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The Pacific free trade deal that’s anything but free

2012/08/31 1 comment

The draft TPP deal may grant new patent privileges and restrict net freedom, but it’s secret – unless you’re a multinational CEO

by Dean Baker
        
The Guardian (August 27 2012)

Patent protection increases what patients pay for drugs in the United States by close to $270 billion a year (1.8% of GDP).

“Free trade” is a sacred mantra in Washington. If anything is labeled as being “free trade”, then everyone in the Washington establishment is required to bow down and support it. Otherwise, they are excommunicated from the list of respectable people and exiled to the land of protectionist Neanderthals.

This is essential background to understanding what is going on with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a pact that the United States {1} is negotiating with Australia, Canada, Japan and eight other countries in the Pacific region. The agreement is packaged as a “free trade” agreement. This label will force all of the respectable types in Washington to support it.

In reality, the deal has almost nothing to do with trade: actual trade barriers between these countries are already very low. The TPP is an effort to use the holy grail of free trade to impose conditions and override domestic laws in a way that would be almost impossible if the proposed measures had to go through the normal legislative process. The expectation is that by lining up powerful corporate interests, the governments will be able to ram this new “free trade” pact through legislatures on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

As with all these multilateral agreements, the intention is to spread its reach through time. That means that anything the original parties to the TPP accept is likely to be imposed later on other countries in the region, and quite likely, on the rest of the world.

At this point, it’s not really possible to discuss the merits of the TPP since the governments are keeping the proposed text a secret from the public. Only the negotiators themselves and a select group of corporate partners have access to the actual document. The top executives at General Electric, Goldman Sachs, and Pfizer probably all have drafts of the relevant sections of the TPP. However, the members of the relevant congressional committees have not yet been told what is being negotiated.

A few items that have been leaked give us some insight as to the direction of this pact. One major focus is will be stronger protection for intellectual property {2}. In the case of recorded music and movies, we might see provisions similar to those that were in the Stop Online Privacy Act (Sopa {3}). This would make internet intermediaries like Google, Facebook and, indeed, anyone with a website into a copyright cop.

Since these measures were hugely unpopular, Sopa could probably never pass as a standalone piece of legislation. But tied into a larger pact and blessed with “free trade” holy water, the entertainment industry may be able to get what it wants.

The pharmaceutical industry is also likely to be a big gainer from this pact. It has decided that the stronger patent rules that it inserted in the 1995 WTO agreement don’t go far enough. It wants stronger and longer patent protection and also increased use of “data exclusivity”. This is a government-granted monopoly, often as long as fourteen years, that prohibits generic competitors from entering a market based on another company’s test results that show a drug to be safe and effective.

Note that stronger copyright and patent protection, along with data exclusivity, is the opposite of free trade. They involve increased government intervention in the market; they restrict competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.

In fact, the costs associated with copyright and patent protection dwarf the costs associated with the tariffs or quotas that usually concern free traders. While the latter rarely raise the price of a product by more than twenty to thirty percent, patent protection for prescription drugs can allow drugs to sell for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars per prescription when they would sell for five to ten dollars as a generic in a free market. Patent protection increases what patients pay for drugs in the United States by close to $270 billion a year (1.8% of GDP). In addition to making drugs unaffordable to people who need them, the economic costs implied by this market distortion are enormous.

There are many other provisions in this pact that are likely to be similarly controversial. The rules it creates would override domestic laws on the environment, workplace safety, and investment. Of course, it’s not really possible to talk about the details because there are no publicly available drafts.

In principle, the TPP is exactly the sort of issue that should feature prominently in the fall elections. Voters should have a chance to decide if they want to vote for candidates who support raising the price of drugs for people in the United States and the rest of the world, or making us all into unpaid copyright cops. But there is no text and no discussion in the campaigns – and that is exactly how the corporations who stand to gain want it.

There is one way to spoil their fun. Just Foreign Policy is offering a reward {4}, now up to $21,100, to WikiLeaks {5} if it publishes a draft copy of the pact. People could add to the reward fund, or if in a position to do so, make a copy of the draft agreement available to the world.

Our political leaders will say that they are worried about the TPP text getting in the hands of terrorists, but we know the truth: they are afraid of a public debate. So if the free market works, we will get to see the draft of the agreement.

Links:

{1} http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/usa

{2} http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/intellectual-property

{3} http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/sopa

{4} http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1439/content_item/freetpp

{5} http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/wikileaks

(c) 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/27/pacific-free-trade-deal

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Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists

Water scarcity’s effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach nine billion by 2050

by John Vidal, environment editor
    
The Guardian (August 26 2012)

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next forty years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about twenty percent of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just five percent to feed the extra two billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.

“There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected nine billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations”, the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

“There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to five percent of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade”.

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly fifty percent on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than eighteen million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to ten times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

“Nine hundred million people already go hungry and two billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” they said. “With seventy percent of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional two billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land”.

The report is being released at the start of the annual world water conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where 2,500 politicians, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and researchers from 120 countries meet to address global water supply problems.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. “The UN predicts that we must increase food production by seventy percent by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand – which is expected to rise sixty percent over the coming thirty years – and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it”, said the report.

Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise and increased food production may face future constraints from water scarcity.

“We will need a new recipe to feed the world in the future”, said the report’s editor, Anders Jagerskog.

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

“We’ve witnessed again and again what happens to the world’s poor – the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity – when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system”, said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

“Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.”

(c) 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/aug/26/food-shortages-world-vegetarianism

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How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis

Don’t blame American appetites, rising oil prices, or genetically modified crops for rising food prices. Wall Street’s at fault for the spiraling cost of food.

by Frederick Kaufman

Foreign Policy Magazine (April 27 2011)

Demand and supply certainly matter. But there’s another reason why food across the world has become so expensive: Wall Street greed.

It took the brilliant minds of Goldman Sachs to realize the simple truth that nothing is more valuable than our daily bread. And where there’s value, there’s money to be made. In 1991, Goldman bankers, led by their prescient president Gary Cohn, came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, from precious metals and energy to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, hogs, soy, and wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known henceforth as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).

For just under a decade, the GSCI remained a relatively static investment vehicle, as bankers remained more interested in risk and collateralized debt than in anything that could be literally sowed or reaped. Then, in 1999, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets. All of a sudden, bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked, an opportunity that had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.

