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Pope fails to give birth


Tens of thousands of Brazilian pilgrims were left disappointed today, by the pontiff’s inability to produce a Royal Baby. Although Pope Francis promised to bring people to the ‘open arms of Christ the Redeemer’, there is a sense that the Duchess of Cambridge has ‘raised the bar’ for global figures.

While the rest of the world is gripped by baby fever, the head of the Catholic Church has stubbornly refused ‘to take one for the team’. A reproducing Bishop of Rome could allow for more youthful Popes, an hereditary College of Cardinals and lucrative reality TV shows. Many priests have been valiantly trying for to get altar boys pregnant for generations, but Pope Francis has so far avoided opening his papal womb to the public. ‘The Vatican has been ‘dining-out’ on this one miracle birth for two thousand years,’ criticised one reporter. ‘Whereas your Windsors, they’ve been popping out sprogs left, right and centre. Some of them even in wedlock!’

Crowds flooded to Rio de Janeiro, with mothers holding up babies as visual clues for Pope Francis or in some cases passing him bouquets of flowers in the hope of pollinating him. Later the Pope ironically visited Our Lady of the Conception, but completely failed to inseminate himself. Protestors began to line the streets as soon as it became known that his vestments were not concealing ‘a baby bump’. Police were forced to fire tear gas and said a homemade explosive device was discovered at the shrine. One Cardinal commented: ‘We are in the wonderment business, so the miracle of childbirth should be something any Pope can do’.

via Pope fails to give birth | NewsBiscuit.

The Surveillance State Strikes Back


When former National Security Agency contractor Ed Snowden exposed the inner workings of the country’s biggest intelligence organization, he said he did so to roll back a spying apparatus that put the United States on the path to “turnkey tyranny.”

But his revelations could end up having the opposite effect. Instead of declawing a single surveillance state, Snowden’s leaks could ironically wind up enhancing government spying around the globe.

According to experts who are advising U.S. email, cloud data storage, and social media companies, executives are concerned that foreign governments — particularly ones with fewer protections for personal privacy and free speech — are already beginning to demand that U.S. tech companies relocate their servers and databases within their borders. Under normal circumstances, companies would rarely comply with those migration demands, especially if those countries have reputations for heavy-handed internal policing. But now that the United States is being seen as a global spying power, they may have little choice.

Other governments can make their relocation demands in the name of protecting citizens from the intrusive powers of the NSA. Then those regimes can use U.S. tech to make their own law enforcement and intelligence agencies more NSA-like.

“Despite Snowden’s sensational revelations, data will not be better protected outside the U.S. in countries where privacy is aspirational at best,” said Al Gidari, a lawyer with the firm Perkins Coie who represents companies on surveillance and communications law. “Data stored locally will be the fuel for corruption, abuse and repression in most of those countries, especially in those countries that are complaining the loudest about U.S. surveillance activities.”

This week, Brazil’s communications minister said that Internet service providers may now be required to store information locally following reports that NSA has spied on communications in Brazil and across Latin America.

“The ideal thing would be for these companies to keep their data in the country so it can be available should Brazil’s justice system request it,” Paulo Bernardo Silva said in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper. Silva described local control of data as a matter of national sovereignty.

Companies that provide cloud computing services are facing particular scrutiny abroad. Their business is to store large amounts of sensitive information about foreign individuals and companies on servers that are located in United States. And there is a growing perception that this infrastructure is firmly within the grip of the U.S. intelligence agencies, several experts said. That impression is not diminished when U.S. officials, attempting to mollify domestic critics, argue that the NSA is only interested in monitoring foreigners.

Over the past few years, overseas governments have increased pressure on marquee technology companies to hand over more data about their customers and to comply with official orders that would be deemed unconstitutional in the United States.

In 2011, Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, gave the government of India access to its consumer and messaging services, in response to authorities’ concerns that they would not be able to monitor criminals and other threats communicating over the company’s networks. Officials had threatened to cut off access to the company’s services inside their country if RIM didn’t comply. The company ultimately agreed to allow India’s security agencies to intercept emails and other messages.

Last year, the Google executive in charge of the company’s business operations in Brazil was arrested after the company failed to comply with a government order to remove YouTube videos critical of a local mayoral candidate. Google, which owns YouTube, said it wasn’t responsible for the content that users post to the video sharing network.

It wasn’t the first time the company had run up against aggressive policing of information that would be protected under the First Amendment in the United States. In 2011, Google removed profiles from its Orkut social-networking system after a court order deemed them politically offensive. And another order told the company to take down thousands of photos from one of its sharing sites.

U.S. companies are required to abide by the surveillance laws in whatever country they operate. But under legal assistance treaties, foreign governments usually funnel their requests through official channels, and U.S. authorities deliver the requests to the American companies. That slows down the surveillance machine in those countries, and they’ve been looking for ways to speed up that process.

Brazil may prove an early test case for the Snowden blowback effect. According to a report in the Brazilian newspaper Folha, the government will present a “formal condemnation of U.S. data collection techniques” to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its next meeting on September 9, in Geneva. Brazil has apparently had little luck attracting supporters to its attempt to politically embarrass the U.S. government — only seven other countries on the 47-member commission have signed on.

