Rachel's Democracy & Health News #855
Thursday, May 18, 2006
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #855 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
May 18, 2006
[Rachel's introduction: Eight public interest groups are forcing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to confront the reality that nanotechnology creates products that may be useful but may also be quite dangerous. Up to now, the FDA has kept its head in the sand on this issue, pretending there's no problem. Time for a major showdown.]
By Tim Montague
Just in time for summer, a group of eight environmental and public interest groups have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall nanotech sunscreens from supermarket shelves. This will force FDA to finally decide whether nano particles are something radically new or not.
Nano particles are named for their small size (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter), and nano particles are smaller than anything humans have ever put into commercial products before. Their tiny size changes their characteristics completely. If they didn't represent something new, they wouldn't have the commercial world excited. At present something like a goldrush mentality surrounds nanotech.
Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the International Center for Technology Assessment on May 17 demanded of FDA "that nanoparticles be treated as new substances; nanomaterials be subjected to nano-specific paradigms of health and safety testing; and that nanomaterial products be labeled to delineate all nanoparticle ingredients." In other words, they are asking the FDA to wake up to the consensus of respected scientific bodies like the British Royal Society who concluded in their 2004 report that nano particles are different from anything humans have ever created before and that we need to take a precautionary approach.
The petition to FDA says, "Engineered nanoparticles have fundamentally different properties from their bulk material counterparts -- properties that also create unique human health and environmental risks -- which necessitate new health and safety testing paradigms." And this is confirmed by scientists like Gunter Oberdorster who has written text books on the subject and a recent review of 'nanotoxicology'. Until now, FDA (like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have remained oblivious to all nanotech health risks. Their position is that carbon is carbon regardless of the size of its particles, zinc is zinc, and titanium is titanium. Size does not matter, says FDA.
But every physicist knows that size matters a great deal. The smaller an object is, the larger its surface is in relation to its volume. Thus nano particles have an enormous surface to volume ratio, which renders them biologically active. Oberdorster says, "This increased biologic activity can be either positive and desirable (e.g., antioxidant activity, carrier capacity for therapeutics, penetration of cellular barriers for drug delivery) or negative and undesirable (e.g., toxicity, induction of oxidative stress or of cellular dysfunction), or a mix of both."
Now public interest organizations are asking the FDA to "Declare all currently available sunscreen drug products containing engineered nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as an imminent hazard to public health." The petition (2.8 MB) and a related report (4 MB) by Friends of the Earth (FOE) expose the dark underbelly of the health and beauty industry that has joined the nanotech gold rush without much thought for the short or long term consequences to nature or human health. But how could they? The structure of the modern corporation doesn't allow for ethical perspectives or precautionary action if they might significantly limit the bottom line.
Next time you (or your kids) want to slather up with your favorite sunblock, remember that the active ingredient in the sunscreen -- typically zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide -- could very well be a nanomaterial. There are now hundreds of sunscreens, moisturizers, cosmetics and other personal care products containing sub-microscopic materials that we simply don't understand. And because the FDA doesn't require labeling, consumers are left in the dark -- a vast experiment with only one winner, and that isn't you or me.
We aren't talking about the same zinc oxide that you knew as a youth on lifeguard's noses. Nanoscale engineered materials (smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter -- iron, aluminum, zinc, carbon, and many others) are measured in billionths of a meter. A human hair is 80,000 nanometers wide. A strand of DNA is 3.5 nm across. The nanoworld is quite a different place -- a world where particles can pass directly from the environment into your bloodstream, tissues, cells and organelles. The nano revolution has burst upon us for just that reason -- nanomaterials take on new and unique properties that make them attractive as drug delivery vehicles, chemical sponges and nano-robot ("nanobot") building blocks.
There are three typical ways in which nanomaterials get into our bodies -- we breath them, ingest them or absorb them through our skin. And despite the evidence that nanomaterials cause lung, liver and brain damage in animals, our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is treating nanomaterials like their standard or bulk sized counterparts of yesteryear.
In March, 2006, Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) summarized the state of regulatory affairs for nanotechnology thus: "The Toxic Substances Control Act is the most obvious law for regulating nanomaterials. But the law does not require manufacturers to provide safety data before registering a chemical, instead placing the burden on the government to demonstrate that a substance is harmful. If the government does not follow up on potential risks with a new product application within several months, the company can proceed to sell its product. Other laws on the books also are inadequate. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act [giving FDA regulatory power] includes only feeble safeguards for cosmetics, which already promise to be a major use of nanomaterials. Likewise, the poorly enforced Occupational Safety and Health Act fails to address nano- specific worker protections."
As we reported in Rachel's #816, the British Royal Society (approximately the equivalent of our National Academy of Sciences) issued a report in July 2004 recommending a series of precautionary actions based on their review of the scientific literature on the possible health effects of nanomaterials:
** "The evidence we have reviewed suggests that some manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes are likely to be more toxic per unit mass than particles of the same chemicals at larger size and will therefore present a greater hazard."