Change was coming to the great grain exchanges of Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City – which for 150 years had helped to moderate the peaks and valleys of global food prices. Farming may seem bucolic, but it is an inherently volatile industry, subject to the vicissitudes of weather, disease, and disaster. The grain futures trading system pioneered after the American Civil War by the founders of Archer Daniels Midland, General Mills, and Pillsbury helped to establish America as a financial juggernaut to rival and eventually surpass Europe. The grain markets also insulated American farmers and millers from the inherent risks of their profession. The basic idea was the “forward contract”, an agreement between sellers and buyers of wheat for a reasonable bushel price – even before that bushel had been grown. Not only did a grain “future” help to keep the price of a loaf of bread at the bakery – or later, the supermarket – stable, but the market allowed farmers to hedge against lean times, and to invest in their farms and businesses. The result: Over the course of the 20th century, the real price of wheat decreased (despite a hiccup or two, particularly during the 1970s inflationary spiral), spurring the development of American agribusiness. After World War Two, the United States was routinely producing a grain surplus, which became an essential element of its Cold War political, economic, and humanitarian strategies – not to mention the fact that American grain fed millions of hungry people across the world.

Futures markets traditionally included two kinds of players. On one side were the farmers, the millers, and the warehousemen, market players who have a real, physical stake in wheat. This group not only includes corn growers in Iowa or wheat farmers in Nebraska, but major multinational corporations like Pizza Hut, Kraft, Nestle, Sara Lee, Tyson Foods, and McDonald’s – whose New York Stock Exchange shares rise and fall on their ability to bring food to peoples’ car windows, doorsteps, and supermarket shelves at competitive prices. These market participants are called “bona fide” hedgers, because they actually need to buy and sell cereals.

On the other side is the speculator. The speculator neither produces nor consumes corn or soy or wheat, and wouldn’t have a place to put the twenty tons of cereal he might buy at any given moment if ever it were delivered. Speculators make money through traditional market behavior, the arbitrage of buying low and selling high. And the physical stakeholders in grain futures have as a general rule welcomed traditional speculators to their market, for their endless stream of buy and sell orders gives the market its liquidity and provides bona fide hedgers a way to manage risk by allowing them to sell and buy just as they pleased.

But Goldman’s index perverted the symmetry of this system. The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns. This newfangled derivative product was “long only”, which meant the product was constructed to buy commodities, and only buy. At the bottom of this “long-only” strategy lay an intent to transform an investment in commodities (previously the purview of specialists) into something that looked a great deal like an investment in a stock – the kind of asset class wherein anyone could park their money and let it accrue for decades (along the lines of General Electric or Apple). Once the commodity market had been made to look more like the stock market, bankers could expect new influxes of ready cash. But the long-only strategy possessed a flaw, at least for those of us who eat. The GSCI did not include a mechanism to sell or “short” a commodity.

This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying – no matter what the price. Every time the due date of a long-only commodity index futures contract neared, bankers were required to “roll” their multi-billion dollar backlog of buy orders over into the next futures contract, two or three months down the line. And since the deflationary impact of shorting a position simply wasn’t part of the GSCI, professional grain traders could make a killing by anticipating the market fluctuations these “rolls” would inevitably cause. “I make a living off the dumb money”, commodity trader Emil van Essen told Businessweek last year. Commodity traders employed by the banks that had created the commodity index funds in the first place rode the tides of profit.

Bankers recognized a good system when they saw it, and dozens of speculative non-physical hedgers followed Goldman’s lead and joined the commodities index game, including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Pimco, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers, to name but a few purveyors of commodity index funds. The scene had been set for food inflation that would eventually catch unawares some of the largest milling, processing, and retailing corporations in the United States, and send shockwaves throughout the world.

The money tells the story. Since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, there has been a fifty-fold increase in dollars invested in commodity index funds. To put the phenomenon in real terms: In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008, and as dollars, pounds, and euros evaded investor confidence, commodities – including food – seemed like the last, best place for hedge, pension, and sovereign wealth funds to park their cash. “You had people who had no clue what commodities were all about suddenly buying commodities”, an analyst from the United States Department of Agriculture told me. In the first 55 days of 2008, speculators poured $55 billion into commodity markets, and by July, $318 billion was roiling the markets. Food inflation has remained steady since.

The money flowed, and the bankers were ready with a sparkling new casino of food derivatives. Spearheaded by oil and gas prices (the dominant commodities of the index funds) the new investment products ignited the markets of all the other indexed commodities, which led to a problem familiar to those versed in the history of tulips, dot-coms, and cheap real estate: a food bubble. Hard red spring wheat, which usually trades in the $4 to $6 dollar range per sixty-pound bushel, broke all previous records as the futures contract climbed into the teens and kept on going until it topped $25. And so, from 2005 to 2008, the worldwide price of food rose eighty percent – and has kept rising. “It’s unprecedented how much investment capital we’ve seen in commodity markets”, Kendell Keith, president of the National Grain and Feed Association, told me. “There’s no question there’s been speculation”. In a recently published briefing note, Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, concluded that in 2008 “a significant portion of the price spike was due to the emergence of a speculative bubble”.

What was happening to the grain markets was not the result of “speculation” in the traditional sense of buying low and selling high. Today, along with the cumulative index, the Standard & Poors GSCI provides 219 distinct index “tickers”, so investors can boot up their Bloomberg system and bet on everything from palladium to soybean oil, biofuels to feeder cattle. But the boom in new speculative opportunities in global grain, edible oil, and livestock markets has created a vicious cycle. The more the price of food commodities increases, the more money pours into the sector, and the higher prices rise. Indeed, from 2003 to 2008, the volume of index fund speculation increased by 1,900 percent. “What we are experiencing is a demand shock coming from a new category of participant in the commodities futures markets”, hedge fund Michael Masters testified before Congress in the midst of the 2008 food crisis.

The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures. The result: Imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat, as speculators (traditionally one-fifth of the market) now outnumber bona-fide hedgers four-to-one.

Today, bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain – the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below. Near the bottom toils the farmer. For him, the rising price of grain should have been a windfall, but speculation has also created spikes in everything the farmer must buy to grow his grain – from seed to fertilizer to diesel fuel. At the very bottom lies the consumer. The average American, who spends roughly eight to twelve percent of her weekly paycheck on food, did not immediately feel the crunch of rising costs. But for the roughly two billion people across the world who spend more than fifty percent of their income on food, the effects have been staggering: 250 million people joined the ranks of the hungry in 2008, bringing the total of the world’s “food insecure” to a peak of one billion – a number never seen before.