But new information about NSA spying, disclosed by the director of the agency himself, may add some momentum to Brazil’s efforts. At the Aspen Security Conference, Gen. Keith Alexander tipped his hand and revealed that the NSA is obtaining a huge amount of communications traffic from cables that come ashore in Brazil.

Brazil is in the espionage business, too, of course, as are most countries. But the NSA revelations have tended to obscure the obvious hypocrisy in one nation feigning outrage that another country is spying on it. In an interview with Folha, Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim acknowledged that his fellow countrymen could be spied on via their connections to foreign social networks. (The implication was those in the United States.) But he said there was no evidence that the Brazilian government was using such a scheme to monitor its own citizens.

“What is known is more about the U.S. agencies,” Celso said. “To my knowledge, nothing has come out about the Brazilian agencies. But Brazilians can be [monitored], yes. It is speculation.”

Celso added that on two occasions, he believed his communications had been monitored by the United States, including while he lived in the country as Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations. “I was responsible for three committees on the issue of Iraq. My phone started making a very strange noise, and when the commission on Iraq ended, the noise did too. There was an obvious focus then.”

U.S. technology companies’ reputations are also taking hits in Europe. Vivane Reding, the European Union’s Justice Minister, is reviewing the Safe Harbor Framework, which is intended to support transatlantic trade while also protecting European citizens’ privacy. Redding has said the agreement could be used as a “loophole” to allow the transfer of personal data to the United States from European countries where privacy rules are stronger.

Companies based in Europe also believe that the NSA scandal could be a financial boon for them. Customers may start moving their data to facilities located in countries with stricter privacy regulations — and away from American-based firms. “There’s a perception, even if unfounded, that U.S. privacy protections are insufficient to protect the data which is stored either on U.S. soil or with U.S. companies,” Justin Freeman, the corporate counsel for cloud computing provider Rackspace, told a House committee last year.

Snowden’s revelations have cracked whatever veneer of deniability U.S. companies had that they weren’t providing foreigners’ personal data to American intelligence agencies. And considering that Congress this week put its stamp of approval on a key element of the NSA’s surveillance architecture, companies may find it harder to persuade their foreign customers that the U.S. is still a safe place to keep their information.

But there may be a way, however unlikely, for U.S. companies to repair their international standing and keep their customers’ information away from the NSA: They could move their own infrastructure overseas or become acquired by majority foreign owners.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the wireless division of Verizon and T-Mobile have not been part of the spy agency’s data collection regime because they’re tied to foreign owners. Deutsche Telekom, of Germany, owns 74 percent of T-Mobile, and Vodafone Group, of the United Kingdom, owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in a joint-venture with its parent company.

Germany and England may seem a long way to go to relocate a business. But it could keep companies further from the long arm of the NSA.

via The Surveillance State Strikes Back – By Shane Harris | Foreign Policy.

Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World?


The most hated company in the world right now isn’t a member of Big Oil. It’s not a shady Internet company or a bailed-out megabank. Populist discontent toward dirty energy, high-tech snoops, and greedy bankers has occasionally been fierce, but it’s never been laser-focused like the outrage that drew an estimated (by the organizers) 2 million protesters to anti-Monsanto rallies in more than 50 countries at the end of May.

Think about that. If those numbers are accurate, a single private company drew almost as many protesters in a single day as the worldwide Occupy movement at its peak. Monsanto didn’t even have to bankrupt any economies or leech billions of dollars off taxpayers. All it took was three little letters: GMO.

What is GMO?

You probably know something about GMOs, which stands for genetically modified organisms, since it’s as closely associated with Monsanto as “IRS” is with taxes. The popular definition of a GMO is (according to Wikipedia) “an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.” If you want to get pedantic about this definition, humankind has been genetically modifying organisms ever since the first nomads settled down to grow crops, since virtually nothing we eat today is the same exact plant or animal (or Twinkie) it was 10,000 years ago. But that’s not why everyone’s afraid of Monsanto. Monsanto is scary because — in the eyes of detractors — it’s compressing 10,000 years of genetic adaptations into 10 years of mad science.

The history of commercialized GMO foods as we now know them began just two decades ago, with an “enhanced” tomato that was so unprofitable to produce that its developer wound up selling itself to Monsanto. Since then, other developments have embedded GMOs into a rather substantial part of the world’s food supply.

Source : ISAAA Brief on Global Status of Commercialized Biotech Crops, 2012.

Total global cropland, by comparison, amounts to roughly 1.5 billion hectares, so GMOs now take up more than 11% of all cropland in the world. ISAAA — the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a pro-GMO nonprofit supported in part by Monsanto’s funding — says that GMOs have made 100-fold gains in terms of planted cropland since 1996. The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India comprise the lion’s share of GMO cropland, as more than 152 million of the world’s 170 million GMO hectares are found in those five countries.