** "There is virtually no evidence available to allow the potential environmental impacts of nanoparticles and nanotubes to be evaluated."
** Therefore, "the release of nanoparticles to the environment [should be] minimized until these uncertainties are reduced."
** And, "until there is evidence to the contrary, factories and research laboratories should treat manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes as if they were hazardous and seek to reduce them as far as possible from waste streams."
At the heart of the health and safety concerns is the tendency for nanoparticles like fullerenes, nanotubes, and nanoparticle metal oxides to produce free radicals -- charged atoms that are highly reactive and which can cause oxidative stress, inflammation, and subsequent damage to cells and tissue. A recent study by Duke University found that fullerenes (Buckyballs) cause brain damage in large mouth bass.
The FOE report says "Because of their size, nanoparticles are more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles and are able to cross biological membranes and access cells, tissues and organs that larger sized particles normally cannot." Once in the blood stream, nanomaterials can affect all of the organs and tissues of the body including the bone marrow, heart, lungs, brain, liver, spleen and kidneys. But little is known about what dose may cause harmful effects or how long different nanomaterials remain in various tissues.
It is known that nanoparticles can inhibit the growth of and kill kidney cells. At the cellular level, unlike larger particles, nanomaterials can pass into organelles like the mitochondria -- the power plant of the cell -- and cell nucleus where they can cause DNA mutation and cell death.[1 p. 7]
Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide -- widely used in sunscreens and cosmetics -- are photo active, "producing free radicals and causing DNA damage to human skin cells when exposed to UV light."[1 p.7] Although there is conflicting data on just how much nanoparticles can actually penetrate human skin and enter our blood, there is no doubt that what we put on our skin will end up in our air, food, and water. A recent report in Environmental Science & Technology found fish throughout Europe are contaminated with UV- filter-chemicals -- from sunscreen -- (4-methylbenzylidene camphor or 4-MBC; and octocrylene or OC) which are known hormone disruptors. What we rub on our bodies washes into the lakes and rivers, and then gets into the food chain.
Even nanotech industry professionals themselves are skeptical about the safety of these materials. Speaking about the incorporation of fullerenes into skin-care products, Professor Robert Curl Jr. -- who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-discovery of fullerenes -- expressed concern: "I would take the conservative path of avoiding using such cosmetics while withholding judgment on the actual merits or demerits of their use."
And when a scientist at an international nanotoxicology meeting asked 200 of her colleagues whether they would feel comfortable using face cream that contained fullerenes, fewer than ten indicated that they would.[1 p.8]
The scientists who specialize in nano materials don't trust the stuff, yet thousands of workers and consumers are being exposed every day in the manufacture, transport and application of skin care and many other products from tires to computer hard drives and skis.
There is very little known about current levels of workplace exposure. The US National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015 2 million workers worldwide will be directly employed in nanotechnology industries. This means the total number of exposed workers will certainly be much larger.[1 p. 10]
While the evidence continues to pile up that nanomaterials pose significant health risks to consumers and workers, the federal bureaucracy turns a blind eye concerned mostly with fostering economic growth at all cost. Of the "$1.3 billion budget for the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, only $38.5 million (less than 4%) was earmarked for the study of the health, safety and environmental impacts of nanotechnology. Conversely, the US Department of Defense received $436 million (33.5% of the nanotechnology budget)." We are spending more than ten times as much on nanotech warfare technology as we are investing on basic health and safety research.
By their nature, corporations cannot regulate themselves -- by law they are only allowed to do one thing: return a decent profit to investors using every legal means available. But judging from the chemical, nuclear and biotechnology industries, government is not up to the task of regulating corporations to protect human health. So, while our tax dollars are doing relatively little to bring health and safety research into the public domain, corporations are ploughing forward, constrained only by consumer tastes and trends. We don't want a visible white paste on our bodies (nanomaterials help the sunscreen disappear fast), therefore we must want nanotech.
Now public health advocates are calling for a "moratorium on the commercialization of nanoproducts until the necessary safety research has been conducted." And they specifically call on a precautionary approach which shifts the burden of proof onto industry to demonstrate product safety, calls for product labeling and transparent peer- reviewed health and safety studies that become part of the public domain.
In March 2006 the EPA issued 'voluntary' reporting guidelines (you've heard this one before) which give no incentive to industry to invest in product safety research much less reveal what little they may actually know about the health effects of their nano-products. Time and time again -- remember tobacco, asbestos, and lead? -- the profit motive will always drive corporations to release products into the market (our air, food, water and soil) even if they know the product is dangerous to human health and the environment.