What’s the solution? The last time I visited the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, I asked a handful of wheat brokers what would happen if the US government simply outlawed long-only trading in food commodities for investment banks. Their reaction: laughter. One phone call to a bona-fide hedger like Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland and one secret swap of assets, and a bank’s stake in the futures market is indistinguishable from that of an international wheat buyer. What if the government outlawed all long-only derivative products, I asked? Once again, laughter. Problem solved with another phone call, this time to a trading office in London or Hong Kong; the new food derivative markets have reached supranational proportions, beyond the reach of sovereign law.

Volatility in the food markets has also trashed what might have been a great opportunity for global cooperation. The higher the cost of corn, soy, rice, and wheat, the more the grain producing-nations of the world should cooperate in order to ensure that panicked (and generally poorer) grain-importing nations do not spark ever more dramatic contagions of food inflation and political upheaval. Instead, nervous countries have responded instead with me-first policies, from export bans to grain hoarding to neo-mercantilist land grabs in Africa. And efforts by concerned activists or international agencies to curb grain speculation have gone nowhere. All the while, the index funds continue to prosper, the bankers pocket the profits, and the world’s poor teeter on the brink of starvation.

_____

Frederick Kaufman is the author of A Short History of the American Stomach (2009).

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All contents (c) 2012 The Foreign Policy Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/27/how_goldman_sachs_created_the_food_crisis

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Monsanto’s Top Seven Lies …

… About GMO Labeling and Proposition 37

by Mike Barrett

Natural Society (August 24 2012)

Due to the near future voting on November 6 2012 for California’s Proposition 37, there has been a lot of heat going back and forth concerning GMO foods. Up until now, tens of million of dollars have been funneled into the opposing side of the bill, with biotechnology giant Monsanto dishing out a whopping $4.2 million alone {1}. Monsanto has even recently published a page on their site {2} titled “Taking a Stand: Proposition 37, The California Labeling Proposal”, where the GMO giant attempts to logically explain why it is against GMO labeling. Needless to say, the post reeks of false and misleading statements, and oftentimes downright deception. Here are the top seven lies Monsanto wants you to believe regarding GMO labeling and Proposition 37.

1. The bill “would require a warning label on food products”.

GMO foods will not require a warning label (although they ought to!) Actually, foods made with GMOs would say “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering”, – not a warning label, but a clear warning sign to those of us who want to avoid GMOs. The whole idea of the GMO labeling bill is to make consumers aware of what they are consuming, not to bash GMOs on every label. We have a right to know.

2. “The safety and benefits of these ingredients are well established”.

This may be the most comical statements of all. While no long-term studies portray the dangers or benefits of GMOs, countless studies using a ‘shorter’ time interval show not only how GMOs are a danger to humans, but also the environment and the biosphere. One study {3} published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences shows that GMO corn and other GM food is indeed contributing to the obesity epidemic and causing organ disruption.

Through the mass genetic modification of nature via GMO crops, animals, biopesticides, and the mutated insects that are created as a result, mega biotechnology corporations are threatening the overall genetic integrity of the environment as well as all of humankind. This is just one reason that GMO crops are continuously banned around the world in nations such as France, Peru, Hungary, and Poland.

3. “FDA says that such labeling would be inherently misleading to consumers”.

While the FDA may think that labeling GMO foods would be misleading, in reality the exact opposite is true. Most consumers are in the dark when it comes to GMOs residing in their purchased foods. Foods being sold that contain hidden GMOs is much more misleading than letting the consumer be aware.

The FDA may call it ‘misleading’ since ‘GMOs are safe’, but research shows that this is far from the truth.

4. “The American Medical Association just re-affirmed that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods”.

Although true, the American Medical Association also recently called for mandatory premarket safety studies for GMOs – a decision virtually polar opposite of the above quote. It seems that the AMA is being inconsistent no matter which view is taken. Here is a quote from Consumers Union recently noted in its reaction {4} to AMA’s announcement:

The AMA’s stance on mandatory labeling isn’t consistent with its support for mandatory pre-market safety assessments. If unexpected adverse health effects, such as an allergic reaction, happen as a result of GE, then labeling could perhaps be the only way to determine that the GE process was linked to the adverse health effect.

5. “… the main proponents of Proposition 37 are special interest groups and individuals opposed to food biotechnology who are not necessarily engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply”.

Not engaged in the production of our nation’s food supply? Countless farmers, food producers, and consumers who are engaging with their hard-earned dollar support Proposition 37. In fact, many farmers have taken legal action against Monsanto {5} in the past for widespread genetic contamination.

Here is a growing list {6} of endorsements for the GMO labeling bill.

6. “The California proposal would serve the purposes of a few special interest groups at the expense of the majority of consumers”.

Monsanto says “at the expense of the majority of consumers”. Maybe the biotech giant isn’t away that GMO labeling is so desired that the pro-labeling side has a three to one advantage, based on recent polls {7}. The majority of consumers actually want GMO foods to be labeled. It is no secret that government organizations such as the FDA and USDA are in bed with Monsanto {8}, but this is a decision for the people – not any government organizations.

It has also been revealed that Monsanto has control of virtually all US diplomats {9}, and the company has even used its massive influence to force other nations to accept their genetically modified crops through economic threats and political pressure.

7. “Consumers have broad food choices today, but could be denied these choices if Proposition 37 prevails”.

There is absolutely no reason to think that because of Proposition 37, food choices would become more limited. Actually, the bill would add value to the purchase by consumers, as no one would need to ‘eat in the dark’ and unknowingly consume GMOs.

Additional Sources:

The Huffington Post {10}

Explore More:

Fake Eco-Friendly Corporations Shell out Millions of $ to Stop GMO Labeling (Infographic)
http://naturalsociety.com/fake-eco-friendly-corporations-millions-gmo-labeling/

FDA Deletes 1 Million Signatures for GMO Labeling Campaign
http://naturalsociety.com/fda-deletes-1-million-signatures-for-gmo-labeling-campaign/

Genetically Modified Food Labeling Initiative Gains Momentum
http://naturalsociety.com/genetically-modified-food-labeling-initiative-gains-momentum/

Obama Promised GMO Labeling in 2007
http://naturalsociety.com/obama-promised-gmo-labeling-in-2007/

Vermont Introduces Monumental GMO Labeling Legislation
http://naturalsociety.com/vermont-introduces-monumental-gmo-labeling-legislation/

Even the American Medical Association (AMA) May Back Labeling of GMOs
http://naturalsociety.com/even-the-american-medical-association-ama-may-back-labeling-of-gmos/

Notes:

{1} http://naturalsociety.com/fake-eco-friendly-corporations-millions-gmo-labeling/

{2} http://monsantoblog.com/2012/08/14/taking-a-stand-proposition-37-the-california-labeling-proposal/

