone else use a private email account because it will be better that way,” Ruiting “Candy” Chen, Glaxo central nervous system marketing manager said in an email translated by the Journal. “Remember you must send to personal email accounts, you accidentally sent to [another sales team member’s] public mail, careful next time!” wrote Any Zheng, Botox regional sales manager.
Chinese media reported on Monday that GSK allegedly made payments to the travel agencies which then transferred the money to doctors via credit cards when they made prescriptions. The travel agencies booked the payments for travel expenses to fake meetings.
GSK says it has suspended all work with the travel agencies. It also says Vasily was never implemented and has denied the charges.
“We take all allegations of bribery and corruption seriously,” a spokesman said in a press statement. “We continuously monitor our businesses to ensure they meet our strict compliance procedures. We have done this in China and found no evidence of bribery or corruption of doctors or government officials. However, if evidence of such activity is provided we will act swiftly on it.”
Chinese officials say that Mark Reilly, the head of GSK operations in China, fled the country on June 27 and has not returned. Several other executives have been arrested.
“The anonymous claims highlight the challenges multinational pharmaceutical companies face in China, one of their most significant and fastest-growing markets, because its health-care system is controlled and owned by the state and it has a tradition of government patronage and gift-giving,” write Christopher Matthews and Jessica Hodgson of the Wall Street Journal.
In reality, the comment by the Journal reporters reflects a bias on their part. GSK has been found guilty of routinely offering U.S. doctors lavish payments for promoting company products, despite the absence of a state health care system.
In July 2012 GSK agreed to pay out $3 billion to settle charges on pushing bupropion and paroxetine (as well as their failure to report safety data about the drug Avandia to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) — the largest such fine ever paid by a pharmaceutical company.
The U.S. Department of Justice noted that the company gave out “cash payments disguised as consulting fees, expensive meals, weekend boondoggles and lavish entertainment.” For example, doctors who promoted Wellbutrin were taken on “training sessions” to Jamaica. “Dr. Drew,” a TV doctor, was paid $275,000 in two months in 1999 alone to “deliver messages about [Wellbutrin SR] in settings where it did not appear that Dr. Pinsky was speaking for GSK.”
Nor was it the only Western pharmaceutical company accused of paying bribes to doctors to promote its products. In August 2012, in a criminal complaint issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, investigators laid out detailed charges against Pfizer for paying bribes in eight countries: Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Serbia.
For example, Pfizer Italy employees provided free cell phones, photocopiers, printers and televisions to doctors, arranged for vacations (such as “weekend in Gallipoli,” “weekend with companion” and “weekend in Rome”) and even made direct cash payments (under the guise of lecture fees and honoraria) in return for promises by doctors to recommend or prescribe Pfizer’s products.
On 9th August 2011, which is 69 years since the Quit India movement was launched in India as part of the freedom struggle, marches will be held in major Indian cities to throw out GM crops, industrial agriculture, corporate land grabs, and the multinational companies who are profiting at the expense of millions of small farming families.
India’s kisan swaraj movement – farmers’ independent self-reliance – has said that the question of who controls our agriculture – our crores of farmers or a few big corporations – has deep ramifications for the whole society.
“We all have a big stake in whether unsafe genetically modified foods will be thrust on us, whether unsafe agri-chemicals would further damage our water, soil and health, whether 10 crore (100 million) farmer families will lose their livelihoods, whether our rural and urban areas will be sustainable and whether we would have safe, diverse and nutritious food to eat.”
The 9th of August 2011 is to be a day of action which aims to strengthen the broader struggle against corporate domination of agriculture by focusing on its most potent symbol. From Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and other towns and cities in India, a strong signal will be sent that citizens will not tolerate corporate domination of our food and farming systems.
This call is being put out by Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), an all-India network of about 400 organisations of farmers, agricultural workers, consumers, social activists and academics, working to promote ecologically sustainable agriculture and secure livelihoods for farmers, and stop corporate domination of our agriculture and food system.
Monsanto’s Misdeeds and Growing Threat in India – A few indications about the dangers of Monsanto and the extent of its control [get the English pamphlet here /get the Hindi pamphlet here]:
1. Mahyco-Monsanto used its Bt cotton seed monopoly to set exorbitant prices. The Andhra Pradesh government had to use the MRTP Commission, Essential Commodities Act and then a special Act to finally push its price from Rs.1800 per packet to Rs.750.
2. Monsanto actually sued Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat state governments that they have no right to control seed prices – with Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi as its lawyer! How can individual farmers protect themselves from its legal machine?
3. Monsanto entered into licensing agreements with most seed companies so that out of 225 lakh acres of GM cotton, 210 lakh acres is planted with its Bollgard. During 2002-2006, Monsanto earned Rs.1600 crores just in the form of royalties.
4. Monsanto is on the Board of US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, under which bio-safety regime for GM crops was sought to be weakened; repeating its US strategy where its lawyers practically wrote the policies on GM seeds and patents.