All of this adds up to big business. The six largest seed-and-weed companies — which typically pair specially engineered seeds with herbicides that often eliminate any plants not attuned to their unique chemical structure — accounted for close to $50 billion in global sales across their various product lines in 2009, the last year for which complete data was available:

Company

Seed + Trait Sales

Global Seed Market Share

Agrochemical Sales

Global Agrochemical Market Share

Total Agro-Tech R&D Spending

Monsanto

$7,797

27%

$4,427

10%

$1,032

DuPont

$4,641

17%

$2,403

5%

$955

Syngenta

$2,564

9%

$8,491

19%

$720

Bayer CropScience

$700

8%

$7,544

17%

N/A

Dow Chemical

$635

7%

$3,902

9%

$874

BASF

N/A

N/A

$5,007

11%

$1,705

Source: Hope Shand in The Heritage Farm Companion; 2009 sales in millions $USD.

Fear of a mod planet
A quick search of “GMO” will turn up all sorts of scaremonger websites, with all sorts of frightening claims that when you eat a Monsanto-developed crop, you’re consigning yourself to a short, sickly life of gastrointestinal (or just general) agony. Cancer, allergic reactions, liver problems, sterility, and even the unnatural modification of your genes — these are just the claims I found on the website of the Institute for Responsible Technology, which purports to be a leading anti-GMO advocacy group. I won’t go into some of the anti-Monsanto conspiracy theories you’ll find bandied about on less reputable corners of the Internet.

It may not be easy to debunk all of these claims, but thanks to extensive national medical records, we can at least see how close to the mark they may strike. Since America was the earliest adopter of GMO foodstuffs, and is now the world’s predominant grower and consumer of GMO crops, it should be experiencing the worst of the purported GMO health problems.

Are we more cancerous today than we were in 1996? Actually, not by a long shot:


Source: National Cancer Institute, SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2010.

The results are even more pronounced when focusing on cancers of the stomach, colon, and rectum, which all show a persistent and significant downtrend throughout the entire tracked period across race and gender divisions. If we’re eating ourselves to death, shouldn’t our digestive systems be the most damaged by these Frankenfoods? Cancer statistics don’t back up anti-GMO claims at all, and with more than 16 years in the food supply, you’d expect there to be a statistically significant change. The one statistically significant spike on these graphs, occurring around 1990, is often blamed on the Chernobyl disaster.

There has been an increase in death rates from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in recent years, by about one person per 100,000 from 1999 to 2010 — but keep in mind that these liver problems are typically alcohol-related. Simply noting a slight statistical uptick isn’t enough to blame on modified crops. People might just be binge-drinking more.

Food allergies, however, might be a different story:


Source: Centers for Disease Control, NCHS Data Brief, 2008 .

The little disclaimer at the bottom reads “statistically significant trend,” and the prevalence of food allergies among children increased by 18% from 1997 to 2007. That’s rather notable. The average number of food-allergy-related hospital visits per year also spiked toward the end of the tracking period, from only 2,600 per year in 2000 to more than 9,500 in 2006. On its own, this may not be enough to blame on GMOs — except for soy, none of the foodstuffs on the CDC’s list of common food allergens is a known GMO crop (although wheat appears headed in that direction). The body may react to one type of food by increasing its reaction severity to other types, but the interplay between these factors is complex and not easily reduced to a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

Other noted health problems — here I refer to a long essay by Earth Open Source, no more an impartial observer than the ISAAA (impartiality is all but impossible to come by in the GMO debate) — include toxin contamination from the overuse of herbicides on GMOs modified for herbicide resistance, stomach lesions, and adverse immune reactions in mice, liver and kidney abnormalities in rats … well, it goes on like this. You can read about the effects in detail at this link, beginning on page 37 (PDF opens in new window). If you can name an ailment, there’s probably a study somewhere that has traced its cause to GMOs. Yet the world continues to live longer. U.S. life expectancy has increased from 76 years in 1996 to 78.6 years in 2011, and global life expectancy has increased from 66.4 to nearly 69 years in the same time period. If we’re less healthy, we sure are coping with it more effectively.

Economic benefits?
There has to be a reason farmers keep using GMOs. The most obvious would be that the end product — that is, the stuff you eventually eat — would yield more per planting (that is, per acre), which should result in lower costs at the consumer level. To the extent that this is true, it can’t be credited to the adoption of GMO seed, as yield improvements and price declines began long before Monsanto got into the seed business:


Source: Prof. Mark J. Perry.

Soybean yields haven’t grown quite as impressively but have still doubled on a per-acre basis over the same time frame. Cotton yields have also soared over the past several decades. GMO crops had nothing to do with it — old-fashioned hybridization, improved production techniques and infrastructures, and the spread of these two important developments around the world created a modern agricultural revolution after the Second World War. GMO crops might be in the process of extending that revolution today, but they may not. Few processes are so simple that a simple tweaking of one element can completely explain a change in another.

GMOs can’t claim to have reduced crop costs through efficiency gains, either. Since commercial introduction in 1996, two of the three major crops planted have nearly doubled in price:

US Producer Price Index: Farm Products: Soybeans Chart

US Producer Price Index: Farm Products: Soybeans data by YCharts

Ultimately, this is probably good for farmers, but bad for everyone else. Not only are you buying Frankenfoods that will wreck your health, but you’re also paying twice as much for the privilege. Agriculture can be so cruel. (Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.)