As reported in Rachel's #816, the insurance industry is deeply concerned about the environmental and health effects of these largely untested technologies. They understand that nanomaterials could be the next asbestos liability debacle. It would be interesting to see a full cost accounting (see Rachel's #765) of the potential benefits and costs not only to industry but to the public that currently shoulders the burden of proof with their tax dollars, endangered health and degraded environment.
As the pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated -- operating within a precautionary framework -- a better safe than sorry approach can work for investors and consumers alike. Big pharma has been hugely succesful under a system that demands precautionary pre-market testing -- so successful that it's now under constant attack for using its financial influence to corrupt the regulatory system. When industry and the current regulatory agencies tell us they fear a precautionary approach will 'stifle innovation', they really don't have a leg to stand on.
In the meantime, I'll be heading for the fantasy nano-free section of my supermarket for some non-nano sunscreen.
 Nanomaterials, sunscreens and cosmetics: small ingredients big risks. Friends of the Earth, Washington, D.C. May 17, 2006 available here and at www.foe.org
From: Tikkun .............................................[This story printer-friendly]
May 17, 2006
HOWARD ZINN ON FIXING WHAT'S WRONG
[Rachel's introduction: "People think there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones -- protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience -- but there is no magical panacea, only persistence."]
By Shelly R. Fredman
When I arrived at Boston University in 1978, it was like showing up at a party after all the guests had gone home. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests were over, and everyone around me was studying business and honing their resumes. The Sixties had died. All the activists were gone.
Except for Howard Zinn. You could sign up for Zinn's classes, "Marxism" and "Anarchism," and there, every Tuesday and Thursday, you could hear the stories no one else would tell you: Columbus's arrival on these shores from the Arawak Indian's point of view, Emma Goldman's message to the unemployed in Union Square, black students in Greensboro, NC, who one day sat down at the Woolworth's counter where only whites could eat.
Now, some twenty years later, in the wake of Katrina, mired in Bush's reckless reign and the ever-escalating death toll in Iraq, it seemed a good time to revisit Zinn.
Best known for A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn has been a professor, radical historian, social activist, and intellectual leader of the Left for forty years. In over twenty books, he has devoted himself to connecting America's past with its present, providing a frame for left-wing activism and politics. Praised by academics and lay readers alike, Zinn feels more at home on the streets than in the ivory tower.
Zinn's message of hope is unflinching, and he is busier than ever. He has written a play, "Marx in Soho," is producing a People's History of the United States television series, and his new book, Original Zinn, will be released in July.
He seems to have stashed De Leon's fountain of youth in his back pocket. Though we are seated at a small table drinking coffee, occasionally he still moves his large hands through the air, as he did in class, underscoring the urgency of his words. And at the end of his most radical sentences, a wry smile lights up his eyes, as if he's imagining the glorious trouble we the people can, and will, make.
Shelly R. Fredman: I'd like to start by asking you about Michael Lerner's new book, The Left Hand of God. In it, Lerner says that, post 9/11, a paradigm of fear has gripped our culture and been used to manipulate the public into supporting politicians who are more militaristic. How would you characterize the post-9/11 world?
Howard Zinn: Michael Lerner is certainly right about how fear has been used since 9/11 to push the public into support of war. "Terrorism" is used the way "communism" was used all through the Cold War, the result being the deaths of millions and a nuclear arms race which wasted trillions of dollars that could have been used to create a truly good society for all.
SF: Lerner also claims that the parts of our cultural heritage that embody elements of hope are dismissed as naive, with little to teach us. You must have had your own bouts with critics who see your vision as naive. How do you address them?
HZ: It's true that any talk of hope is dismissed as naive, but that's because we tend to look at the surface of things at any given time. And the surface almost always looks grim. The charge of naivete also comes from a loss of historical perspective. History shows that what is considered naive in one decade becomes reality in another.
How much hope was there for black people in the South in the fifties? At the start of the Vietnam War, anyone who thought the monster war machine could be stopped seemed naive. When I was in South Africa in 1982, and apartheid was fully entrenched, it seemed naive to think that it would be dissolved and even more naive to think that Mandela would become president. But in all those cases, anyone looking under the surface would have seen currents of potential change bubbling and growing.
SF: Has the Left responded adequately to the kind of fascism we see coming from Bush's people? Street protests seem to be ineffective; it's sometimes disheartening.
HZ: The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones -- protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience -- but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time.
If you listen to the media, you get no sense of what's happening. I speak to groups of people in different parts of the country. I was in Austin, Texas recently and a thousand people showed up. I believe people are basically decent, they just lack information.
SF: You have been outspoken against the war in Iraq. Despite all the chaos we've heard may ensue, do you still believe we should get out of Iraq now?
HZ: Yes, we should immediately withdraw. There will be chaos... it is actually there already, and much of the chaos and violence has come about because of our involvement. But that doesn't change the fact that our occupation of Iraq is wrong.
