Corruption, Federal Farm Subsidies and the False Economy of Cheap Processed Food

Food Fight: How Corporations Ruined Food

Real Stories (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the rise of the organic/local food movement in the late sixties and early seventies and the ongoing battle to end a corrupt federal food subsidy program. The latter plays a major role in the US epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

The film depicts the organic food movement as arising out of a 1960s hippy counterculture that viewed America’s growing system of industrial agriculture as intimately linked to the military industrial complex waging the war in Vietnam.*

Ironically the organic food movement began to take off just has the Nixon administration was repealing New Deal agricultural subsidies that supported small family farms and redirecting USDA subsidies to corporations producing the cheap commodities used in processed foods, such as corn, wheat and soy.

The activists interviewed decry the federal emphasis on cheap food as a false economy – we will never save enough to cover skyrocketing medical costs related to processed food diets.

Despite the rapid growth of small organic farms across the US, food activists face an uphill battle without major changes to the USDA farm subsidy program which makes cheap processed food the only affordable option for many low income families.

The high level of corporate-financed corruption becomes clear as the film follows Representative Ron Kind’s efforts to get his Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment added to 2016 Farm Bill.


*Monsanto and Dow, the corporations producing Agent Orange and Napalm also produce the toxic pesticides and herbicides used in industrial agriculture.

 

Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

Robbing From Nature and People to Produce Profit

 

Eco Social Justice on the Global Frontlines

Vendana Shiva (2017)

The following is a compelling Earth Day presentation by Indian activist Vendana Shiva linking ecocide and genocide to the brutal “free market” drive to rob from nature and people to produce profit.  This wide ranging talk combines a unique perspective on the violent British colonization of both India and North America, the more recent role of major chemical and food companies (eg Dow, Dupont and Monsanto) in imposing free trade treaties such as GATT and the TPP, and the growing anti-corporate resistance movement in India and elsewhere.

Vendana begins by describing an agricultural conference she attended in 1987, at which the major chemical manufacturers laid out plans to increase their profits by introducing GMO seeds and lobbying for laws and treaties that would prohibit seed saving by farmers. She goes on to talk about Navdanya, the nonprofit organization she founded in 1984 to resist the so-called “Green Revolution” that imposed industrial farming on Indian farmers. In promoting seed saving and other traditional organic farming methods, Navdanya was influenced by Gandhi’s use of sustainable self-reliance as a weapon against colonialism.

At the 1987 conference, the chemical companies bragged the entire world would be growing GMO crops by 2000. Thanks to strong global citizens movements, this never happened. Ninety percent of the world’s food is GMO-free, thanks to wholesale rejection of this technology in Europe, Africa and Asia. Likewise only 30% of the world’s food production is industrialized.

Vendana maintains the primary purpose of industrial farming isn’t to produce food but to increase profit. Due to the massive energy input it requires, factory farming is an extremely inefficient method of food production. Traditional farms producing a diversity of crops will always provide more nutritional output than an industrial farm producing a single monoculture crop.

She blames the forced introduction of industrial farming for India’s high level of malnutrition – 1/4 of the general population and 1/2 of Indian children lack adequate nutrients in their diet.


*GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 (under President Bill Clinto)n.

NZ’s Dioxin Legacy: Lies and Cover-up

dioxin

The the long battle to get the New Zealand government to acknowledge the major health problems of dioxin-exposed New Plymouth residents (see my last post) first began in 1973. Instead of attempting to understand and address residents’ health problems, the New Zealand government, an Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) partner though share holdings and subsidies, became the first clients of New Zealand’s first public relations firm (Consultus).

Records show that Consultus was first hired to ensure the ongoing availability and use of 2,4,5-T. A 1981 case study from the international journal PR News – about Consultus’ first PR campaign – is entitled  Countering an Activist Campaign to Have a Product Banned from Use. This “media management” response seems to be very typical of New Zealand’s approach to toxic waste management. In the words of one IWD survivor, the goal is to “delay and deny until we die.”

In the mid to late nineties, local activist Andrew Gibbs helped found a new research group, the Paritutu Dioxin Investigation Network. When his de facto partner, a long term resident of Paritutu (the suburb closest to IWD) developed chronic fatigue syndrome and unexplained anemia, her family and friends informed him of the reproductive and immune problems other Paritutu families were experiencing.

Gibbs, alarmed by 1985 Paritutu studies showing dioxin residues comparable to Vietnamese regions sprayed with Agent Orange, tried to get the government to do blood tests on his partner and other Paritutu residents. It would turn out that both National and Labour governments were far more interested in managing public opinion about dioxin.

The Government Gives in to Grassroots Pressure

In 2001, Minister of Health Annette King finally agreed to test the serum levels of 100 Paritutu survivors. When many were found to have elevated dioxin levels, the Labour-led government responded by setting up a Ministry of Health unit to manage “financial risks” related to potential government liability.