Monsanto itself claims that GMOs benefit farmers through increased yield, greater insect and disease protection, and drought and heat resistance. The modified crops also conserve the soil, minimize the use of herbicides, and reduce the energy used in the growing process.

I’ve already shown that yields have been increasing for decades, so Monsanto is at best merely continuing a long-running trend, and at worst piggybacking on other improvements to make disingenuous claims. Herbicides and fertilizers have shipped in more than 35% greater quantities this year over the volumes seen in 1996. Fertilizer, as you might expect, is one significant part of increasing crop yields. Since fertilizers are quite energy-intensive to make (many are derived from natural gas) and can be damaging to soil quality over time, this one factor tends to disprove a number of Monsanto’s claims:

US Pesticide, Fertilizer, and Other Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing Shipments Chart

US Pesticide, Fertilizer, and Other Agricultural Chemical Manufacturing Shipments data by YCharts.

The increased use of herbicide designed to work with GMOs (and vice versa) appears to be creating strains of “superweeds” that actively resist the chemicals. Nature tends not to sit idly by while scientists try to pound it into submission. The long-term consequences of an arms race between chemical-cum-GMO producers and the invasive species they want to push out of farm fields could very possibly result in damages beyond the circumstantial ones I’ve already highlighted.

The only real claim that I can’t disprove (or at least weigh down with caveats) is that of drought and heat resistance, mostly because it’s not easy to find data on the claim in either direction. Reducing water use is no small feat in a world quite obviously enduring a period of abnormal heat and drought. However, this alone can’t answer for the fact that something should be done about widespread droughts beyond the creation of GMOs that drink just a little bit less water — particularly if these GMOs result in the indirect use of more water by herbicide-resistant weeds.

How do you solve a problem like Monsanto?
It’s tempting to reduce complex issues into outraged sound bites, like “GMOs are killing people!” or “GMOs are feeding the world!” The truth, as always, isn’t quite so easy.

The threat of tainted food — whether by chemicals or through genetic manipulation — is a cause that arouses outrage at a pitch few other causes will ever muster. The threat of a shadowy corporation with its fingers buried in the heart of our food supply only heightens this outrage, and Monsanto’s heavy-handed efforts at control have done nothing to soften its public image. However, the science of GMOs has been carried out in a highly ideological way on both sides, which doesn’t help when all you want is the truth.

It seems that GMOs will inevitably become a larger part of our food supply, because the corporate motivator in the United States has proved to be stronger than the citizen motivator in recent years. A few protests won’t change that. It will take concerted, long-running national efforts to change diets and attitudes before Monsanto and its peers are forced to loosen their grip on American farmlands. If you choose to be one of the people on the vanguard of that effort, make sure that you understand the science as it is, and not as you’d like it to be.

Are we less healthy today than we were two decades ago? It’s possible, even though most of the statistics don’t show that. Is it all Monsanto’s fault? Probably not.

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The article Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? originally appeared on Fool.com.

via Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? – DailyFinance.

The Monsanto Tipping Point Has Been Reached: We Shall Overcome Global Food Injustice (GMO)


Monsanto is now in full retreat against a global grassroots rejection of its poisons and lies. The company is backpedaling on every front now, even admitting defeat in Europe and now trying to focus its last, desperate efforts on the United States and Brazil.

But even in the Americas, Monsanto is losing on every front: GMO labeling legislation is cropping up in over a dozen states, the global March Against Monsanto demonstrated global grassroots unity against GMOs, and even the so-called “science” behind the “safety” GMOs is revealed as utter hogwash now that GMOs have escaped Monsanto’s experimental wheat fields and contaminated commercial wheat crops in America.

Japan has halted U.S. wheat imports and South Korea joined in as well. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company has announced it is going 100% GMO-free, and massive boycotts are underway against brands that tried to block the GMO labeling ballot measure in California (Prop 37).

We’ve reached the tipping point against Monsant

Jeffrey Smith of http://www.ResponsibleTechnology.org has always talked about a “tipping point” being reached on GMOs, after which the flood of consumer awareness and demand would force food manufacturers and retailers to begin the process of ditching GMOs. I believe that tipping point has now been reached. In fact, I believe the March Against Monsanto was the final push over the fulcrum of the tipping point, and I am ecstatic that so many people all around the world marched in the streets to protest global food injustice while the wholly-discredited mainstream media sat back and pretended the march never even took place!

In one fell sweep, the tipping point against Monsanto was triggered and the whole world realized the mainstream media has zero credibility. I’ll call that a victory any day!

Next steps: Commands from headquarters?

If you’re waiting for “commands from headquarters” to figure out what’s next in the war for food justice and farming justice — the war against Monsanto and GMOs — you don’t really understand this movement. The beauty of everything that’s happening today is that there IS no headquarters!

Activists against Monsanto are simply making this up as we go along. There is no “leader.” There is no secret strategy meeting. There are no talking points. There is no overarching set of milestones being discussed. There is no one person that makes all this happen.

The anti-GMO movement is all just large numbers of courageous individuals waking up and doing what needs to be done, whether that’s organizing a march, posting videos online, boycotting food brands that use GMOs, or holding home-viewing parties of DVDs that educate people on the truth about GMOs.