{3} http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

{4} http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/018433.html

{5} http://naturalsociety.com/farmers-issue-lawsuit-against-monsanto-for-widespread-genetic-manipulation/

{6} http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements

{7} http://naturalsociety.com/monsantos-top-7-lies-about-gmo-labeling-and-proposition-37/GMO%20labeling%20is%20so%20desired%20that%20the%20pro-labeling%20side%20has%20a%203-to-1%20advantage.%20%20Read%20more:%20http://naturalsociety.com/fake-eco-friendly-corporations-millions-gmo-labeling/#ixzz24QoaCYeI

{8} http://naturalsociety.com/exposing-monsantos-financial-interest-in-government/

{9} http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/03/wikileaks-us-eu-gm-crops

{10} http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-simon/top-10-lies-told-by-monsa_b_1819731.html

http://naturalsociety.com/monsantos-top-7-lies-about-gmo-labeling-and-proposition-37/

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How Free Is “Free-Range”?

2012/08/29 2 comments

Compassion Over Killing (undated)

Just because it says free-range does not mean that it is welfare-friendly.

— Dr Charles Olentine, editor of Egg Industry magazine, an industry trade journal {1}

As concern grows over the way the meat, egg, and dairy industries treat the animals we eat, so does the number of animal products labeled “free-range”. What does this mean? Do “free-range” chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows receive humane treatment? Are they slaughtered in less violent ways? While “free-range” practices may be less inhumane than the horrors animals are forced to endure on conventional factory farms, they are still very far from cruelty-free.

“Free-Range” Eggs

There is no inspection system for companies that label their eggs “free-range”.

The popular myth that “free-range” egg-laying hens enjoy fresh grass, bask in the sunlight, scratch the earth, sit on their nests, and engage in other natural habits is often just that: a myth. In many commercial “free-range” egg farms, hens are crowded inside windowless sheds with little more than a single, narrow exit leading to an enclosure, too small to accommodate all of the birds at once.

Both battery cage and “free-range” egg hatcheries kill all male chicks shortly after birth. Since male chicks cannot lay eggs and are different breeds than those chickens raised for meat, they are of no use to the egg industry. Standard killing methods, even among “free-range” producers, include grinding male chicks alive or throwing them into trash bags and leaving them to suffocate.

Whether kept in sheds or cages, laying hens – who can naturally live more than ten years – are considered “spent” when they are just one or two years old and their productivity wanes. Rather than being retired, “free-range” hens are slaughtered to make room for another shed of birds.

With no federal regulations overseeing the use of animal welfare claims on egg cartons, misleading or exaggerated claims are rampant. Consumers may be deceived by phrases such as “animal-friendly” or “naturally-raised”, which can be found on cartons of eggs from caged hens. Read about COK’s truth in labeling campaign urging the US Food and Drug Administration to require the full disclosure of production methods on eggs cartons sold nationwide: http://www.cok.net/camp/egg_labeling

“Free-Range” Broiler Chickens

Birds raised for meat (“broilers”) may be considered “free-range” if they have US Department of Agriculture-certified access to the outdoors. No other criteria-environmental quality, the size of the outdoor area, the number of birds confined in a single shed, or the indoor or outdoor space allotted per animal-are considered in applying the label. As with “free-range” laying hens, many “free-range” broilers live in a facility with only one small opening at the end of a large shed, permitting only a few birds to go outside at any given time.

Even Richard Lobb, spokesperson for the National Chicken Council admits, “Even in a free-range type of style of production, you’re basically going to find most of them inside the grow out facility” {2}.

According to The Washington Post Magazine, in the case of birds, the term “free-range” “doesn’t really tell you anything about the [animal’s] quality of life, nor does it even assure that the animal actually goes outdoors” {3}.

Aside from the birds’ actual living conditions, there is no prohibition in “free-range” poultry farming against using breeds of chickens and turkeys who have been selectively bred for fast growth and high feed conversion.

In the 1950s, it took 84 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Due to selective breeding and growth-promoting drugs, it now takes only 45 days. {4} Such fast growth causes chickens to suffer from a number of chronic health problems, including leg disorders and heart disease {5}. According to one study, ninety percent of broilers had detectable leg problems, while 26 percent suffered chronic pain as a result of bone disease {6}. Two researchers in The Veterinary Record report, “We consider that birds might have been bred to grow so fast that they are on the verge of structural collapse” {7}. Industry journal Feedstuffs reports, “[B]roilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses” {8}.

Whether labeled “free-range” or not, if the birds used by agribusiness are the standard “broiler” chicken of today, buying these products involves an enormous amount of animal suffering.

And, as with factory-farmed birds raised for their meat, “free-range” chickens and turkeys may undergo the same grueling and sometimes fatal transport to slaughterhouses when reaching market weight. Workers gather these birds up to four at a time, carrying them upside down by their legs before throwing them into crates on multi-tiered trucks without protection from the heat or cold and without access to food or water. “Free-range” birds end up at the same slaughterhouses as factory-farmed birds, where they are hung upside down, have their throats slit, and bleed to death, often while still fully conscious.

“Free-Range” Cows, Sheep, and Pigs

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “free-range” beef, pork, and other non-poultry products are loosely defined as coming from animals who ate grass and lived on a range. No other criteria-such as the size of the range or the amount of space given to each animal-are required before beef, lamb, and pork can be called “free-range”. “Free-range” and “free-roaming” facilities are rarely inspected or verified to be in compliance with these two criteria. The USDA relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims” {9}.

Even when “free-range” cows, sheep, and pigs are allowed to live outdoors, they are still subjected to excruciating mutilations without painkiller or analgesic, such as castration, branding, dehorning, tail-docking, and tooth-grinding. Once they are fattened to market weight, they are trucked to slaughterhouses. They are denied food, water, and adequate protection from extreme temperatures once in the vehicles, and many die during the trip. These cows, sheep, and pigs are still slaughtered in the same violent ways as factory-farmed animals: They are pushed through narrow chutes, hung upside down on conveyor belts, and have their throats slit; some are dismembered while still fully conscious.

Is a Truly Free-Range World Possible?

The US animal agribusiness industry currently confines and slaughters more than ten billion land animals each year, the overwhelming majority of whom live intensively confined on factory farms where many cannot even turn around or fully stretch their limbs. Would it be possible to raise ten billion animals without intensive confinement? Probably not.