5. Monsanto entered into hushed-up agreements with several states (Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir) under which the states spend hundreds of crores of public funds every year to purchase Hybrid Maize seeds from Monsanto and distributing them free of cost to farmers, creating a ready market.
6. Monsanto is pushing the sales of its herbicide glyphosate which is known to cause reproductive problems. Approval for its herbicide-tolerant GM crops would skyrocket the use of this hazardous chemical in our fields.
7. Recently, gross violations were exposed in its GM maize field trials in Karnataka.
“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
n 1937, when Roosevelt wrote to all US governors imploring them to oversee the implementation of the Uniform Soil Conservation Law, America was in the throes of the Dust Bowl. Overfarming, and its destruction of arable soil, created a chain reaction. Dust would blow from ruined farmland onto neighboring farms, ruining their soil, and so on.
Today, American agriculture relies on biotechnology. Many staple crops are predominantly genetically modified. Eighty-eight percent of corn, 93% of soy, 90% of canola, 90% of sugar beets, 94% of cottonseed, and 75% of Hawaiian papaya are genetically modified, and GM alfalfa was recently deregulated. Monsanto owns 90% of the world’s GMO seeds, and most GMOs are Roundup Ready, designed to resist Monsanto’s signature herbicide.
Could Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready GMOs ever repeat the kind of environmental damage the Dust Bowl wrought? A studypublished in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry says GMOs are safe, concluding that “As few as one copy of RR corn genome or one copy of RR soybean genome was detected in the soil DNA extract.” The study was conducted at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Incidentally, Monsanto’s own website lists two Monsanto facilities in Guelph, Ontario. According to Google maps,Monsanto’s “Eastern Business Office” is a 15-minute drive from the university, and its “Soybean Research Facility” is a 5-minute walk. A recent report in the Guelph Mercury reveals that Monsanto and 4 other seed companies “collectively spent just over $780,000 on U of G research last year, most in the area of crop protection.” It’s a safe bet someone from Monsanto has taken that walk.
Monsanto has monopolized agricultural science, as described in Part 2: Corrupt to the Core. According toReuters, in February, 2009, 26 leading academic entomologists (insect scientists) complained to the EPA that Monsanto has made it impossible to do research on its products, saying, “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology.” One scientist said, “It would be nice to have independently verifiable information going into EPA’s decision-making beyond just what the company provides.”
We don’t ‘know’ what Monsanto is doing to the soil. Given Monsanto’s history, as described in Part 1: Sowing Dependence, this is terrifying. But independent researchers are discovering alarming evidence of the effects of Monsanto products on the environment.
The key ingredient in Roundup herbicide is glyphosate. A report by thePesticide Action Network UK lists “Independent research findings” that differ from “Monsanto’s claims.” The report finds that glyphosate is toxic to agriculturally beneficial soil organisms. It can linger in soil and sediment and can inhibit normal chemical production in plants for months. It has been found in crops up to a year after application. It can spread, reach lower soil layers and be “carried by soil particles suspended in run off.” This chemical isabsorbed by plant root systems where it squeezes enzymes, blocking the production of amino acids and protein synthesis. It kills plants systemically by depriving their cells of nutrients andblocking their immune response to pathogens. One expert says, “When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS.” What could large quantities of this botanical AIDS do to America’s soil and plant life?
Glyphosate dominates the herbicide market. In 2007, US farmers used 185 million pounds of glyphosate, double the amount used 6 years earlier. A Chemical Watch Factsheet says, “Data show that glyphosate use has skyrocketed to more than double the amount used five years ago, with 57 million pounds of glyphosate applied to corn fields in 2010 compared to 23 million pounds in 2005 and 4.4 million in 2000.”
This historically unprecedented explosion of a single herbicidal chemical has resulted in “superweeds,” or weeds resistant to glyphosate, evolving on farms across the United States. Mother Jonesdescribes them as ‘stampeding’ through the Midwest. Indeed, a study by Stratus Agri-marketing Inc. showed that between 2010 and 2012, the area infested with superweeds nearly doubled from 32.6 to 61.2 million acres. The study says that glyphosate-resistance is expanding into new weed species and that nearly half of all US farms have superweeds. Some states, especially in the South, are overwhelmed by superweeds. In Georgia, 92% of farms have superweeds. Across the US, farmers have responded to this mushrooming problem by dumping more Roundup and mixing Roundup with other chemicals. Nonetheless, Monsanto claims that using Roundup “on Roundup Ready crops has allowed farmers to … decrease the overall use of herbicides.”
The problem with this situation is that it could be creating a potentially catastrophic feedback loop. Roundup Ready GMO crops are supposed to resist the highly toxic effects of Roundup. But research done outside of Monsanto’s clique questions whether the GMOs resist Roundup at any volume, or whether the cycle of spraying more Roundup, creating more superweeds, spraying more Roundup, etc. could saturate the soil, killing off important micro-nutrients, and saturating crops with a level of Roundup that Roundup Ready GMOs can’t completely resist, making them susceptible to plant diseases. Given the lack of oversight explained in Part 2 of our series, if GMO crops were contracting plant diseases that weren’t readily visible, who would even know?