What's more troubling [than a military mistake] is that this is an administration that is impervious to pressure. If you listen to LBJ's tapes, where he discusses the escalation of the war in Vietnam, you can hear that he is torn....
Still, the good news is that more and more of us are becoming aware of Bush's true nature. Less than fifty percent of Americans are for the war, and forty percent are calling for [Bush's] impeachment.
SF: Where do you see the Democrats in all this? What of their role, their responsibility?
HZ: The Democratic Party is pitiful. Not only are they not articulating a spiritual message, as Lerner says, they don't even have a political message. The Democrats are tied to corporate wealth. And they are incompetent when it comes to understanding how to win elections. By the time Kerry ran, the public had actually shifted. Fifty percent were against the war. The Democrats should have been saying they would end the war, and make those dollars available for healthcare.
SF: What about the upcoming crop of presidential candidates -- Hillary Clinton, for instance?
HZ: Hillary Clinton is so opportunistic. She goes where the wind is blowing. She doesn't say what needs to be said. And Barack Obama is cautious. He's better than Clinton, but I'd suggest Marian Wright Edelman as the Democratic candidate for president. She's the epitome of what we need. A very smart black woman who deals with children, poverty.... She's in the trenches, and she ties it in with militarization. But she doesn't come out of government.
That's another problem -- the Democratic Party is a closed circle. It may take a threatening third party to shake things up.
SF: Many people believe that history is a pendulum, and that we are overdue for a swing to the Left. Lerner, for instance, views American history as an oscillation between the voices of hope and the voices of fear -- the fear after the stock market crash in 1929, the hope of the New Deal, the fears of McCarthyism, the hope of the Civil Rights movement and social change movements in the sixties. Is this a compelling view of history?
HZ: Without making it chronological, like a roller coaster, with predictable ups and downs, it's certainly true that in any period there are voices that demand maintenance of the status quo, and other voices demanding change. In other words, it isn't so much a period of hope, then a period of fear, etc. But in every period there are both tendencies, with one or another dominant and the dominant characteristic often leads to a simplified picture of an era.
My differences with Lerner, though, reside in the proportion of attention he pays to spiritual values. These are important, but they're not the critical issue. The issue is how are people living and dying. People are dying in Iraq and our wealth is being squandered on war and the military budget.
SF: Don't you believe the Left needs to address spiritual needs to win? How else can we galvanize the heartland, people taken in by the religious rhetoric of Bush?
HZ: Yes, there are special needs and they need to be addressed. But after the last election there was a kind of hysteria among liberal pundits about a "failure" to deal with the moral issues. There is a hard core for whom religion is key. They are maybe twenty-five percent of the population. It's a mistake to try to appeal to that hard core.
I define the spiritual in emotional terms -- to the extent that religion can draw on the Ten Commandments (for example, thou shalt not kill), it is important. And I find the spiritual in the arts, because they nourish the spirit and move people. Artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, for example, and now Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. We need more of these.
It's not that people are turned off by the Left. The Left hasn't reached out to people with a clear, coherent, and emotional message. The Left often does not know how to talk to other people. Tikkun magazine appeals to intellectuals. I've never spoken the language of ivory tower academics. And there are other voices on the Left that speak in understandable language. For instance, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, in which she took menial jobs across the country and wrote about those lives, was a bestseller. There's an emotionalism to her message that makes contact and touches thousands. Michael Moore's movies have been seen by all sorts of people. GI's in Iraq watched his movie. We just have to do more along those lines.
SF: Many on the Left seem to identify religion with the fundamentalist versions of it we see in the worst moments of human history. Do you see any value in religious ideas and traditions? If I can get personal: do you identify at all as a Jew, with the Jewish story? Is there anything in it that's meaningful to you? Are there any thoughts of the world beyond this one -- where, for example, you can sit with Marx in Soho and eat Deli Haus blintzes together?
HZ: If I was promised that we could sit with Marx in some great Deli Haus in the hereafter, I might believe in it! Sure, I find inspiration in Jewish stories of hope, also in the Christian pacifism of the Berrigans, also in Taoism and Buddhism. I identify as a Jew, but not on religious grounds. Yes, I believe, as Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know." There are limits to reason. There is mystery, there is passion, there is something spiritual in the arts -- but it is not connected to Judaism or any other religion.
For those who find a special inspiration in Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, fine. If that inspiration leads them to work for justice, that is what matters.
Shelly R. Fredman's work has appeared in Best Jewish Writing, First Harvest, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, and the Forward.
From: Satya ..............................................[This story printer-friendly]
April 15, 2006
THE ROTTEN SIDE OF ORGANICS -- INTERVIEW WITH RONNIE CUMMINS
[Rachel's introduction: "Part of the overall problem is that our social change and progressive movement has been fragmented for the last 30 years. The movements for health, justice and sustainability must work together in this age of Peak Oil, permanent war, and climate chaos."]