If intensive confinement operations were banned, it’s highly unlikely producers could supply an entire nation of 300 million meat, egg, and dairy consumers with enough animal products to sustain the typical American diet. So, without even considering the ethical problems inherent in raising and slaughtering animals for food, from a practical perspective, completely humane farming and slaughtering methods aren’t possible.

The Bottom Line

Granted, living in cramped conditions is better than living in even more cramped conditions. Laying hens who have 67 square inches (432 square centimeters) of space per bird likely suffer less than those who have only fifty (323 square centimeters), and giving even ten out of 10,000 turkeys access to sunlight and the outdoors is better than denying all of them such basic needs. But, clearly, commercial “free-range” farming is not the answer to ending animal abuse.

Doing the Right Thing

The animals killed so we can have chicken breasts, milk, and omelets feel pain and experience joy just like the dogs and cats we pamper. And, like dogs and cats, they want to live free from torture and suffering. By choosing vegetarian foods, we can improve their lives and our own. Indeed, eating meat, eggs, and dairy products is not necessary for our survival. In fact, even the country’s leading nutrition organization, the American Dietetic Association, states that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases” {10}.

Since we have no need for meat, eggs, and dairy products, why support animal cruelty by purchasing those products? Becoming vegetarian, rather than looking for less inhumane animal products, is the most ethical decision to make.

Visit Tryveg.com to learn more about transitioning to an animal-friendly diet, recipes, information on factory farming, and more.

Citations:

1. Olentine, Charles. “Welfare and the Egg Industry: The Best Defense Is an Offense”, Egg Industry, October 2002, page 24.

2. Quoted from interview with CNN news piece which aired on July 25 2004. Transcript available at http://www.cok.net/feat/cnn.php.

3. Perl, Peter. “The Truth About Turkeys”, The Washington Post Magazine, November 5 1995.

4. Duncan IJH, “Welfare Problems of Meat-Type Chickens”, Farmed Animal Well-Being Conference at the University of California-Davis, June 28-29, 2001; personal correspondence with Stephen Pretanik, director of Science and Technology, National Chicken Council, Washington, DC, January 14 2004.

5. Leeson S, Diaz G, and Summers JD, Poultry Metabolic Disorders and Mycotoxins (Guelph, Canada: University Books, 1995); Julian RJ, “Rapid Growth Problems: Ascites and Skeletal Deformities in Broilers”, Poultry Science 77 (1998): 1773-80.

6. Kestin SC, Knowles TG, Tinch AE, and Gregory NG, “Prevalence of Leg Weakness in Broiler Chickens and Its Relationship with Genotype”, The Veterinary Record 131 (1992): 190-4.

7. Wise D and Jennings A, “Dyschondroplasia in Domestic Poultry”, The Veterinary Record 91 (1972): 285-6.

8. Martin D, “Researcher Studying Growth-Induced Diseases in Broilers”, Feedstuffs, May 26 1997.

9. Donovan, Michael E. Official US Department of Agriculture/Food Safety and Inspection Service letter, April 11 1996.

10. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets”, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2003, volume 103, pages 748-765. Available at http://www.eatright.org/Public/GovernmentAffairs/17084.cfm

Post Office Box 9773, Washington DC 20016  | 301-891-2458 | info@cok.net

http://www.cok.net/lit/freerange.php

Categories: Uncategorized

Chick-fil-A: The Awful Truth

by Mickey Z

World News Trust (August 06 2012)

http://worldnewstrust.com/images/stories/2012/chicken-photo.jpg

If you don’t want to be beaten, imprisoned, mutilated, killed, or tortured then you shouldn’t condone such behavior towards anyone, be they human or not.

— Moby {1}

By now, you’ve surely heard that Dan T Cathy, president of an Atlanta-based fast food chain called Chick-fil-A, has publically declared his opposition to marriage equality. {2}

In just a few sentences, the Georgia-born Cathy reinforces a plantation’s worth of negative Southern stereotypes:

We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives … As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, “We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.

Mic Check: Homosexuality may not be a lifestyle choice, but homophobia sure is.

While some folks have scoffed at the mere idea of a fast food joint taking a stance on a social issue, such mockery ignores the fact that Dan T Cathy (estimated net worth of $1.2 billion) and Chick-fil-A have donated roughly $5 million {3} to organizations like the Family Research Council, which “champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society” and works to enforce the belief that “marriage is a union of one man and one woman”.

Translation: Money spent at Chick-fil-A funds such convictions and supports the inevitable discrimination and violence these convictions trigger.

Obviously, this situation needs to be addressed and the positive offshoot of Cathy’s public comments has been the wider exposure of connections that typically remain hidden. So, since this angle is already being discussed all across the interwebs, I’d like to instead focus on the urgent connections not being made during the current media frenzy.

I’m talking about the global reality that establishments like Chick-fil-A – by definition – have taken a loud and undeniable stance on topics like abuse, torture, climate change, deforestation, water pollution, habitat loss, species extinction, workplace injustice, epidemics of preventable diseases, corporate welfare, overfishing, poverty, starvation, and ecocide.

On each of these issues, Chick-fil-A offers nothing but complete support. Dan T Cathy’s fortune has been built on a foundation of unspeakable abuse: abuse of animals, abuse of workers in the animal industry, abuse of those who get sick from eating animals, abuse of taxpayers who fund all this, and abuse of the entire ecosystem.

Mic Check: If Dan T Cathy apologized for his marriage comments, it wouldn’t do anything to address any of this 24/7 earth-killing abuse.

Mic Check: If Dan T Cathy married a man on national TV, it wouldn’t do a damn thing to help the 23 million chickens killed in the US for food (sic) every single day.

That’s 269 dead chickens per second – brutally slaughtered after a short, nightmarish life imposed upon them by a taxpayer subsidized industry that is systematically destroying our landbase and threatening all life on earth.

Chick-fil-A: The hidden ingredients

This is Dan T. Cathy’s self-stated mission:

To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

On that note…

Inside the hatchery, each chicken is confined to about 48 to 86 square inches (310 to 555 square centimeters) of space and these cages are piled tier upon tier. Due to the severe crowding, layer hens are kept in semi-darkness. The stressed birds are de-beaked using hot irons (without anesthetics) to prevent them from pecking each other to death. The wire cages rub off their feathers and the mesh floor cripples their feet. Twenty percent of layer hens die of stress or disease.

“Today’s chickens are allowed no expression of their natural urges”, writes John Robbins, in Diet for a New America (1998) {4}. “They cannot walk around, scratch the ground, build a nest, or even stretch their wings. Every instinct is frustrated.”

Ninety percent of all commercially sold eggs come from chickens raised on factory farms and ninety percent of those birds are infected with chicken cancer (leukosis). Hens that survive see their egg production wane within two years and are promptly slaughtered.