This is the movement’s strength. This is why nobody can be intimidated, sued or shut down by Monsanto. Behind every activist there are a thousand more carrying the torch for food justice. The anti-GMO grassroots movement absolutely will not stop until GMOs are banned from the global food supply, and that bold statement is just as true in Venezuela and Portugal as the United States. Everywhere that people eat food and grow food, everyone who is informed supports the idea of outlawing GMOs entirely.

This goal will be achieved. I can see it now with clarity. The grassroots energy behind this movement is unstoppable. And while everyone in the grassroots anti-GMO movement may come from slightly different viewpoints on other social, political and economic issues, they all agree that GMOs have no place in the food supply, period!

As I recently said in my speech at the March Against Monsanto in Austin:

“The fact that you are here, in all your beautiful diversity… is proof that they cannot divide us! They can only unite us with their insanity!”

If you are part of the effort to stop Monsanto and outlaw GMOs, you are winning. You are making a measurable, effective difference in the world, and the positive shockwaves of your efforts will be felt for generations to come.

Keep up the good work. 🙂

via OpEdNews – Article: The Monsanto Tipping Point Has Been Reached: We Shall Overcome Global Food Injustice (GMO).

M&S, Co-op and Sainsbury’s say chickens will be fed on GM soya


Britain’s supermarket giants have been accused of caving in to the genetic modification lobby by dropping their decade-long stance against selling chickens fed on genetically modified crops.

The move has been seen as a key victory for GM food giants such as Monsanto which, environmental groups claim, will benefit from the switch. It is also being seen as a precursor to the introduction of GM meat and poultry by “softening up” consumer resistance to the controversial technology.

It has emerged that Marks & Spencer, the Co-operative and Sainsbury’s are following Tesco, Asda and Morrisons and reversing policies that prohibit their suppliers from feeding GM soya to chickens used in the production of their own-brand eggs and poultry. The move came following fierce lobbying from groups such as the National Farmers Union and the British Poultry Council.

The supermarket giants said suppliers had told them that non-GM feed for poultry is now too difficult and too expensive to obtain. There are also concerns that there is a risk non-GM and GM animal feed could become mixed up, making it more difficult to police the UK food chain.

But non-GM feed producers in Brazil, a major source of animal feed to the UK, expressed surprise at the claims, saying they were producing record amounts of animal feed. They said there was no difficulty separating the two types of feed and claimed the move was more about the UK wanting to do more business with US GM companies.

Environmental groups warned that there would be consumer protests if non-GM options were removed. “The supermarkets should stand up for their customers and secure long-term contracts for all their non-GM food and feed supplies,” said Dr Helen Wallace of the campaign group GeneWatch UK, which is critical of the GM lobby. “If access to non-GM feed for chickens is allowed to be blocked today, how long before we have no choices left?

“People have a right to choose what food they want to eat and we must guard against corporate interests, cartels and monopolies taking over global food and feed supplies.”

The UK’s new position is at odds with its European neighbours. Supermarket chains in Germany, France and Austria are increasing their use of non-GM soya in livestock production in response to consumer demand. French supermarket giant Carrefour is launching a label to signal to its customers that its animals have not been fed GM food. Abrange, which represents Brazil’s non-GM soya producers, said that the desire for clearer labelling was shared by the British public. It pointed to a recent survey that suggested 67% of people prefer milk, eggs, poultry and meat produced with non-GM feed.

It said claims that non-GM soya was hard to source following a temporary slowdown in exports were inaccurate. “This year Brazil has enjoyed a record soybean harvest of over 82m tonnes, large enough to more than provide Europe’s entire soya meal demand,” Abrange said.

The organisation said it believed the UK was repositioning itself on GM technology. “This change could well have as much to do with interest in opening the UK to imports of GM soya from the US than to the temporary slowdown in Brazil.”

In a statement Tim J Smith, Tesco group technical director, explained that the supermarket chain was making the decision to buy livestock fed on GM soya because the risk of finding GM material in non-GM feed was increasing and because 80% of the world’s soya is now modified.

Environmental groups believe the government is increasingly enthusiastic about GM. Environment secretary Owen Paterson has branded sceptics of the technology as “humbugs”. Supporters say GM food will help feed a burgeoning population, but sceptics say the claims made for the technology are overblown.

A Monsanto spokesman said they were not aware of a rise in demand for its GM soya product since the supermarkets changed their policy. He said the supermarkets’ decision was taken after lobbying from farmers’ groups, concerned about the rising costs of animal feed, not as a result of pressure from the GM lobby.

via M&S, Co-op and Sainsbury’s say chickens will be fed on GM soya | Environment | The Observer.

via M&S, Co-op and Sainsbury’s say chickens will be fed on GM soya | Environment | The Observer.

The Next Head of the WTO? Choose Wisely.


It’s time to put someone from the BRICS in charge of the world’s leading trade body.

In a historic first, the next leader of the World Trade Organization will hail from Latin America. A field of nine candidates has now been winnowed down to two, one from Mexico and one from Brazil, meaning that, at a crucial moment in the history of the international trading system, the leader of the central organization for resolving global trade differences and shaping future agreements will come from the emerging part of the Western Hemisphere.