The Satya Interview with Ronnie Cummins
Many compassionate consumers believe that buying organic food is the only way to go. The label "organic" means refuge from pesticides, chemicals and the damaging practices of the commercial food industry. High-quality, mouth-watering, nutrient-rich produce -- all harvested fresh from the farm, right? We tend to assume organic food producers are all small farmers who combine ecologically sound farming practices with a political agenda to promote and develop local sustainable food systems. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) formed in 1998 after organic consumers criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed national regulations for organic certification of food. Today the OCA, a nonprofit public interest organization, strives for health, justice and sustainability, and takes on such crucial issues as food safety, industrial agriculture, corporate accountability and fair trade.
The OCA has been able to rally hundreds of thousands of consumers to pressure the USDA and organic companies to preserve strict organic standards. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to talk with OCA founder and National Director, Ronnie Cummins about uniting forces to challenge industrial agriculture, corporate globalization, and inspiring consumers to "Buy local, organic, and fair made."
KAM: Can you discuss the corporate takeover of the organic food market?
RC: Well the good news is there is a huge demand on the part of health conscious and environmentally conscious consumers for organic products. On the downside, right now there is a shortage of organic foods and ingredients in the marketplace. And unfortunately, corporations are noting this huge demand and are not only moving into the organic sector, but doing it in a way which is not helping American farmers and ranchers go organic. Instead, they are basically degrading organic standards, bending the rules and starting to outsource from slave labor and exploitive nations such as China for organic foods and ingredients.
KAM: What kind of impact is this having on our food?
RC: Well the most glaring example presently is the blatant disregard for organic standards in the dairy sector. Right now 40 percent of organic milk is coming from Horizon Organic and Aurora Organic, producers who are both practicing intensive confinement of farmed animals, allowing them no access to pasture. They are also regularly importing calves from industrial farms and simply calling them organic. These heifers have been weaned on blood, administered antibiotics, and fed slaughterhouse waste and GMO grains. Again, this is not helping thousands of humane family-scale farmers make the transition to organic. Instead they are changing the rules and allowing industrial agriculture to call it organic.
And then there is the corporate takeover of organic food brands. This is a major trend, all the way from Unilever taking over Ben and Jerry's to General Mills taking over Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen. These transnationals deliberately conceal the names of the parent corporation on the label because they know those corporations have such a terrible reputation that consumers would be unlikely to want to buy the products. Also, for the most part, they do not list the country of origin on the label. So organic consumers continue to buy their products, while remaining in the dark about who produced them and where they were produced. For example, people who buy the top- selling soy milk Silk, don't know that Silk is actually owned by Dean Foods, the $10 billion dairy conglomerate notorious for bottom line business practices such as injecting their cows with bovine growth hormone and paying the lowest prices possible to dairy farmers. They also don't know that the soy beans in Silk are likely coming in from China and Brazil rather than the U.S. or North America.
What about the organic standards in China? Are they the same as here? There has been a lot of criticism that Chinese organic products are not really organic. But certainly the most incontestable fact about Chinese organics is that the workers are paid nearly nothing for their work. It is slave labor.
KAM: That's madness! What can we do about this?
RC: We are going to have to stop companies from outsourcing the organic foods and ingredients that they can buy here. One way to do that is to pressure companies to put the country of origin on their label. Congress actually passed a law three years ago -- after receiving a lot of pressure from consumers -- requiring country of origin labels.
Unfortunately, they turned around and listened to corporate agribusiness and never allocated the money for labeling enforcement. Then last fall in the waning days of the Congressional session, they passed a rider that would delay the country of origin labeling law for at least two more years.
How important is food safety to American consumers today?
Eighty percent of American consumers tell pollsters they are very concerned about food safety issues while the majority says they are more concerned than they were last year! It's understandable. We have alarming levels of food poisoning -- 87 million cases a year -- leading to thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. And that's only the short-term damage. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the long-term damage -- the chronic sickness and illness derived from the cheap food and junk food paradigm.
There was a story in the London Times that reports high levels of benzene in soda pop! Nearly every day there is a story regarding mad cow disease, pesticide levels, and toxic chemicals; yet the federal government wants to restrict food labels. Two-thirds of organic consumers say food safety is the primary reason for paying a premium price for organic foods. The natural food and organic food market is growing enormously. Ten cents out of every grocery store dollar is now spent by consumers on products labeled either natural or organic.
KAM: I'm curious, what is the difference between "natural" and "organic"?
RC: "Natural" is mainly a marketing tool. It simply means that there are not supposed to be any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives in the product. But a lot of consumers are still learning about food safety and they believe that "natural" products, like organic products, are safer than foods that don't bear that label.