A report published in the European Journal of Agronomy explores this possibility. It says it is “highly probable” that “Roundup Ready® crops are vulnerable to glyphosate toxicity under at least some conditions. One such condition could arise when the level of glyphosate exceeds the ability of the transgenic enzyme to tolerate it…” Another condition could be if the “transgene fails” to mimic the original gene the way it is intended to if the plant is damaged. “Both of these scenarios are possible and, if they develop, it is very likely they would enhance the vulnerability of Roundup Ready® plants to fungal diseases following Roundup application.” The report adds that temporary spikes in “fungal pathogens” have been observed following application of glyphosate and that this could potentially cause root rot in GMO crops.
Reuters says entomologists are finding that GMO corn engineered to resist rootworms harvested in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota showed “damage and disease.” Other scientists “say there are indications of increased root fungal disease as well as nutrient deficiencies in Roundup Ready crops. They say manganese deficiency in soybeans in particular appears to be an issue in key farming areas that include Indiana, Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin.” Another scientist says glyphosate appears to affect microbes associated with the growth of plant roots.
Advocates have done what they can to alert the USDA to the observed increase in soil degradation and plant disease. According to Grist, The USDA’s research arm, NIFA, is run by Roger Beachy, “a man with long-time links to the ag-biotech industry and an openly hostile attitude toward organic farming.” Under his guidance, the NIFA’sresponse to these kinds of alarming findings has been “subdued.”
Apart from ensuring regulators’ indifference, Monsanto forces its products onto America’s farms through cynical manipulation of patents, farmers’ contracts, seed monopolization and seed propagation. In the documentary,Seeds of Death, Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation, says that although Monsanto tells the USDA and FDA that its GMOs are no different from natural food, it tells the Patent Office, “‘We’ve invented something brand new. It’s radically different and it’s so inventive we deserve not just one patent, we deserve entire portfolios of dozens and dozens of patents.’”
These patents, combined with Monsanto’s farmer contracts, lock farmers into using ever more Monsanto GMO crops and herbicide. A Western Organization Resource Councils Factsheet explains how Monsanto’s contracts describe an almost feudalistic relationship between Monsanto, or its proxy seed companies, and the farmer. The factsheet says a farmer accepts the terms of the contract simply by opening a bag of Monsanto seed. The farmer waives all Privacy Act rights, and agrees to allow Monsanto full access to their records. Monsanto will only honor its obligations if the farmer uses Monsanto seeds and herbicides together. The farmer cannot save or share any seeds. The farmer assumes all liability, Monsanto assumes none. Monsanto will pursue damages and fees in any violation of the contract. Monsanto arbitrates any disputes, the contract has no time limit, and does not expire even if a farmer discontinues using Monsanto products.
Monsanto has gobbled up dozens of seed companies, running a virtual seed monopoly in many agricultural areas of the country. The patents, contracts and seed monopolization ensnare farmers as consumers of Monsanto’s agricultural monopoly. In the documentary, GM Crops Farmer to Farmer, Michael Hart, UK farmer and international family farming advocate, interviews several farmers across the US. In North Dakota, he talks to Rodney Nelson, who says he tried to grow organic soybeans to export to Japan. Nelson bought conventional seeds, but they were increasingly contaminated with GMO seeds. He says about 50% of his loads were being rejected because of contamination. He couldn’t buy seeds without contamination and the seed companies told him that contamination was inevitable. He says, “We didn’t have any choice but to go back and start planting Roundup Ready crops. There was no choice.” He also says that for farmers who use GM crops, Monsanto has a “rewards program” that insures damaged seeds will be replaced at a discount. If farmers use conventional seeds, then they’re on their own. “They’re forcing you to use their chemical,” he concludes.
In Nebraska, Corky Jones sprays a cocktail of several herbicides several times to kill his weeds. Referring to Monsanto’s claim that a single pass of Roundup kills all weeds, Jones says, “We’ve heard the ‘single pass’ for so long. Well, you won’t hear that from an actual producing farmer. He knows by now that that’s a fallacy.” Hart asks him why American farmers don’t go back to conventional seeds. Jones says the seed company only supports GM crops. Hart asks, “so it’s availability that’s the issue?” Jones replies, “That is right. That is right.”
Hart speaks to a farmer who chooses not to reveal his location or identity. The anonymous farmer says that glyphosate is marketed at a low price, and then once everyone is using is, the price goes up “once they’ve got everybody trapped.” He says the same thing happened with corn seed, and the price tripled in 2 years. “Once this all happened, all research and technology on any other herbicides just completely came to a halt. So if the system gets to the point where it’s at now and if it continues to deteriorate, where it doesn’t control the problem weeds that we have, there hasn’t been any new research and development hardly done on any new products in ten years. We don’t have any alternatives, other than to put on more glyphosate.”