Spin, Cover-up, and Statistical Manipulation

They subsequently commissioned a 2004-2005 study by Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) to “analyze” Taranaki District Health Board cancer and birth defect records. The researchers subjected the data to some bizarre statistical manipulations to produce the conclusion the government was looking for, i.e. that high rates of cancer and birth defects in Paritutu and Motorua households were unrelated to dioxin exposure.

For example, they deliberately re-targeted the study design to focus on residents living in Paritutu between 1974-87, who were known to have lower exposure levels based production changes between 1969 and 1973 that reduced dioxin contamination. They also altered 2005 data to make it appear that ongoing exposure occurred between 1974-87, as well as using inaccurate half-life figures to skew pre-1974 results. Finally they excluded high rates of diagnosed cancer between 1970-74 as being too close to the period of toxic exposure, which they misrepresented as occurring between 1962-87, when it actually occurred between 1960-73. See (*) below for actual data.

When these statistical manipulations were challenged in a 2006 TV3 documentary entitled “Let us Spray,” the government and their risk management unit dismissed the bulk of the alleged misrepresentations and blamed others on “typographical” errors.

New Zealand health officials also repeatedly ignored recommendations by ESR and the local ethics review board that they undertake a geo-spatial study of families with elevated dioxin levels. Gibbs eventually undertook his own study of all residents living within 500 meters of Ivon Watkins Dow between 1963-66. He achieved his primary goal – proving that a historical cohort could be identified – at a total cost of $1000. This was in contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars the New Zealand government had paid Consultus, ESR, their “financial risk” management unit.

The Government Compromise: Free Health Checks

Gibbs continues to fight to get Dow and the New Zealand government to acknowledge the health problems of Paritutu and Motorua residents who worked at or lived adjacent to IWD prior to 1969. In 2008, the government finally granted Paritutu survivors three free health checks (primary care isn’t covered under New Zealand’s National Health Service).

Gibbs dismisses the government move as a PR ploy. Mainly because it circumvents the issue of intergenerational effects (i.e. birth defects in subsequent generations). A 2006 study showed that New Zealand veterans and their offspring suffered DNA damage as a result of dioxin (Agent Orange) exposure in Vietnam.

The Cover-up that Cost More Than the Truth

The question yet to be answered is why the New Zealand government was so determined to cover all this up. Why spend millions of dollars on PR consultants, a “financial risk” management unit, flawed research and a vexatious Broadcast Standards Authority (BSA) complaint – when it would have cost far less to treat the health problems of 500 New Plymouth households.

Gibbs believes an official government admission of dioxin-related health problems would open them to liability – both from New Zealand veterans and Vietnamese civilians exposed to Agent Orange. Because the New Zealand government was a shareholder, as well as subsidizing 2,4,5-T production from 1969 on, they are co-liable with IWD.

***

*A look at the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) 2002 data reveals a large increase in neural tube birth defects in Moturoa and Paritutu residents between 1965 and 1972. It also reveals that New Plymouth rates of hydrocephaly, hypospadias, spina bifida and anencephaly recorded at New Plymouth Maternity Hospital between 1965 and 1971 were respectively 3.2 times, 3.8 times, 4.2 times and 9.7 times the crude rates found in offspring of US Vietnam veterans:

“The 1966-1972 rate of still-births was 1 in 7 versus the expected N.Z rate of 1.1 still-birth in 100 births. The 1966-72 rate of linked NTD (neural tube development) defects was 1 in 10.5 vs the N.Z range of 1 NTD in 222 to 1 NTD in 400. The 1966-72 rate of birth defect cases was *1 in 7 versus the N.Z expected rate of 1 case in 50 births  This conservative rate is based on the 2002 TDHB review of addresses for only 17 of 167 birth defect cases 1965-70 so does not include the other 150 defects or three defects reported by Zone A mothers.” (from link and PDF).

The TDHB data also reveals a significant increase in 1976-85 cancer rates living within 500 meters of IWD in 1963-1966:

“From a Study of 165 Paritutu Zone A 1963-1966 residents living within a 500 metres of Ivon Watkins Building 03 plant:

“1976-85 rate of 0-64 year age group cancer mortality was 4.5 times expected. Five deaths where 1.1 was expected based on mean of 1976 and 1985 NZ census rates. Four of the 5 deaths were in 1981 and 1982. Two in five NZ 1976-85 cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. All five Zone A cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. Two 1981 cancer deaths were parents aged 35 and 48 of 1969 and 1970 miscarriage and still-birth cases. There were 13 deaths 1976-85 for Zone A 1963-66 residents with 13.4 all cause deaths expected, 5 were cancer deaths with 2.9 expected and there were 3 lung cancer mortalities where less than 1 was expected (link).”