There has been a steady dynamic in the marketplace over the past ten years. Companies that market "natural" products are tending to move to "made with organic ingredients" and products marketed with "made with organic ingredients" move on to "95 or 100 percent organic." There is no doubt that within 5-10 years the majority of products in grocery stores are going to bear a label that says "natural" or "organic." And within 10 or 15 years most things will have an "organic" label on them.
KAM: But with the way things are going, what will the standards mean by then?
RC: Well, that is what we are facing right now. If we allow corporations to take over the organic sector and degrade organic standards, then most organic products will be coming from China and sold at Wal-Mart. And you will not be able to trust the label. We are going to have to get better organized than we are now, both in the marketplace and politically and make some fundamental changes in policies. For example, right now there are no subsidies helping American ranchers and farmers go organic. This is ridiculous given the huge demand. So we are going to have to stop the $20 billion annual subsidies going to industrial agriculture and intensive confinement farming and start subsidizing the transition to organic.
We also obviously need to subsidize farms being able to adopt renewable energy practices and to develop and expand local and regional markets. Studies indicate that 25 percent of greenhouse gasses in the U.S. are generated by industrial agriculture and long- distance food transportation. We need to switch over to sustainable practices if we are going to slow down and stop the climate chaos that is accelerating. To fund this we're also going to have to stop the administration's insane project for world domination and begin dismantling the military-industrial complex.
KAM: In terms of transportation and its effects on the environment, what is your take on local vs. organic produce?
RC: The Organic Consumers Association launched a long-term campaign last fall called Breaking the chains: Buy local, organic, and fair made. We believe it is time to raise the bar on organic standards. We need to recognize that the label USDA Organic is a good first step, but it is just the beginning. We have got to start reducing food miles and reducing the greenhouse gas pollution by creating a food system similar to what we had 60 years ago -- local and regional production for local and regional markets. Family sized farms need to become the norm again and not the exception. We also to need to think hard about things, like 80 percent of the world's grain is going to feed animals, not people, and begin eating lower on the food chain if we are going to survive.
KAM: Fair made, I like that. Will the campaign touch on labor practices on organic farms? People think organic means humane treatment of workers, but that is not always the case.
RC: Thirty years ago, the roots of the new organic movement came out of an anti-war, pro-civil rights, pro-justice movement. As the founders of the new wave of food coops in the late-1960s, we believed that organic meant justice as well as health and sustainability. Unfortunately, the federal organic standards that the USDA passed in 2002 did not incorporate the demands of groups like the Organic Consumers Association who said that social justice had to be criteria. So they passed a very narrow definition of "organic" that just included production methods in terms of pesticides, synthetic chemicals and the impact on the environment. They didn't take into consideration the treatment of small farmers or farm workers. So it has been left to us as consumers to exert pressure in the marketplace to make sure that organic means justice too.
We have seen a strong growth the last few years in the fair trade movement which is now a $600 million market globally. And finally the fair trade movement and the organic movement are starting to work together. We are involved in a long-term project with a number of organic companies and farm organizations to create a new Fair Trade or Fair Made label, which will be both certified fair trade and certified organic. We think this is necessary. Until we can get the USDA and the government to see things the way we do, we need to have our own label and be able to point out to consumers that the USDA label doesn't include social justice as a criteria.
KAM: What do you think is the main problem facing the organic movement today?
RC: Part of the overall problem is that our social change and progressive movement has been fragmented for the last 30 years. Perhaps this fragmentation or specialization was initially beneficial or necessary to understand and focus on all the issues and types of oppression in our particular sectors and organize our sectors, but it is time we start to bring it all together in a great synergy. The movements for health, justice and sustainability must work together in this age of Peak Oil, permanent war, and climate chaos.
If the organic community does not unite its forces with the anti-war movement, with the movements for environmentalism, social justice, animal rights, then we are not going to make any changes. As we say increased market share for organic and fairtrade products in the age of Armageddon and climate chaos is not going to count for very much.
We really have to stop thinking single issues and start thinking movement building. For this reason, every one of the OCA's campaigns is trying to reach out to other movements and show them that we are willing to work in a holistic way to raise consciousness over the full range of issues, and we are asking them to do the same.
For example right now I have been participating in a series of national conference calls with the Climate Crisis Coalition. It is very good to see that the climate crisis leaders understand that 25 percent of global greenhouse gasses are coming from industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation, and that we are not going to stabilize the climate unless we convert global and U.S. agriculture production to local and regional production. So they are willing to help us as we lobby to change the farm bill and the yearly agriculture appropriations.
KAM: It is so true. All of the movements are linked.