Hart asks the anonymous farmer whether he would suggest to UK and European farmers to start using GMO crops. He says, “I would not. For the first few years, it’ll be cheap and economical, and once everybody has switched to it, you’ll lose your choices, you’ll no longer have a choice to raise conventional products, and you’ll get yourself into a trap where you’re paying royalty fees to companies that own traits and chemicals and they’ll continue to raise those fees every year. Even if you didn’t buy glyphosate-tolerant canola, somebody spilled some on the road, or it cross-pollinated and you’ll end up with some in your field and they’ll own that and you won’t be able to keep seeds back any longer.” Michael Hart says farmers could then possibly end up in court. He replies, “Not possibly. You’ll end up in court.”
Ravicher says that Monsanto has brought 140 lawsuits against farmers, including “those farmers who wanted nothing to do with Monsanto’s genetically modified seed.” The documentary Food Inc. explains how Indiana seed-cleaner Moe Parr was sued by Monsanto, he says, “on the basis that I’m ‘encouraging the farmer to break the patent law’ by cleaning their own seed.” Another anonymous farmer says he settled out of court because he couldn’t afford the legal costs of fighting Monsanto, which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Troy Roush, Vice President of American Corn Growers Association says that Monsanto sends investigators around the country, looking for people either saving seeds or growing GMO crops on their land, whether they knew it or not, to sue them.
Roush also explains that “public plant breeding is a thing of the past. There virtually are no public seeds anymore.” The reason that public seeds are disappearing is that Monsanto has monopolized seeds and the land-grant colleges that used to breed crops as a public service. In the documentary, Seeds of Death, Mark Dunau, owner of Mountain Dell Farm in New York, says that GMOs “have completely blown out conventional breeding in our land-grant colleges. And we only in this country have 10% of the vegetable seeds that were available to our forebears 100 years ago. Our seed stock is going down the toilet and we can’t even use our land-grant colleges to breed in the standard way because there’s no money for it. And that is a huge, huge, huge threat to the future of agriculture, to lose the skill of breeding standard, which is, in fact, what all that food you see on your grocery shelves. All those vegetables came from thousands of years of farmers sharing their seeds.”
Another aspect of Monsanto’s strategy, whether by design or by accident, is how its seeds spread. Monsanto was reported to have “pulled the plug” on GMO wheat in 2004. The wheat was never approved for commercial use, but was recently found growing in Oregon fields nearly a decade later. In GM Crops Farmer to Farmer, Todd Leake in North Dakota says it’s becoming impossible to grow only organic crops. He says that no matter how much you try to segregate GMO and conventional crops, it’s impossible to prevent cross-pollination. In cases where patented seed contamination goes to court, the burden of proof is always on the farmer, not on Monsanto. Monsanto has recently won an important case against a farmer who accidentally used Monsanto seed, and won another case in which organic farmers sued Monsanto for contaminating their organic crops with GMO crops. Collectively, the American justice system has determined that when it benefits Monsanto, seed contamination is allowed and when it doesn’t benefit Monsanto, contamination is illegal.
Monsanto claims that its products improve farm yield. But a major study by the Union of Concerned Scientists entitled Failure to Yield demonstrates that 20 years of GMO farming have resulted in no significant change in farming yield. Monsanto has no real interest in improving yield, in saving farmers time, labor or money, in feeding the world or advancing scientific progress, as it claims. Monsanto’s only interest is in profit.
In pursuit of profit, the MONSANTOpoly traps farmers into frighteningly lopsided contracts. It uses patent law and the courts to sue any farmers that don’t do what Monsanto wants. Monsanto monopolizes seeds, seed research and seed production, leaving farmers no choice but to use Monsanto products. Even when farmers try to avoid GMOs, contamination can force farmers into using Monsanto products, or force them out of business. This system has created an overreliance on a single chemical product. Glyphosate is creating a rash of superweeds across America. In turn, farmers have little choice but to dump more glyphosate. Evidence shows that this is sickening crops and destroying the nutrients in the soil. Monsanto is threatening American agriculture with a chemical Dust Bowl.
Next up, Part 4: Harvesting Disease will explore what happens when Monsanto products work their way from the crops up the food chain and into your body…..To Follow
by Marc Belisle | Staff Writer | The Everlasting GOP Stoppers
Autonomy is Sown! A nutrition group from the “Escuela de Cultura Popular de los Martires de ’68” displays posters celebrating the autonomy of indigenous Zapatista communities for whom corn is an essential crop.
In front of the National Palace of Fine Parts a protestor declares “We are people of corn.”
A group of “youth in resistance” celebrate native corn with live Son Jarocho music and colorful cardboard corn.
Urban Farmers transported their crops via bike emphasizing the importance of sustainable agriculture without GMO seeds.
We will defend our corn!
The thousands of protesters marched down principal avenues in Mexico City to arrive at The Monument of the Revolution.
“Don’t allow your seeds and biodiversity to be reduced to a monoculture that will converted into merchandise administered by a monopoly.”
We are not your #$%$* science experiment. A genuine concern about the scientific effects of GMO crops was a common thread in protesters signs.
“My pride is my roots, my corn.”
Protestors weren’t just saying “not in my backyard” but instead stating that they want Monsanto kicked off the planet.