One candidate, Roberto Azevedo, is currently Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO. The other, Herminio Blanco, is a former Mexican trade minister and one of the architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Both are widely respected and well-liked by those who know them well. On the surface, the two candidates seem extremely similar. But to suggest that these men represent a common perspective could not be further from the truth. They illustrate a choice as stark as past and future for an organization that finds itself at a critical turning point.

The knock on Azevedo is that he has never served as a trade minister, a post that has typically been a jumping-off point for past WTO chiefs. But he has been exceptionally active within the halls of the trade organization’s Geneva headquarters — an acknowledged leader there, especially among the world’s rising powers, and he is seen as more closely in touch with the trade issues of the day than is Blanco.

Blanco, trained at the University of Chicago, is exceptionally competent. I worked with him when I was a senior U.S. trade official during the Clinton administration and I know that my colleagues and I always held him in very high regard. But, in the eyes of his critics, he has been out of the international trade arena for too long, having been working in the private sector and not actively involved in the complex, frustrating debates surrounding the Doha world trade talks or the need for meaningful reform of the WTO. The organization, set up officially in 1995, doesn’t seem up to addressing the problems of a modern world crisscrossed with non-tariff barriers or grappling with the new problems of Internet- and services-based trade, widespread currency manipulation, and incipient protection appearing in many guises.

There is, however, a bigger difference between the two men that is already manifesting itself in the early whip-counts of potential voters from around the world. According to trade-community insiders in Washington and around the world with whom I have spoken over the past few days, Blanco is seen as the preferred candidate of the United States and much of what might be described as the traditional or old-school trade establishment. Azevedo, on the other hand, appears to have deeper support among the BRICs and among many of the other representatives of the emerging world.

This split matters, because the principal divide in world trade today is not, as it once was, East-West, trans-Atlantic, or even trans-Pacific. It is much more north-south, a split between developed countries that have long dominated the trade discussions and the emerging ones who, through flexing their muscle effectively for the first time during the Doha Round negotiations, put those discussions on ice until their core concerns could be resolved.

Among the most critical of those concerns are frustrations emerging powers have with the seemingly bullet-proof, reform-resistant series of subsidies that are protecting developed-world agricultural producers at the expense of their counterparts like Brazil, India, and other emerging countries with great potential to provide feed the world. Similarly, the questions associated with how and when emerging powers begin to compete and operate on the same terms and to the same standards as developed powers also loom large. Newly proposed trade deals, such as the recently opened negotiations between the United States and the European Union, have at their heart a desire by these first-world powers to grow closer together and to maintain a more unified front when challenged by the emerging powers led by the BRICs.

The WTO has, thus far, despite a global set of responsibilities, largely been a club built on the vision and delivering special power to representatives of the developed world. But while much is murky about the future of the global economy, one thing is not: The balance of trade growth is shifting, irreversibly to the emerging world. (By 2010, according to the United Nations, developing-country import growth already was responsible for about half of world trade growth.) In addition, the emerging countries represent both a majority of world population and the nations with the greatest need for consistent economic growth if social equity or stability are our shared goals as a planet.

Developed countries fear that having a Brazilian lead the WTO would put their interests at risk. But there’s no reason to think so. Quite the contrary: Azevedo, given his background and support among the most important countries of the emerging world as well as his familiarity with the WTO as it is currently operating, might well be more likely to offer a path toward practical North-South solutions. In addition, Brazil’s own strong stand against currency manipulation — whether by China or the United States — is an example of why it is old-think to assume that an individual’s place of birth represents an ideological strait-jacket.

There are few global organizations about which the view is so widely held that reform is essential and few where, for that reform to be fair and effective, it is so vital that the new voices of the global economy be fairly represented. Because Roberto Azevedo is the best person to lead that change and stand for those voices, he should be the WTO’s next director-general.

via The Next Head of the WTO? Choose Wisely. – By David Rothkopf | Foreign Policy.

via The Next Head of the WTO? Choose Wisely. – By David Rothkopf | Foreign Policy.

Bayer, Monsanto cross-license biotechnologies


Are Bayer and Monsanto leading us down the road to Armageddon?

Seed and chemical industry agreements continue to churn out. Bayer CropScience and Monsanto announced crop licensing agreements covering new biotechnologies.

Monsanto will provide Bayer CropScience with a royalty-bearing license to Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield and Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Xtend technology in soybeans in the United States and Canada. Bayer CropScience also will receive a royalty-bearing license to Intacta RR2 Pro in soybeans in Brazil with an option to a royalty-bearing license in other Latin-American countries in the future. Bayer CropScience has also been granted stacking-rights under certain conditions.

Under the agreements, Bayer CropScience will grant Monsanto licenses to evaluate enabling technologies for corn rootworm control and herbicide tolerance as options for Monsanto’s future pipeline development work.

“We are excited that with the combined technologies from both companies, we will be able to offer farmers additional pest control options and an all-inclusive weed resistance package in soybeans. These will fit nicely with our own technology such as LibertyLink,” said Rüdiger Scheitza, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience and Head of Strategy & Business Management in a press release.”