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

photo credit: pixiduc via photopin cc

New Zealand’s Love Canal

ivon watkins dow

(Note: this post should be of particular concern to Americans, as Dow is trying to get the USDA to approve a dioxin-related toxin, 2,4-D, as a weedkiller)

“I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of establishing the world headquarters of the Dow company on truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no nation or society.” Dow chairman Carl Gerstacker 1972 (Exporting Environmentalism).

It’s fairly common for the US and other European countries to ask New Zealand, owing to our lax environmental regulations, to manufacture and or test hazardous substances that are too controversial in their own countries. The issue is of special concern to me as a New Plymouth resident. I have numerous friends and former patients who have had their health and lives ruined by the government’s refusal to oversee or regulate the activities of Dow AgroSciences (formerly known as Ivon Watkins Dow).*

IWD produced extremely hazardous dioxin-related compounds between 1948 and 1987. After World War II, chlorinated hydrocarbons (aka organochlorines), such as 2,3,7,8 TCDD (dioxin), 2,4,5-T and 2,4 D  were developed as herbicides (weed killers). Dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, was extensively sprayed during the Vietnam War to expose guerrilla positions by defoliating the jungles. The damaging health effects of these compounds were noted in many returning GIs and Vietnamese civilians and their children and grandchildren.

As early as 1957, the New Zealand Royal Society cautioned that these toxins needed to be thoroughly investigated, owing to the potential hazard they posed to human health. The warning went unheeded. In the 1950s and 1960s, New Zealanders experienced the highest per capita exposure to DDT and related pesticides and 2,4,5-T. This appears to be a major culprit in the doubling of New Zealand’s cancer rate between 1960 and 2012 – and the halving of Kiwi sperm counts between 1987 and 2007. This drop is the most dramatic in the developed world. Neither Australia nor the US have experienced a comparable decline in sperm counts.

All kinds of alarm bells should have been going off, given the staggering increase in birth defects in families downwind of IWD. Between 1965-1971, one out of thirty newborns at New Plymouth’s Maternity Hospital had birth defects. These included a strikingly high proportion of the neural tube defects commonly associated with dioxin exposure, such as anencephaly (the absence of a brain), hydrocephalus and spina bifida.

Cancer, Infertility and Toxic Breast Milk

Meanwhile New Zealand’s overall birth defect rate was one of the highest in the world. During the 60s and 70s, everyone ingesting New Zealand meat and dairy products accumulated substantial blood and fatty tissue concentrations of dioxin, owing to the massive amount of 2,4,5-T Kiwi farmers used to clear gorse and scrub. In 1961, the US banned New Zealand beef exports, owing to excessive residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, and BHC.

Even more alarming, a 1972-73 study of Dunedin infants published in the Lancet revealed that breast milk (which also accumulates dioxin) was less healthy than formula. In a survey of 1000 children, those breastfed four weeks or longer were twice as likely to suffer from allergies or asthma in later childhood.

The US Bans 2,4,5-T

In 1969, IWD upgraded their 2,4,5-T plant’s “rudimentary” emission controls to reduce dioxin levels in their air emissions and the herbicide they produced. From 1973 on, after the US banned 2,4,5-T in all food crops except rice, the NZ government required IWD to treat their herbicide with a solvent that reduced dioxin levels even further.  Both national and regional agencies were charged with monitoring the dioxin content of IWD’s incinerator emissions. However according to available records, monitoring was limited and sporadic.

Cancer Rates Climb

Meanwhile overseas studies continued to link dioxin exposure to many of the same health problems New Plymouth residents were describing. In addition to birth defects, miscarriages, crib deaths and chronic childhood illnesses, downwind families were experiencing unprecedented levels of brain and spinal tumors, sarcomas, lymphomas, prostate and respiratory cancers and multiple sclerosis, as well as neurodevelopmental (mainly autism, Asperger’s disorder, mental retardation and ADHD) problems in their kids

IWD Shuts Down Dioxin Production in 1987

Finally in 1987, in response to massive local pressure and scores of studies documenting dioxin-related health problems, Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) shut down all 2,4,5-T production. It’s of note this occurred without Dow or the New Zealand government acknowledging any negative health effects from dioxin exposure. Former IWD employees and residents in close proximity to IWD were left with a legacy of chronic health problems – and nowhere to turn for help.

*While Ivon Watkins (incorporated in 1944) prided itself on research and development geared towards New Zealand conditions, several major international chemical firms had substantial financial interest in the company including Monsanto (USA), the American Chemical Paint Company (USA), Geigy (Switzerland), Cela (Germany) and the Union Carbide Corporation (USA). Solidifying such connections, the company became Ivon Watkins-Dow Ltd (IWD) in 1964 after Dow Chemicals USA bought a 50% interest (Sewell 1978 – see http://www.dioxinnz.com/pdf-NZ-RAD/RAD-Thesis-BWC.pdf).

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

To be continued.

photo credit: PhillipC via photopin cc