RC: It doesn't do any good to buy local, organic and fair made if you then hop on an airplane or jump into a gas-guzzling car without thinking . We have to take on the climate crisis issue together -- this is the number one issue in the world. If we don't stop this, there isn't going to be any food period -- much less organic food for the future generations. The same thing with the anti-war movement. We have to start talking about solutions to permanent war. Not just bring the troops home from this particular war. The reason we are in Iraq, the reason we are probably going to start a war in Iran shortly, is because of oil. We are going to keep having these wars until we have energy independence -- until we convert our economy into something that is renewable and sustainable. And we are not going to do this with the organic community, the environmental community, the animal rights community and the anti-war communities working on our different issues in isolation. We have to create synergy between them all.
KAM: How did you get involved in the organic food movement?
RC: I grew up in Texas. In the 1960s I got involved in the civil rights movement and in the anti-war movement. And part of what all the participants in those movements understood at the time was that we had to create one big movement to deal with all the interrelated issues. Food and coops were a strategic part of what we called the New Left and the counter-culture. Many consumer food cooperatives and the new wave of the organic movement came out of the anti-war movement.
Frances Moore Lappe laid it out for a lot of us in Diet For a Small Planet, "The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth." In other words, what you do with your knife and fork has a lot to do with world peace and justice.
For more information visit www.organicconsumers.org.
Copyright STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC. 1994-2006
From: TomPaine.com .......................................[This story printer-friendly]
May 11, 2006
WAR ON THE WEB
[Rachel's introduction: Until now, a basic principle of the Internet has been that the pipe companies [who bring the internet into our homes] can't discriminate among content providers. Everyone who puts stuff up on the Internet is treated exactly the same. The net is neutral. But now the pipe companies want to charge the content providers, depending on how fast and reliably the pipes deliver the content. Presumably, the biggest content providers would pay the most money, leaving the little content people in the slowest and least- reliable parts of the pipe.]
By Robert B. Reich
[Robert Reich is professor of public policy at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration.]
This week, the House is expected to vote on something termed, in perfect Orwellian prose, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006." It will be the first real battle in the coming War of Internet Democracy.
On one side are the companies that pipe the Internet into our homes and businesses. These include telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon and cable companies like Comcast. Call them the pipe companies.
On the other side are the people and businesses that send Internet content through the pipes. Some are big outfits like Yahoo, Google and Amazon, big financial institutions like Bank of America and Citigroup and giant media companies soon to pump lots of movies and TV shows on to the Internet.
But most content providers are little guys. They're mom-and-pop operations specializing in, say, antique egg-beaters or Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia. They're anarchists, kooks and zealots peddling all sorts of crank ideas They're personal publishers and small-time investigators. They include my son's comedy troupe -- streaming new videos on the Internet every week. They also include gazillions of bloggers -- including my humble little blog and maybe even yours.
Until now, a basic principle of the Internet has been that the pipe companies can't discriminate among content providers. Everyone who puts stuff up on the Internet is treated exactly the same. The net is neutral.
But now the pipe companies want to charge the content providers, depending on how fast and reliably the pipes deliver the content. Presumably, the biggest content providers would pay the most money, leaving the little content people in the slowest and least-reliable parts of the pipe. (It will take you five minutes to download my blog.)
The pipe companies claim unless they start charge for speed and reliability, they won't have enough money to invest in the next generation of networks. This is an absurd argument. The pipes are already making lots of money off consumers who pay them for being connected to the Internet.
The pipes figure they can make even more money discriminating between big and small content providers because the big guys have deep pockets and will pay a lot to travel first class. The small guys who pay little or nothing will just have to settle for what's left.
The House bill to be voted on this week would in effect give the pipes the green light to go ahead with their plan. Price discrimination is as old as capitalism. Instead of charging everyone the same for the same product or service, sellers divide things up according to grade or quality. Buyers willing to pay the most can get the best, while other buyers get lesser quality, according to how much they pay. Theoretically, this is efficient. Sellers who also have something of a monopoly (as do the Internet pipe companies) can make a killing.
But even if it's efficient, it's not democratic. And here's the rub. The Internet has been the place where Davids can take on Goliaths, where someone without resources but with brains and guts and information can skewer the high and mighty. At a time in our nation's history when wealth and power are becoming more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, it's been the one forum in which all voices are equal.
Will the pipe companies be able to end Internet democracy? Perhaps if enough of the small guys make enough of a fuss, Congress may listen. But don't bet on it. This Congress is not in the habit of listening to small guys. The best hope is that big content providers will use their formidable lobbying clout to demand net neutrality. The financial services sector, for example, is already spending billions on information technology, including online banking. Why would they want to spend billions more paying the pipe companies for the Internet access they already have?
The pipe companies are busily trying to persuade big content providers that it's in their interest to pay for faster and more reliable Internet deliveries. Verizon's chief Washington lobbyist recently warned the financial services industry that if it supports net neutrality, it won't get the sophisticated data links it will need in the future. The pipes are also quietly reassuring the big content providers that they can pass along the fees to their customers.