“We’re pleased we have been able to reach an agreement with Bayer CropScience, which will offer increased benefits for farmers and foster continued choice and innovation in our industry,” said Brett Begemann, Monsanto President and Chief Commercial Officer in a press release. “This agreement further supports the value of our Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield platform as we prepare to enter the next phase of innovation in soybeans with the addition of Intacta RR2 Pro and Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Xtend.”

Additional terms and financial details of the agreements were not disclosed.

via Bayer, Monsanto cross-license biotechnologies.

via Bayer, Monsanto cross-license biotechnologies.

The High Cost of Cheap Meat


Nothing changes — whatever familiar measures are announced after every food scandal, once the politicians, manufacturers and retailers have made their claims and counterclaims, and after we’ve gone through the ritual demands for transparency, traceability and labelling. What we really need to do is widen our focus from the contents of “beef” lasagne to the intersecting routes of the current global agricultural system.

It has been developed with the single goal of large-scale production for export, with centres of specialisation to maximise profits. In emerging countries, greater wealth has led to an increase in demand for meat, and therefore a need for agricultural land to feed livestock. In China, meat consumption per person has increased 55% in 10 years (1). To feed its battery hens, China has to import soya grown in Latin America; to grow food for human and animal consumption, it has started to grab land in Africa. Raw ingredients are grown in one continent, bought by another, and exported to a third, just like the global supply chains of manufacturing industry.

For several decades, the food industry has persisted with an approach that has damaged small farmers, biodiversity, soil, water resources, and the health of producers and sometimes consumers, without managing to feed the planet — in 2011 a billion people did not have enough to eat. The meat industry exemplifies the problem. It accounts for less than 2% of global GDP but produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and uses huge amounts of natural resources, land and agricultural produce. Should cereals be grown to feed people or to fatten livestock? It takes at least seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef, four for a kilogram of pork and two for a kilogram of chicken.

Pasture takes up 68% of all agricultural land (and 25% of it is already exhausted and infertile), while growing fodder takes up 35% of arable land: so in all, livestock requires 78% of all agricultural land. This dedication of land to the production of poor quality meat (plus further land demands for biofuels) directly affects the poorest. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2006 annual report says: “Feed production as well as imports have increased. Total feed imports have surged … giving rise to fears that the expansion of China’s livestock industry could lead to price hikes and global shortages of grains, as has been predicted many times in the past.” We know what happened next: food riots in 2008 in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Indonesia and the Philippines, caused by the unprecedented rise in the cost of raw materials on the international market.

Pushing millions into poverty

Early in the financial crisis, political leaders should have banned speculation on basic foodstuffs, but didn’t. Despite a reduction in the real cost of cereal production, prices kept going up (2). In February 2011 The World Bank warned: “Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions … The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food” (3).

Most cattle are grazed, and while a small herd of black and white Pie Noir cows chewing the cud in the shade of cider apple trees in the Breton countryside might not be a problem, environmental damage increases as herd density rises. In South America over the past few years, overgrazing has left the soil sterile and saturated with animal manure. Producers easily resort to illegal logging to clear fresh land, especially in Brazil, which is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of beef and leather, supplying 30% of the global market. It exports primarily to Russia and the EU. A 2009 Greenpeace report revealed that Brazil’s 200 million head of cattle were responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon (4) — 10m hectares of forest destroyed in 10 years, to the detriment of small farmers and native peoples. For 40 years Survival International has condemned the killing of indigenous people by ranchers in Brazil’s forests.

The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed primarily to produce biofuel and cattle feed. According to the peasant movement Via Campesina: “Soybean monocultures … now occupy a quarter of all agricultural lands in Paraguay and … have grown at a rate of 320,000 hectares a year in Brazil since 1995. In Argentina, where soybeans occupy around half the agricultural land … 5.6 million hectares of non-agricultural land was converted to soya production between 1996-2006. The devastating impacts that such farms have had on people and the environment in Latin America are well documented and acknowledged” (5).

Cereals and oil-producing plants, cultivated and harvested in Latin America with the help of chemicals, are transported across the Atlantic to the huge silos of agribusiness multinationals in Europe, ready to be turned into concentrated feed for millions of battery-farmed pigs and chickens around the world — in 2005 they consumed 1,250m tons.

Factory farms supply processors and supermarkets internationally. The industry tries to minimise costs by “rationalising” the production and distribution chain, reducing the workforce, automating tasks, standardising products and mechanically recovering meat slurry for cheap processed meals. The system is there to meet the demands of agribusiness and the big supermarkets.

Assembly-line animals

Processed food makers produce sausages as if they were assembling a car from components; and in a way, the animals they use have become artificial, the product of agricultural research, selectively bred to accelerate muscle development and boost reproductive performance, their vital organs reduced to the point where they are not able to function properly. They are extremely vulnerable to illness, and producers try to remedy this by heating the buildings in which they are raised, although this is often not enough to avoid infections, so they are given antibiotics. The liquid manure they produce, a dangerous mix of nitrogen and phosphorus, is disposed of by spreading on land that is already oversaturated. In Brittany, cyanobacteria pollution of groundwater, rivers and shores caused by the pig industry, is now endemic.