Once at the slaughterhouse, as PETA details {5}, chickens

are dumped from their crates and hung upside down in shackles, further injuring their legs, which are already tender and often broken. Their throats are cut open by machines, and they are immersed in scalding-hot water for feather removal. They are often conscious throughout the entire process. Because hens’ bones are so brittle from egg production that the electric current would cause them to shatter, hens often are not even stunned before their throats are cut.

For those buying the “free range” myth, the good folks at Compassion Over Killing {6} explain:

The popular myth that “free-range” egg-laying hens enjoy fresh grass, bask in the sunlight, scratch the earth, sit on their nests, and engage in other natural habits is often just that: a myth. In many commercial ‘free-range egg farms, hens are crowded inside windowless sheds with little more than a single, narrow exit leading to an enclosure, too small to accommodate all of the birds at once. Both battery cage and “free-range” egg hatcheries kill all male chicks shortly after birth.

Artist Sue Coe {7} graphically detailed {8} what happens to those all those male chicks after her visit to a hatchery with Lorri Bauston from Farm Sanctuary:

Around the back is a large dumpster. Lorri and I climb up to look inside. She is looking for live baby chicks. The male baby chicks are discarded as soon as they are hatched. They have no use, no value, since they cannot lay eggs. And it would cost too much to euthanize them. So they are tossed into the dumpster alive. But it is too late for us to rescue any chicks – the sun is just too hot. On the top layer of corpses, flies are eating the chicks’ eyes. Lorri keeps digging under the corpses. There are layers upon layers, some chicks still half in the shells, having broken through with their beaks. I examine a chick, so perfect with its soft yellow down and tiny wings. The chicks are thrown in with other garbage: empty Coke cans, cigarette packs, computer printouts, samples of our throwaway society. Gene Bauston, cofounder of Farm Sanctuary, told me that sometimes the baby chicks are ground up alive and thrown on the fields as fertilizer. Walking along a plowed field, you can sometimes find a chick, still alive, with no legs or wings.

This is but a minuscule sampling of the immeasurable brutality visited upon chickens and if you choose to eat at Chick-fil-A, you are voting with your dollars to support it. You are also voluntarily damaging your own health.

The average American – in his/her lifetime – will consume 900 chickens. Coming along in the deal: cholesterol, saturated fats, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, arsenic (from chicken feed), drug-resistant bacteria, and the frighteningly bad karma of paying someone to torture and kill a beautiful, sentient being so you can eat it. Factor all this (and more) into the equation and you can begin comprehending why we are in the midst of a self-induced health holocaust.

Right about now, someone usually chimes in with something like this: “Yeah, yeah, I know all about that stuff but I’m free to make up my own mind. You eat what you want and I’ll eat what I want and we’ll stay out of each other’s business.”

The global animal food (sic) industry is the number one source of human-created greenhouse gases so, um … you better believe that people making choices that speed up climate change is my fuckin’ business.

Forests without trees, oceans without fish, species disappearing at the rate of nearly 200 per day – all of it, our business.

So yeah, of course you should be free to make up your own mind. All I’m suggesting is that you first choose to free your mind from decades of corporate conditioning {9}.

It’s not nearly enough to rise above the latest man-made conflicts and/or differences and proudly declare oneself a “humanist”. In the name of holistic justice and planetary rebellion, we must go deeper to identify as earthlings and stand – fists raised – in solidarity with all of our fellow earthlings.

Do Chick-fil-A and its president need to be called on their homophobia? Absolutely … but obviously, this action is not nearly enough. Not even close.

This isn’t about having an activist scorecard or priority list. It’s about thinking holistically. It’s about avoiding denial. It’s about preserving the future.

Marriage equality is undeniably important so if you wanna protest against Chick-fil-A, let’s do it – but without the single-issue approach.

Mic Check: All of our grievances are connected.

#Occupy for all species

As I’ve said over and over {10}, the correlation between animal rights and the Occupy movement {11} is clear. The corporate powers-that-be manipulate and twist our minds in the name of profit and they’re damn sure not gonna let animal abuse (or homophobia) get in their avaricious way.

The system being challenged by OWS {12} is built, in a major way, on the exploitation of non-human animals and the eco-system. It’s all connected within a culture constructed on the premise of unlimited growth {13} and it must all remain connected within a movement aiming for holistic justice {14}.

If you’re already working to dismantle corporate power, if you’re already working to expand freedoms, and you’re already working to create a safer, more sane culture, you already have plenty in common with animal rights activists {15}.

Why not take things even further and recognize that the mighty 99% also includes non-human animals – and the entire ecosystem itself?

Good first step: Boycott Chick-fil-A … in the name of justice for all species.

Way better first step: Go vegan {16}.

If you agree that all of our grievances are connected, our options are self-evident: Choose process over purity. Choose solidarity over single issues. Choose love over fear.

#Occupy for all forms of justice and for all species…

 

Notes:

{1} http://planetgreen.discovery.com/feature/instrumental/moby-miyunpark-vegan-interview.html

{2} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/us/gay-rights-uproar-over-chick-fil-a-widens.html

{3} http://www.owldolatrous.com/?p=288

{4} http://www.johnrobbins.info/other-books-by-john/diet-for-a-new-america/

{5} http://www.peta.org/issues/Animals-Used-for-Food/poultry-and-eggs-industries-that-abuse-chickens.aspx

{6} http://www.cok.net/lit/freerange.php

{7} http://www.graphicwitness.org/coe/coebio.htm

{8} http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9781568580418-1

{9} http://worldnewstrust.com/the-corporate-media-occupies-a-news-blackout-mickey-z

{10} http://www.fairsharecommonheritage.org/2012/02/15/corporate-power-vs-animal-rights-deoccupyaeta/

{11} http://occupywallst.org/

{12} http://www.facebook.com/OccupyWallSt

{13} http://www.fairsharecommonheritage.org/2011/10/12/occupy-reality-context-re-peaceful-protests-and-more

{14} http://www.fairsharecommonheritage.org/2011/10/09/occupy-imperfection-choosing-process-over-purity

{15} http://www.pressaction.com/news/weblog/full_article/mickeyz03172010/

{16} http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/fivevalues-vegan-diet.htm

_____

Mickey Z is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green (2011) . Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000612588462).