Will the big content providers fall for it? Stay tuned for the next episode of Internet democracy versus monopoly capitalism.
Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com
From: KDKA (Pittsburgh, Pa.) .............................[This story printer-friendly]
May 15, 2006
BIOTECH FIRM RAISES FUROR WITH RICE PLAN
[Rachel's introduction: Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing Ventria Bioscience's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops grown for food.]
By Paul Elias, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO -- A tiny biosciences company is developing a promising drug to fight diarrhea, a scourge among babies in the developing world, but it has made an astonishing number of powerful enemies because it grows the experimental drug in rice genetically engineered with a human gene.
Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing Ventria Bioscience's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops grown for food.
"We just want them to go away," said Bob Papanos of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. "This little company could cause major problems."
Ventria, with 16 employees, practices "biopharming," the most contentious segment of agricultural biotechnology because its adherents essentially operate open-air drug factories by splicing human genes into crops to produce proteins that can be turned into medicines.
Ventria's rice produces two human proteins found in mother's milk, saliva and tears, which help people hydrate and lessen the severity and duration of diarrhea attacks, a top killer of children in developing countries.
But farmers, environmentalists and others fear that such medicinal crops will mix with conventional crops, making them unsafe to eat.
The company says the chance of its genetically engineered rice ending up in the food supply is remote because the company grinds the rice and extracts the protein before shipping. What's more, rice is "self- pollinating," and it's virtually impossible for genetically engineered rice to accidentally cross breed with conventional crops.
"We use a contained system," Ventria Chief Executive Scott Deeter said.
Regardless, U.S. rice farmers in particular fear that important overseas customers in lucrative, biotechnology-averse countries like Japan will shun U.S. crops if biopharming is allowed to proliferate. Exports account for 50 percent of the rice industry's $1.18 billion in annual sales.
Japanese consumers, like those in Western Europe, are still alarmed by past mad cow disease outbreaks mishandled by their governments, making them deeply skeptical of any changes to their food supply, including genetically engineered crops.
Rice interests in California drove Ventria's experimental work out of the state in 2004, after Japanese customers said they wouldn't buy the rice if Ventria were allowed to set up shop.
Anheuser-Busch Inc. and Riceland Foods Inc., the world's largest rice miller, were among the corporate interests that pressured the company to abandon plans to set up a commercial-scale farm in Missouri's rice belt last year.
But Ventria was undeterred. The company, which has its headquarters in Sacramento, finally landed near Greenville, N.C. In March it received U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance to expand its operation there from 70 acres to 335 acres. Ventria is hoping to get regulatory clearance this year to market its diarrhea-fighting protein powder.
There has been little resistance from corporate and farming interest in eastern North Carolina. But the company's work has raised the hackles of environmentalists there.
"The issue is the growing of pharmaceutical products in food crops grown outdoors," said Hope Shand of the environmental nonprofit ETC Group in Carrboro, N.C. "The chance this will contaminate traditionally grown crops is great. This is a very risky business."
Deeter points out that there aren't any commercial rice growers in North Carolina, although the USDA did allow Ventria to grow its controversial crop about a half-mile from a government "rice station," where new strains are tested. The USDA has since moved that station to Beltsville, Md., though an agency spokeswoman said the relocation had nothing to do with Ventria.
The company, meanwhile, has applied to the Food and Drug Administration to approve the protein powder as a "medical food" rather than a drug. That means Ventria wouldn't have to conduct long and costly human tests. Instead, it submitted data from scientific experts attesting to the company's powder is "generally regarded as safe."
Earlier this month, a Peruvian scientist sponsored by Ventria presented data at the Pediatric Academics Societies meeting in San Francisco. It showed children hospitalized in Peru with serious diarrhea attacks recovered quicker -- 3.67 days versus 5.21 days -- if the dehydration solution they were fed contained the powder.
Ventria's chief executive said he hopes to have an approval this year and envisions a $100 million annual market in the United States. Deeter forecasts a $500 million market overseas, especially in developing countries where diarrhea is a top killer of children under the age of 5. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 2 million children succumb to diarrhea each year.
But overcoming consumer skepticism and regulatory concerns about feeding babies with products derived from genetic engineering is a tall order. This is especially true in the face of continued opposition to biopharming from the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America, which represents food, beverage and consumer products companies with combined U.S. sales of $460 billion.
Ventria hopes to add its protein powder to existing infant products. There is no requirement to label any food products in the United States as containing genetically engineered ingredients.
The company also has ambitious plans to add its product to infant formula, a $10 billion-a-year market, even though the major food manufacturers have so far shown little interest in using genetically engineered ingredients. But Deeter says Ventria can win over the manufacturers and consumers by showing the company's products are beneficial.
"For children who are weaning, for instance, these two proteins have enormous potential to help their development,"
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all.
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