Traditional farming takes account of how much feed is available locally. Pastureland is nurtured, grass regrowth protected from too many hooves, and animal waste prevented from affecting soil and water quality. Animals are reared in symbiosis with cereal and vegetable crops: green waste with peas, lupins and field beans makes a balanced and healthy fodder, straw provides bedding for the animals, and manure fertilises the soil, completing the cycle. A new generation of farmers who want to produce local healthy food that does not damage the planet have been inspired by traditional practices; they have studied, tested, improved and modernised them, and some have moved into agroforestry, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in which trees shelter crops from the wind and sun and contribute to soil fertility, while tree roots keep water at the base of the plants.

Translated by Stephanie Irvine.

Agnès Stienne is a graphic designer.

Notes.

(1) “The State of Food and Agriculture”, FAO, Rome, 2009.

(2) See Jean Ziegler, “Speculating on hunger”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2012.

(3) “Rising food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty”, The World Bank press release, Washington, 15 February 2011.

(4) “Slaughtering the Amazon”, Greenpeace International, 1 June 2009.

(5) “The World Bank funding land grabbing in South America”, open letter from Via Campesina, 7 July 2011.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

via The High Cost of Cheap Meat » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

via The High Cost of Cheap Meat » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

Shell Environmental Crimes in Brazil


Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-16.28.57

We were recently contacted by an association representing former workers at a Shell/Basf Chemicals factory in Brazil.

Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-17.09.18

 

The factory was built in 1977 by Shell. Dozens of former employees of the plant have been diagnosed with prostate, thyroid and other types of cancer, circulatory, liver and intestinal illnesses, as well as infertility and sexual impotence.

 

In August 2010, the two companies were ordered to pay a total of 490 million euros in fines and damages for the workers exposure to toxic substances. The defendant companies have appealed to successively higher courts, initially trying to get the verdict overturned and after that failed, are seeking to have the awarded sum reduced.  This process is dragging on with no end in sight. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants have influence in high places.

 

The workers cannot afford to travel to the Shell AGM to make their case and would like to know if any sympathetic, articulate Shell shareholder of high principle, would kindly offer to raise the matter on their behalf.  One person in particular comes to mind as a candidate.

 

We have now received a PowerPoint presentation for which a non-professional translation of several pages has been kindly provided:

Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-17.20.41

Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-17.06.35

Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-17.11.46

Screen-Shot-2012-04-28-at-16.28.57

Shell Environmental Crimes in Brazil | Royal Dutch Shell plc .com.

via Shell Environmental Crimes in Brazil | Royal Dutch Shell plc .com.

Brazil farmer groups reject Monsanto contract over royalty payments


BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazilian farmer groups oppose a contract that Monsanto Co., the world’s biggest seed company, is offering farmers to end a dispute over royalty payments on its genetically modified soybean seeds.

Monsanto is trying to resolve uncertainty over its ability to collect fees on its new Intacta soybeans, which the St. Louis-based company is scheduled to start selling in Brazil during the next growing season.

The contract would waive royalties on Roundup Ready soy, an older technology, this year and next. In return, farmers would forgo claims in a patent dispute and pay royalties on seeds not yet on the market. The future payments are opposed by the Brazilian National Agriculture Federation, a group of farming associations also known as CNA.

Associations unite against Monsanto

“We reject the individual contracts offered by Monsanto,” Katia Abreu, the head of CNA, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “We expect Monsanto to take back the contracts that are already signed and present a new document.”

“We are working to understand CNA’s concerns,” Kelli Powers, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said Wednesday by phone.

The Parana State Federation of Agriculture, known as FAEP, also said it opposed the agreement. Glauber Silveira, head of Brazil’s soybean growers association, said farmers shouldn’t sign and should continue pursuing royalty claims in court.

“We believe producers are being tricked into signing a contract that will get them trapped to Monsanto for every new technology,” Silveira said Wednesday in a phone interview from Cuiaba, in the state of Mato Grosso.

Growers who sign the contract won’t pay a technology fee in the current and subsequent growing seasons on soybean seeds that are genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate herbicide, Monsanto said in a statement last month. The herbicide is marketed by Monsanto as Roundup. Farmers who sign will waive the right to try recouping royalties previously paid.

The agreement would resolve claims by growers that the patent on the original Roundup Ready soybeans expired in 2010, ending their obligation to pay Monsanto royalties on the seeds. Monsanto argues that Brazilian law extends the patent to late 2014.

The company’s Intacta seeds are engineered to produce an insecticide while also tolerating Roundup.

Monsanto suspended royalty collections in Brazil for two months last year after a court ordered a halt in Mato Grosso. The company as told investors not to count on any revenue from Brazilian soybeans this year. A forecast made Jan. 8 for profit in the current fiscal year excluded an estimated 20 cents to 25 cents a share of earnings from soybean sales in the country.

via Brazil farmer groups reject Monsanto contract over royalty payments.

via Brazil farmer groups reject Monsanto contract over royalty payments.

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