Corn husks usually serve as wrappers for one of Mexican‘s most popular street foods, tamales. In the anti-Monsanto march husks served as adornment for all kinds of costumes.
“We want a Mexico free of GMO food. Leave Monsanto!”
Protesters sport corn husks to emphasize the importance of native corn for the Mexican diet.
The protest against Monsanto was truly inter-generational with whole families participating from the youngest members to the oldest. “Did you know that the ‘gringa’ Transnational company Monsanto will be able to freely operate in Mexico? Look at how their seeds have affected lab rats. How will they affect us?”
A group of enthusiastic dancers stripped down to the basics – corn. Jubilantly celebrating the crop they took to the street in front of the Alameda.
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“…business is business! And business must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.”– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
In India, a cotton farmer drinks a liter of pesticide, killing himself to escape the ruinous combination of his debts and a poor yield. In America, a pediatrician observes improvement in the symptoms of autistic children when they stick to a purely organic diet. In France, farmers burn fields of genetically modified crops. In Paraguay, a politician tells the media that Monsanto was behind the ouster of a democratically elected president. On May 25, 2013, the mainstream media generally ignores millions of protesters in hundreds of cities across the globe rallying against Monsanto and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). All of these seemingly disparate events flow from a single source: the business model of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most aggressive corporations on the planet.
Monsanto is a virtual monopoly that exploits various business, legal, communications and political techniques to control its business environment and to force dependency on its main products, Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready GMOs. I will analyze this Monsantopoly over the course of this five part series. In Part 1: Sowing Dependence, I will demonstrate how the company’s strategy is evidenced by its development and history. Part 2: Corrupt to the Core will show that Monsanto shuts down normal oversight, regulation and criticism by cultivating vast influence over every branch of the government, academia and the media. In Part 3: Seeds of Destruction, I will explore the effects of Monsanto’s products on the environment. Part 4: Harvesting Disease, will display scientific evidence of the threats posed by Monsanto’s products to various species up and down the food chain, particularly humans. In Part 5: Rounding Up Globalism, Democracy and You, I will discuss Monsanto’s influence around the world, how various countries have responded to Monsanto and GMOs, and what you can do as a citizen and a consumer.
The story of Monsanto begins in the auto industry. In the early 20th Century, Henry Ford defined contemporary industrialism. In the business model of Fordism, the company automates production, mass-produces a reliable, standardized product and pays its workers a living wage, enough that they can afford to buy the product. Beginning in the 1920s, this model was challenged and eventually eclipsed by a different business model developed by General Motors Corporation (GM). GM President Alfred P. Sloan believed that the corporation’s goal should not be a cycle of production-wage-consumption, as Ford had built. The corporation’s goal should be very simple: profit. The business model of Sloanism relied on planned obsolescence, evolving fashion, and a product line for “every purse and purpose.” GM hooked the consumer to regularly purchasing an ever-changing product.
As documented by Peter Drucker in his 1973 book Management: Tasks,
Responsibilities, Practices, GM built on this strategy by teaming up with Standard Oil of New Jersey to launch a joint venture: Ethyl Corporation, which produced leaded gasoline to cure the ‘knocking sound’ made by GM cars. In this way, although GM was not a chemical company, it made money on both its cars and the gas that consumers poured into them. Drucker notes that “GM, in effect, made money on almost every gallon of gasoline sold anyplace by anyone.”
Here in Washington, D.C., I sat down with business historian Alan Loeb, who told me, “Professor Drucker pointed out that GM’s strategy for marketing tetra ethyl lead – the lead additive GM developed for use in gasoline – set the product up so its consumer would be dependent on it, and that by doing this GM and its partners made money not only on the sale of cars GM built but on the sale of leaded gasoline to every car on the road. In the end, between this strategic innovation and the chemical discovery, it was the strategy that was the more valuable. Charles Thomas and Carroll Hochwalt, two chemists at GM who worked on developing the lead additive, left to set up their own lab and ultimately ended up as President and Vice-President of Monsanto, respectively, where the same strategy then appeared in its agriculture business. In a sense, Monsanto inherited the strategic innovation developed first at GM.”
People who were instrumental in developing the business model of Sloanism, and the strategy of locking the consumer into dependency on products that require each other, migrated from GM to the top of Monsanto. One can easily see similarity between the GM cars and leaded gasoline of nearly a century ago and Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and Roundup Ready GMOs of today. Throughout its history, Monsanto has developed chemical products which have eventually become controversial or been banned, including DDT, Agent Orange, Bovine Growth Hormone, and PCBs. DDT was used for decades as an insecticide even though its effect on humans was not well understood. Monsanto insisted it was safe, but it was revealed to be highly toxic and was banned. Agent Orange is a highly destructive defoliant, most famous for being used extensively in Vietnam. Decades later, it continues to cause health problems, birth defects and ongoing soil damage. Bovine Growth Hormone was designed to spur cows’ milk production. It caused painful udder inflammations and infections which got into milk. PCBs are a highly toxic chemical used as a coolant. Documents demonstrate that Monsanto knew of the threat posed by PCBs for many years and sought to cover up the danger it posed, while continuing to expose people and the environment to the chemical. Many people have had serious health problems in the town of Anniston, Alabama, where Monsanto dumped PCB waste.