(c) WorldNewsTrust.com – Share and re-post this story. Please include this copyright notice and a link to World News Trust.

http://worldnewstrust.com/chick-fil-a-the-awful-truth-mickey-z

Categories: Uncategorized

Monsanto’s Minions in California

2012/08/27 2 comments

by  Alexis Baden-Mayer, Organic Consumers Association

Truthout (May 11 2012)

Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman with the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, says requiring labels on genetically engineered food would increase food prices. What she doesn’t say is that she’s being paid by the trade association that represents both the biotech behemoths like Monsanto that engineer the GMO crops and the food industry giants like PepsiCo that use ingredients made from these crops in their products. PepsiCo, Kraft, Kellogg’s and other top food processors market so-called “natural” protects at a premium that rivals what consumers pay for non-GMO and organic foods – even though these so-called “natural” foods contain unlabeled GMOs. The money these companies swindle from us as they trick us into paying top-dollar for GMO foods disguised as “natural” dwarfs the miniscule 0.01% of food costs attributable to GMO labels. Would it surprise you to learn that anti-right-to-know spokesperson Fairbanks has spent most of her career helping corrupt insurance companies increase premiums on vulnerable customers?

Maryann Marino, Southern California regional director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says GMO labels will make family farmers and small businesses vulnerable to lawsuits. Her organization is a state chapter of the American Tort Reform Association (funded by Monsanto) which thinks it’s okay for Monsanto to sue farmers in 143 different patent infringement lawsuits when their crops are unintentionally contaminated with Monsanto’s GMOs, but it isn’t okay for farmers to get together and bring one lawsuit against Monsanto to stop the harassment. Think they really care about family farmers or small businesses? Their only interests are protecting Monsanto’s market share and helping companies sneak Monsanto’s ingredients into their products without letting consumers know.

GMO Labels Will Not Significantly Increase Food Costs – And Could Even Lower Them

A 2002 Oregon State University study reviewed the true costs of actual laws requiring labels on genetically engineered food in other countries. According to the study, a law in the UK, like the one proposed for California, increased food spending by only 0.01%. The most any GMO labeling proposal was projected to cost was 1.8%. (This was from a Canadian study where, the authors note, the costs of segregating crops, changing processing procedures and changing the label were exaggerated and came only from expectations expressed by industry spokespersons.)

The 0.01% to 1.8% increase in the cost of labeling GMO foods must be put in perspective by looking at what companies already spend and consumers currently pay to avoid genetically engineered ingredients. A 2005 University of Delaware study showed that consumers would pay twenty to thirty percent more for non-GMO or organic. The so-called “natural” food industry has taken full advantage of consumer interest in avoiding GMOs and consumer ignorance in where those GMOs may be lurking. A review by the Cornucopia Institute of “natural”, non-GMO and organic cereals showed that so-called “natural” cereals that contained unlabeled GMOs were sometimes more expensive than real non-GMO and organic cereals.

Once GMOs are labeled, consumers will easily be able to substitute products that contain non-GMO cane sugar for products made with GMO sugar beet sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and change from vegetable oils made from GMO canola to non-GMO sunflower or olive oil. They’ll be able to eat more non-GMO wheat and rice and less GMO corn and soy. They can choose non-GMO fruits and vegetables and avoid the few that are GMO. Eating non-GMO won’t involve paying a premium, just making a choice between the foods that are genetically engineered and the ones that aren’t. Foods that are GMO won’t be able to be falsely labeled as “natural”.

The GMO Labeling Law is for PepsiCo Not Family Farmers or Small Businesses

The California Right to Know ballot measure language is very clear. It requires the labeling of foods that contain ingredients made from genetically engineered crops. Since each of these crops must be deregulated by the USDA on an individual basis, they are very easy to keep track of. Under the proposed law, foods with these genetically engineered ingredients cannot be labeled as “natural”. Food packers and processors have eighteen months to comply with the law. (This time frame was chosen because it is generally the period within which labels are routinely updated.) It is very unlikely that food packers and processors will have trouble complying.

Only food packers and processors will be effected. Farmers and grocers are not responsible for food labels. Farmers of crops that can be genetically engineered are already aware of what they’re growing. Genetically engineered seed is patented, branded and marketed as GMO. Food packers and processors may decide to seek non-GMO sources to avoid the law’s labeling requirements, and that may increase markets for farmers who grow non-GMO crops, but that is a different issue than simply complying with a new labeling requirement. As far as grocery stores go, unless they are knowingly complicit (for instance, in falsely labeling a store-brand product), they cannot be held responsible for the failure of a food packer or processor to follow the law.

If PepsiCo continues to sell unlabeled genetically engineered food in California once this law is passed, we’ll definitely sue them (we’d rather see them comply), but this law creates no incentive to go after small businesses.

Look Who’s Spreading Monsanto’s Lies

Fresh from fights on behalf of the tobacco companies and big oil, Tom Hiltachk is now Monsanto’s man in California. Hiltachk, a partner at the Sacramento-based lobbying firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, has formed a front group, the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition (CACFLP), to fight the November 2012 California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods.

In early March, CACFLP revealed its first two contributions. Both came from Washington, DC-based industry groups, including $375,000 from the Council for Biotechnology Information, whose members include the engineers of GMO seed, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, and $250,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (“GMA”), whose members also include Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, as well as the largest food processors, many of whom are currently cheating consumers by marketing high-priced so-called “natural” products that contain unlabeled GMO ingredients. For example, PepsiCo, the country’s largest food processor and a board member of the GMA, markets many foods that contain GMO ingredients as “natural”, including several under the brand Frito-Lay.

Monsanto made the following statement in support of CACFLP:

“Monsanto is part of a growing coalition of California farmers, food producers, grocers, retailers, and others which has been formed to oppose the California measure. As a member of both GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) and BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization), we support the organizations’ involvement in the California campaign to oppose the costly and extreme measure.”

Kathy Fairbanks is CACFLP’s spokeswoman. She has a long history of representing corporations against the public interest, as a PR flack for the California Chamber of Commerce and corrupt auto insurance industry billionaires.

Tom Hiltachk has used his ties to Big Tobacco to enlist another industry-backed front group in the fight against our right to know: California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA). CALA’s Maryann Marino is acting as a spokesperson for the anti-labeling side, doing her best to misinform and confuse the more than ninety percent of voters who want genetically engineered foods labeled.

Read on to learn more about Tom Hiltachk, Kathy Fairbanks and CALA, Monsanto’s minions in California.

Tom Hiltachk

So, what do we know about Monsanto’s hired gun, Tom Hiltachk? Few have kind words for this “million dollar consultant”. He was badmouthed by Ted Costa, a veteran right-wing activist behind many conservative initiatives and head of the group People’s Advocate. Initially allies in the Proposition 23 effort to repeal California’s clean energy and climate laws, Costa soured on Hiltachk when he realized that his main motivation was to funnel the $50 million that he hoped would be raised from oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce to himself and his friends. Read more at ThinkProgress.org {1}.