Recently, Monsanto has formed a partnership with a pharmaceutical company. If Monsanto’s history and the GM model are any indication, could it be that Monsanto’s business strategy going forward is to profit from creating reliance on products that make people sick and reliance on the drugs used to treat their illnesses?
Apart from aggressive marketing of shady chemicals, its government relations have played an enormous role in its development. Monsanto President Charles Thomas was tapped to run the Dayton Project, part of the Manhattan Project, which designed the triggering mechanism for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. This project, along with Monsanto’s marketing of DDT during WWII and Agent Orange during Vietnam, reveal another facet of Monsanto’s business strategy: develop government dependency on Monsanto in wartime. This also creates the norm that the government clears red tape for Monsanto’s business. Even during peacetime, this norm sticks.
Monsanto has demonstrated an interest in avoiding regulation since its founding, when, in 1926, it incorporated its own town, Monsanto, Illinois. Monsanto set up shop in its eponymous town at a time when businesses were largely regulated locally.
And it was through deregulation that Monsanto entered a new phase of its history in the 1980s. The Reagan Administration sought to clear away regulations like health and environmental safety testing that they claimed hindered big business’ growth. In one telling vignette, Vice President George H. W. Bush visited a Monsanto laboratory in 1987. Footage of the visit shows someone from Monsanto pointing at a GMO crop and saying the USDA was testing the crop. He said he wasn’t complaining about the USDA, but he then joked that if they had to wait until September for approval, he might say something different. He then laughs with Bush Sr., who replies, “call me, we’re in the ‘de-reg’ business.”
Part 2 tomorrow
Studies are showing that Bt toxins found in Monsanto crops are harmful to mammalian blood by damaging red blood cells and more. RBC’s are responsible for delivering oxygen to the body tissues through blood flow.
Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) is a bacterium commonly used as a biological pesticide. It is a microorganism that produces toxic chemicals. It occurs naturally in the environment, and is usually isolated from soil, insects and plant surfaces. Prior to this study, Bt was thought to be toxic only to insects, but recent studies are proving otherwise.
Dr. Mezzomo and his team of Scientists from the Department of Genetics and Morphology and the Institute of Biological Sciences, at University of Brasilia recently published a study that involved Bacillus thuringensis (Bt toxin) and its effects on mammalian blood. According to the study, the “Cry” toxins that are found in Monsanto’s GMO crops like corn and soy, are much more toxic to mammals than previously thought. The study was published in the Journal of Hematology and Thromboembolic Diseases(1).
We do not support animal testing, and think it is unnecessary. It should really be a no brainer that GMO crops cause significant damage to human health. Studies that don’t require animal testing have already proven the dangers of GMO consumption. This study unfortunately required the use of Swiss Albino Mice if Bt was to be properly examined. At the same time, most of us know that the existence of GMOs is completely unnecessary.
Advances in genetic engineering promise the expression of multiple Cry toxins in Bt-plants, known as gene pyramiding. Therefore, studies on non-target species are requirements of international protocols to verify the adverse effects of these toxins, ensuring human and environmental biosafety.
Due to its growing use in agricultural activities, Bt presence hasalready been detected in different environmental compartments such as soil and water. Consequently, the bioavailability of Cry proteins has increased, and for biosafety reasons their adverse effects might be studied, mainly for non-target organisms. Studies are therefore needed to evaluate Bt toxicity to non-target organisms; the persistence of Bt toxin and its stability in aquatic environments; and the risks to humans and animals exposed to potentially toxic levels of Bt through their diet.(1)
Thus, we aimed to evaluate, in Swiss albino mice, the hematotoxicity and genotoxicity of four Bt spore-crystals…
Scientists tested levels ranging from 27 mg to 270 mg over a seven day period, it was remarkably evident that the Cry toxins were hemotoxic, even at the lowest doses administered. Hemotoxins destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting and cause organ degeneration and tissue damage.
The number of RBC’s, (red blood cells) as well as their size, were significantly reduced, and so were the levels of hemoglobin for oxygen to attach to. Every factor regarding RBC’s indicated some level of damage for all levels of toxin administered and across all cry proteins. The tests clearly demonstrated that Cry proteins resulting from the Bt toxin were cytotoxic (quality of being toxic to cells) to bone marrow cells. Studies contiually show that these proteins kill blood cells bytargeting the cell membranes of RBC’s.