Kathy Fairbanks

Kathy Fairbanks has a long history of representing corporations against the public interest. A few of her past public relations gigs include:

The California Chamber of Commerce – Causes Fairbanks stumped for at the Chamber include urging Governor Davis to veto bills to: limit the expansion of Big Box stores; bar businesses from using revenues from state contracts for anti-union activities; require a “Buy America” and “Buy California” preference in state contracts; and increase workers compensation benefits. At that time (1999), the Chamber was spending $2.4 million a session on lobbying. In opposing a bill to allow employees to use up to half of their annual sick leave to stay home and care for ill family members, Fairbanks warned that if the bill was signed by the governor, “some employers may decide to cut back or drop those benefits altogether”.

Steve Poizner’s Campaign for State Insurance Commissioner – Fairbanks was the spokeswoman for a campaign fund controlled by Steve Poizner, a wealthy Silicon Valley Republican running for state insurance commissioner, in 2005, when it had to return $1.75 million in illegal donations made by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his campaign committee.

Californians to Stop Unfair Rate Increases – Fairbanks was the spokesperson for this front group for the insurance industry in 2006 when it was accused by State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi of trying to blackmail and bribe him by threatening to run a $2 million ad campaign against him in his bid for lieutenant governor if he didn’t drop his pending auto insurance regulations.

No on 82 (2006 – Los Angeles) – Fairbanks helped defeat Proposition 82 which would have provided credentialed teachers to 150,000 four-year-olds living in the city, funded through tax increases on individuals earning more than $400,000 a year, and on couples making more than $800,000 a year.

No on Proposition 7 (2008) – Fairbanks was the spokesperson for opposition to a California ballot measure to require half the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates – C-FAIR, another insurance industry front-group, was set up by billionaire Mercury insurance executive George Joseph to launch a California ballot initiative to raise rates on those who have gone without coverage – despite a voter-approved law banning the practice. Fairbanks’ work on the 2010 ballot initiative was investigated in a San Francisco Bay Guardian piece called “Buying Power: How PG&E and Mercury Insurance Are Spending Millions to Try to Trick Californians into Voting for Corporate Interests”, and a San Diego Union Tribune article, “Insurer Veils Its Funding of Measure: Literature for Proposition 17 Omits Mercury’s Millions”. During the initiative battle, the state Department of Insurance accused Mercury of illegal practices, including unfairly denying coverage and charging discriminatory rates to motorists who were not at fault in accidents, were members of the armed forces or worked in certain professions. It found Mercury had a “lengthy history of serious misconduct” and an attitude of “contempt toward and/or abuse of its customers, the [insurance] commissioner, its competition and the Superior Court”. Mercury paid $300,000 to settle the allegations.

CALA

CALA is a “grassroots” group created by corporations to support changes to the legal system to make it harder to bring lawsuits for injuries and illnesses caused by hazardous products.

CALA is part of a national, corporate-backed network of front groups coordinated by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) which receives substantial financial and strategic assistance from the tobacco industry and America’s biggest corporations, including Philip Morris, Dow Chemical (currently seeking approval for Agent Orange Corn), Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico and Nationwide.

ATRA now keeps its membership secret, but according to a 1993 American University Law Review article by PR Sugarman, “As of January 1989, the General Membership and Steering Committee of ATRA included hundreds of trade associations and corporations, including such representative organizations as Allstate Insurance, American Trucking Association, Chemical Manufacturers Association, E I DuPont de Nemours & Company, Exxon Company, USA, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Monsanto Chemical Company, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, National Association of Manufacturers, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, Procter & Gamble Company, RJR/Nabisco, Inc, and Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association”.

According to “Justice For Sale: Shortchanging the Public Interest for Private Gain”, a 1993 report by the Alliance for Justice, “The ATRA is made up of corporation trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association – thus giving corporations a decoy and accomplice group two full steps removed from their board rooms”.

In 2008, the last time they made any of their members public, a list of “sample members” included Kraft Foods Inc, the third largest packaged food company in the US. Kraft opposes GMO labels, but defends its use of GMOs.

In return for Monsanto’s support, ATRA has been a relentless cheerleader for the company’s lawlessness.

ATRA applauded Monsanto for skirting plaintiffs’ claims for medical monitoring after Monsanto was found to have been knowingly polluting the small town of Anniston, Alabama, with dangerous levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). (The residents surrounding the Monsanto plant were predominantly minorities. The first lawsuit, brought in state court, went to trial and the jury found Monsanto guilty of a variety of torts, including negligence, nuisance and trespass. This case was eventually folded into a similar federal case, concluding in a global settlement fining Monsanto 700 million dollars for its egregious behavior toward the Anniston residents.)

ATRA’s publication, Judicial Hellholes, in a post titled, “Food Eaters 1, Uncompetitive Organics Industry 0”, calls atrazine, the infamous endocrine disrupting pesticide, “a safe and widely used weed killer”, and characterized the non-GMO farmers’ lawsuit against Monsanto to stop the company from pursuing patent infringement claims when their crops are contaminated with engineered DNA, this way:

Why, if one were to ingest too many organic soybeans, one might deliriously imagine a conspiracy of trial lawyers, self-proclaimed consumer advocates and failing organic farmers trying desperately (and transparently) to raise the costs of more conventional farming by any means necessary – including wave after wave of meritless lawsuits, all designed to make relatively high-priced organic food products more competitive in the marketplace.

This one lawsuit bothers ATRA, but it has no problem with Monsanto, which, by its own admission, has “filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States”?!

Read more about California CALA’s initial funding, in this report by the Center for Justice & Democracy and Public Citizen from 2000 {2}.

Monsanto has funded numerous front groups, including the American Council on Science & Health, American Tort Reform Association, Compliance Management and Policy Group, Council for Agricultural Science & Technology, FoodWatch, the National Institute for Chemical Studies, and the Pacific Legal Foundation. Reporters should be skeptical of spokespersons with ties to these groups who claim to represent farmers and small business owners.

Links:

{1} http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/07/27/206482/smelling-a-chance-to-burn-oil-money-tobacco-lobbyists-orchestrate-effort-to-repeal-ca-clean-energy-law/

{2} http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=481

The original version of this article contains numerous additional URLs not included here.
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This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is the Political Director of the Organic Consumers Fund.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/9060-monsantos-minions-in-california/

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