Cry1Ab (the protein produced in common Bt corn and soy) induced microcytic hypochromic anemia in mice, even at the lowest tested dose of 27 mg/Kg, and this toxin has been detected in blood of non-pregnant women, pregnant women and their fetuses in Canada, supposedly exposed through diet . These data, as well as increased bioavailability of these MCA in the environment, reinforce the need for more research, especially given that little is known about spore crystals’ adverse effects on non-target species (1)
Dr. Mezzomo and his team are not the only group of scientists to discover the harmful effects of Bt toxins. Professor Joe Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario has also studied it (2)(3)(4). He concluded that that there is sufficient evidence that the Bt toxin will impact directly on human health through damaging the ileum, which is the final section of the small intestine that is responsible for the absorption of vitamin B12. He also points out that the Bt cry toxin gene has not been proven to be the same as the natural bacterial gene. As mentioned in the first paragraph, it occurs naturally in the environment, usually isolated from soil, insects and plant surfaces.
It seems that everyday brings forth new information regarding GMO’s. We have so much evidence that points to just how harmful these foods are, yet they continue to be mass produced and the corporations that develop them are constantly protected. The truth still remains, you still have a choice as to what you put into your body. I encourage everybody reading this to further their research, most ‘industries’ we have on the planet today really aren’t necessary, we are just made to believe that they are.
A farmer fills his planters with seed corn using a leading Monsanto brand.
Oops. The World Food Prize committee’s got a bit of egg on its face—genetically engineered egg. They just awarded the World Food Prize to three scientists, including one from Syngenta and one from Monsanto, who invented genetic engineering because, they say, the technology increases crop yields and decreases pesticide use. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Monsanto and Syngenta are major sponsors of the World Food Prize, along with a third biotech giant, Dupont Pioneer.)
Monsanto makes the same case on its website, saying, “Since the advent of biotechnology, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops… GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology.”
Heinemann, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and director of the Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety, says he first began looking into the matter after he heard a remark made by Paul Collier in 2010. Both Heinemann and Collier, an Oxford economics professor and author of the bestselling book The Bottom Billion, were speaking at a conference in Zurich.
Collier “made the offhand remark during his talk that because Europe has shunned GMOs [genetically modified organisms], it’s lost productivity compared to the US,” Heinemann recalls. “That seemed odd to me. So while he was talking, I went to the FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] database and I had a look at yields for corn. And over the short term, from 1995 to 2010, the US and Western Europe were neck and neck, there was no difference at all. So his assertion that lack of GMOs was causing Europe to fall behind didn’t seem true.”
Heinemann attempted to ask Collier for the source of his facts through the conference’s Internet-mediated audience Q&A system, but he never got an answer. He continued poking around for data and stumbled upon what he calls “the textbook example of the problems that come from a low genetic diversity in agriculture” – the 1970 Southern corn leaf blight epidemic.
“Really what happened by 1970 was that upwards of 85 percent of the corn grown in the US was almost genetically identical,” explains Heinemann. “The US is the world’s biggest producer of corn and both geographically and in quantity, so when you cover that much land with a crop of such a low genetic diversity, you’re simply asking for it to fail… In 1970 a previously unknown pathogen hit the US corn crop and the US almost lost the entire crop. It was a major crisis of the day. The only thing that saved the corn crop was that the weather changed in 1971 and that weather change wasn’t as favorable to the pathogen, so it gave farmers and breeders and extra year to swap over the corn germplasm to a variety that wasn’t as vulnerable.”
All told, the epidemic cost an estimated five trillion kilocalories in lost food energy, making it “many times larger than the Irish potato famine,” said Heinemann.
“Now that was in a day where biofuels were not being made from corn. So there was no competition for those food calories… Fast-forward to the drought of 2012. How many food calories were lost because of it? In kilocalories, it’s 89 trillion just from the drought. That’s just from an annual variation due to weather… The U.S. is the biggest producer and exporter of corn.”
When the U.S. corn crop fails, the entire world feels the pain.
Given the stakes, Heinemann decided to look at the productivity and sustainability of the U.S. agricultural system. And when examining sustainability, he means it in a very literal sense: can this system be sustained over time? Is U.S. agriculture resilient or is it highly susceptible to variations in weather, pests or other stressors?
Instead of examining North America alone, he chose to measure it against Western Europe. Therefore, he is able to measure not just whether North American agriculture improved over time, but whether or not it improved more or less than a similar region. Agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic is fairly similar, with the major exception the adoption of GE crops.
Both the U.S. and Canada were early adopters, whereas Western Europe did not adopt GE crops. The study compared crops that are common to both regions: corn and wheat in the U.S. and Western Europe, and canola in Canada and Western Europe. Almost all of the corn and canola grown in North America is genetically modified, whereas no GE wheat is grown in either region studied. Therefore, the study could isolate whether any increases in yields were thanks to genetic engineering or simply due to conventional crop breeding.
Even in genetically engineered plants, most of the genes in the plant come from conventional breeding. Think about the new sheep genetically engineered by scientists in Uruguay to – no joke – glow in the dark. Its DNA contains genes that tell its cells to make wool, hooves, four legs, a head, and everything else that makes it a sheep. Only a few genes – the ones that make the sheep glow in the dark – were inserted via genetic engineering. If the sheep happens to have the best wool for making sweaters or it produces the best milk for making cheese, that’s due to conventional breeding and not genetic engineering.
The same is true for crops. One or more genetically engineered traits can be added to any variety of corn, soybeans, or canola. Most of those crops’ traits come from conventional breeding. If a GE crop does particularly well or particularly poorly, the success or failure could be due to the genes inserted via genetic engineering… or it could be due to all of its other conventionally bred genes.
Heinemann’s group found that between 1985 and 2010, Western Europe has experienced yield gains at a faster rate than North America for all three crops measured. That means that the U.S., which grows mostly GE corn, and Canada, which grows mostly GE canola, are not doing as well as Europe, which grows non-GE corn and canola. The increases in corn yields in the U.S. have remained relatively consistent both before and after the introduction of GE corn. Furthermore, Western Europe is experiencing faster yield gains than America for non-GE wheat.
What does this mean? “There’s no evidence that [GE crops] have given us higher yields,” says Heinemann. “The evidence points exclusively to breeding as the input that has increased yields over time. And there is evidence that it is constraining yields in the North American agroecosystem.” He offers two potential reasons why. First, he says, “By making the germplasm so much narrower, the average yield goes down because the low yields are so low.”
In other words, the lack of biodiversity among major crops today results in bigger losses during bad years.
Companies that make GE crops benefit from a relatively new law, passed in 1994, allowing for much stricter intellectual property rights on seeds. Previously, a company had the rights to sell its seed. A farmer could buy that seed and cross it with other seeds to produce locally adapted varieties. He or she could then save and replant those varieties. Now, the company can patent the genes inside the plant. It doesn’t matter if a farmer breeds Monsanto’s corn with a local variety and produces a brand new type of corn. If the resulting seeds have Monsanto’s patented gene in them, then Monsanto owns them. The farmer cannot save his own seeds.
This means that seed companies now control the amount of biodiversity available to farmers. And the number of varieties they sell has been going down. For example, the study found that in 2005, farmers could choose from nearly 9,000 different varieties of corn. The majority (57 percent) were GE, but farmers still had over 3,000 non-GE varieties to pick from. By 2010, GE options had slightly expanded, but non-GE options plummeted by two thirds. Similar reductions in varieties sold were seen in soybeans and cotton, too. By 2010, only 17 percent of corn varieties, 10 percent of soybean varieties, and 15 percent of cotton varieties available in seed catalogues were non-GE.
But these numbers make the U.S. seed supply look more biodiverse than it actually is. Within all of those thousands of corn varieties sold, one single variety, Reed Yellow Dent, makes up 47 percent of the gene pool used to create hybrid varieties. All in all, corn germplasm comes from just seven founding inbred lines. More than a third come from one of those seven, a line called B73.
With farmers in nearly every state planting such genetically similar corn, farmers experience booms and busts together. Farmers in Mexico, the birthplace of corn, plant a fantastic variety of corn. The plants differ in color, height, ear size, drought tolerance, maturity time, and more. If bad weather shows up late in the season, the early maturing varieties still provided a harvest. If it’s dry, the drought tolerant varieties survive. If a new disease shows up, some of the corn is bound to have some resistance to it whereas other varieties will be more susceptible to it. Biodiversity acts almost like an insurance system.
Planting genetically identical crops results in the opposite. It’s like betting all of your money on one lottery number. And when U.S. corn farmers lose the lottery, they all lose together so the national yield plummets.
Second, Heinemann adds, “Another possibility is that it’s not genetic engineering per se but it’s the innovation policy through which genetic engineering is successful that is causing the U.S. agroecosystem to invest in the wrong things. So the innovation strategy gives signals to the industry to produce things that can be controlled by strict property rights instruments, but these things are not contributing to sustainable agriculture. The problem is that the biotechnologies that the US is invested in are limiting the sustainability and productivity of the agroecosystem.” (Heinemann means “biotechnologies” in a very broad sense, as in any technology humans use in agriculture, even something as simple as using mulch or composting.)
“Western Europe has gone for a different kind of innovation strategy,” he continues. “Because Europe has had to innovate without using genetic engineering,” due to its laws that do not allow GE crops, “it does so in a way that rewards the plants. They’re getting greater yield and using less pesticide to do it. But the way the US is innovating, it’s penalizing all plants whether they are genetically engineered or not.”
Yep, that’s right. In addition to increasing crop yields faster, European nations have also reduced pesticides more than we have.
“The US and US industry have been crowing about the reduction in chemical insecticide use with the introduction of Bt crops [GE crops that produce their own pesticide],” says Heinemann. “And at face value, that’s true. They’ve gone to about 85 percent of the levels that they used in the pre-GE era. But what they don’t tell you is that France went down to 12 percent of its previous levels. France is the fourth biggest exporter of corn in the world, one of the biggest exporters of wheat, and it’s only 11 percent of the size of the U.S.
“So here is a major agroecosystem growing the same things as the US, corn and wheat, and it’s reduced chemical insecticide use to 12% of 1995 levels. This is what a modern agroecosystem can do. What the US has done is invented a way to use comparatively more insecticide.” Comparatively more than what? “More than it should be!” exclaims Heinemann. “It should be down to 12% too!”